Horror (Of Not Writing)

My copy of On Writing Horror: A Handbook by the Horror Writers Association (edited by Mort Castle)

My copy of On Writing Horror: A Handbook by the Horror Writers Association (edited by Mort Castle)

Before NaNo2012, I decided to educate myself in how to write horror. The idea I had for my NaNo manuscript was dark and I thought it’d end up either being in the YA Horror genre or the YA Paranormal Thriller one. (I’ve been told it turned out to be Horror because of its overall sinister tone, which is good to know!)

Of course, one of the best ways to learn about a genre is by reading it. I think I mentioned my October Horror Book marathon before on this blog. Most of the books I read were YA (and zombie related, which has nothing to do with the plot of my NaNo story… I just love zombies) and dark, but not all could be considered horror. There’s just really not a huge pool of YA Horror books that you can dive into — though when I heard Laini Taylor talk about DAYS OF BLOOD & STARLIGHT, she said the genre is on the verge a huge growth spurt.

Gretchen McNeil is the first YA horror writer that comes to mind for me. I really enjoyed reading her book POSSESS, which was marketed as a Paranormal Thriller but could really go either way. TEN is her latest book and while I have it… I haven’t read it yet — bad me, I know. Another inspiration and most read, I think, is Courtney Summers’ THIS IS NOT A TEST (which I only now realize I didn’t write a review of… I promise to do soon!). It’s a zombie book, but not overtly/grotesquely so even if you aren’t a zombie fan I think you can still enjoy this book. Her voice and the overall tone of the book… it’s just amazing.

Of course I’ve read the classics, like Lovecraft and King, but what I mostly took away from them is how to build suspense and frighten the readers. You can’t really hope to write like either of them in this day and age and think you’ll get away with it. No one could write a book the length King’s usually are, unless they’re already an established writer, plus he gets wordy — nothing wrong with that when you’re a superstar like him, of course. Lovecraft, while a great horror writer, lacked in character development.

While I was looking into writing horror, I came across the Horror Writers Association (they even have a YA Horror section!). After reading through their website, I decided to buy a copy of ON WRITING HORROR to see what they had collected. In my opinion, reading books helps me with writing more than reading books about how to write, but I still find them fascinating.

There’s a wonderful collection of essays by writers on subjects I’ve never even considered (such as Freaks and Fiddles, Banjos and Beasts: Writing Redneck Horror by Weston Ochse) and the history of the horror genre. Over all, I think the book helped me get a better grasp on the genre and all that is expected of a writer that aspires to compile a horror manuscript. I’d recommend it to anyone curious about what it means to write horror.

If you are particularly interested in horror books, I’d also like to refer you to Hellnotes. It’s a blog and newsletter devoted to the genre. They have contests every once and a while, too.

Henry James summed up writers well when he said: “We work in the dark — we do what we can — we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of the art.” He was talking about horror writers in particular, but I think it applies to all of us. Don’t you?

But lately… I haven’t been writing. I’ve written down a lot of ideas (I often suffer from the Shinny Idea Syndrome that Gennifer Albin mentioned) and did some research for a contemporary YA I’ve been thinking about writing. I’ve been reading a lot, too. I’m three books closer to my 100 book goal and since it’s just January 8th, I think that’s pretty good, but I just feel horrible about not revising my NaNo manuscript at all lately…

On the bright side, I have my SCBWI book talk/critique group this Thursday night so I’m forced to do something with my NaNo-script. Though I’m very open to being late to it and/or missing it for another opportunity that might come up Thursday night…

On an unrelated note, if you want to enter for a chance to win a copy of some amazing YA books check out Publishing Crawl. They have three amazing giveaways going on right now!

Synopsis Help: Where To Go?

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A lot of aspiring authors fear synopsis. I used to, too. I mean, how can someone expect you to sum up your work of 70,000 words in only 1,000? How can someone ask you to give away almost every twist and turn… and worst of all, the ending? HOW?

Then the even more dreaded question: How to I actually write one that doesn’t suck?

Many will tell you that it’s easier to write a synopsis before you even write your story. If you’re a plotter, then I’d say that’s the way to go. The first manuscript I wrote (after a billion revisions) ended up being around 90,000 words. I wrote the synopsis after all that and it was a dread experience. For TERRIFYING TORA, I wrote the synopsis before I even wrote the manuscript, and let me tell you, it’s ten times easier to revise a two page synopsis for any plot updates you decide along the way than to re-write it from scratch after you have a fully developed story. It’s a lot harder to figure out then what’s important and what can be left out. But if you’re not a plotter, well… you can’t really do that, can you?

You could go to a few nice boards that offer you a place to post you synopsis and get it critiqued. AW’s Writer’s Cooler and YACHAT (obviously, you can only use this if you write YA) both have spots on their boards for you to do that.

That being said… I wouldn’t really advise doing that. I’m about to sound extremely paranoid, I know, but I could never bring myself to do that — even if it could be very helpful. Why? Because your entire plot is out there for the whole word to see. I, for one, hate spoilers with a burning passion of a thousand suns. If anyone put effort into a search, they could come across your post and read it. Thus, they’d know how your story ends and how many people really will go through with reading a story where they know the ending…? Plus, if you’re querying agents and they decide to look you or your story up, they could easily fall upon that post as well and see how much help you got writing your synopsis. I’ve heard from some literary agents that they’re always weary when they come across things like this (either for first pages, query letters, etc) because it means the author needs a lot of editing help and they’d rather have one that didn’t.

(But I could always delete the post after I’m through being helped!) Yeah, I suppose, but chances are other people replied and they quoted your original text. (But I could ask an admin to delete the entire thread!) True, you’d kind of look like a jerk asking for all those people’s help then once they did go through the effort, you delete it all. (But wouldn’t it really help to get other writers opinions…?) Yes, I think it would.

And that’s why I would recommend you join a critique group or find a few writer buddies. Publishing Crawl did a post about that recently. There’s other resources out there for synopsis help, too. What follows is a list of sites that I’ve always found helpful. Enjoy:

There are a lot of other resources out there, but these really helped me when I was first trying to grasp writing a synopsis. I hope it helps some of you, too.