Tips for Writing Horror

So often when we write, we stick to our preferred and known genre, but I was challenged this week to write a spooky story for my writing group and I found it really enjoyable. It got me thinking about horror and other genres I don’t commonly write. So I thought we could explore tips for how to write different genres, starting with horror today. So what makes a good horror story?

  • Horror is all about setting the right atmosphere for scary and bad things to happen. Each description must build up an eerie and unnatural world your main character has found herself in. Create the right tone for each scene and use all five senses to do so.
  • Use visceral reactions to connect the reader to what the character is experiencing. Don’t say he’s afraid, show him breaking out into a cold sweat, the hairs rising on end on his arm, and his heart pounding in his ears as he approaches the dark hallway.
  • Get the reader to care about your character before something happens to them. You want your reader invested, so they can really feel the horror of the situation. Make your character flawed and relatable.
  • Use cause and effect. Have your character make bad decisions and then have to deal with the consequences. Horror shares ties with tragedies where the main character has a fatal flaw that leads to their downfall. Show your character making mistakes and dealing with what happens next.
  • Use active language. Strong verbs, concrete nouns, and no passive voice. Passive voice is where the object of the sentence becomes the subject. So we have “The ball was thrown by Jon” instead of “Jon threw the ball.” But passive voice weakens your writing and slows your pacing down. Avoid it.
  • It’s especially important to show, don’t tell. We want to immerse the reader into each creepy scene to build the tension and suspense and get their hearts racing. Don’t pull them out of the scene by telling.
  • Give your beasties a good motivation for their actions. The scariest monsters are the ones that make the most sense. Add depth and realism to your story by giving the malevolent force a good reason why they’re doing what they’re doing.
  • Read widely in the genre. Whether that’s paranormal or psychological horror, see what other writers are doing right—or wrong—to get a good idea of what works and what doesn’t. Pay attention to their descriptions and cause and effect sequences.
  • Show the stakes. What happens if evil wins the day? Amp up your suspense by making clear what the stakes are.
  • Have a glimmer of hope. That doesn’t mean hope has to win out—remember horror is based of tragedy? But great horror allows the character to come oh so close to hope. Give your reader something to question and keep them reading until the end.
  • You must still write a good story. It’s not just about gore and screams. Your reader will expect a good tale, well-developed characters, and a convincing plot. Make it real. Make it believable.

I suggest trying new genres and if you want to try horror, these tips are a great place to start. What are your favorite tips for writing horror? Share below and happy writing!

Julia

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How to Choose Your POV

So we’ve talked about POV (point of view) before, but it’s a complicated matter, so let’s talk about how to choose the right POV for your story. POV is a big decision to make. It literally affects every single sentence you write and choosing the right POV can make or break the success of your story.

First, let’s do a quick overview of each POV (we won’t be talking about second because it isn’t commonly used for longer stories).

  • First person POV: Uses the “I” pronoun. This is the closest relationship between character and reader. This POV allows for easy access to the POV character’s thoughts and feelings. This can lead to more telling than showing. It can also be hard to describe characters and places familiar to the character, since we don’t overly describe people and places we know well. Also, the reader only knows what the POV character knows, sees, or hears. Watch out for unlikeable narrators.
  • Third person limited: Uses “s/he” pronouns or names. Similar to first person as you have access to the character’s thoughts and feelings and the reader only knows what the character knows, sees, or hears. Readers are very familiar with third person, so it’s comfortable for them to read. And it’s easier to switch POVs in third and still follow along (without head hopping). Watch out for info dumps.
  • Third person omniscient: Uses “s/he” pronouns or names. Omniscient is a complicated POV to use, so I wrote a whole post about it here. Creates the most distance between character and reader, but is all knowing. Watch out for head hopping.
  • Third person multiple: Uses “s/he” pronouns or names. Is the third person limited POV, but from various character POVs. Watch out for head hopping.

Most writers have a favorite POV they tend to use. Personally, I like to write in third person limited to avoid annoying narrators. But choosing the right POV comes down to a number of factors. Is your story character driven or plot driven? If your story focuses on one character and is character driven, first person is a great POV to use. You can get in depth with their thoughts and feelings and really develop your character. However, if your story revolves around a cast of characters and is more plot driven (actions happening to the characters), then a third person POV is a great way to go. You can switch from one character’s POV, like in multiple, to another’s as needed. Another thing to keep in mind is your strengths as a writer. If you’re not very good at writing in a certain POV, you don’t want to choose that POV for your novel. I recommend writing short stories in each POV to improve your skills.

Which POV do you prefer to use? Share below and happy writing!

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.

What to Blog about Once You Decide to Blog

First of all, let me apologize for my absence. I’ve had some personal things I’ve been dealing with, including the loss of a dear friend of mine. Please forgive the gap in posts, I’m hoping to get things back to normal from now on.

So I’ve recently had some questions about starting a blog. Now blogging is all about the long game. You don’t start a blog just to quit two months later, we start a blog for the ages. We need to blog about something we can talk about for a long time to come. A lot of people who want to blog know they want to start a blog, but aren’t sure of what exactly to blog about. This is a very important question to answer and get right before you begin. Of course you can change what you write about as you go along, but the less juggling you do in the beginning the better for branding. I’ll impart some wisdom I heard from Chuck Sambuchino at the writing conference I attended in March. The common idea is to write about our writing, our own personal journey to publishing or our stories. But the question can be posed, who are you that hundreds if not thousands want to read your personal, fumbling journey? No offense meant of course. But thousands of people write about the same thing and the internet is oversaturated with this type of content. Instead, write about something you can speak about with some type of expertise. Write about something that will give your readers quality content they need.

The best way to gain real readers is to be useful and write good content. Being authentic in what you write about will help you to write quality posts. So pick your subject with purpose. What do you know a lot about? What interests you? French cuisine? 1920s fashion? Regency England? Architecture?  It can be anything. It can be related to the book your writing or have written, or it can just be specific knowledge you just happen to know. Spread the knowledge. Find your readership. Move beyond personal journeys into the publishing world to content your readers will crave.

Like I said earlier, the internet is already full of blogs, both current and abandoned, that are all about one writer’s personal journey in writing. But there’s no one right way to write or to get published that you can write about definitively. So what can you write about for years to come? Make blogging more than just a task to do daily or weekly. Make it your passion project. Write about something you’re passionate about! That’s what will get you readers.

What do you blog about? Share below and happy blogging!

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.

Character Development and Character Arcs

Character development is the heart of our stories. It makes your reader connect to your story emotionally and brings your plot to life. Our stories are nothing without our characters. The important part of character development is change. We want our characters to change and develop so our story can develop and be more impactful. Let’s look at how to develop our characters and what character arcs are.

  • Goals and motivations. Every character needs to have a goal to work towards, even if that’s just to be left alone. But moving beyond that, we need to examine why. Why does your character have that goal? What are their motivations? Is it ambition, revenge, or selfishness? Has he lost his job and he’s reevaluating life?
  • Up the stakes. What happens if they don’t reach their goal? What are the consequences of what they’re doing? Does your character have a deadline they have to beat? Really get your readers invested in what’s going on by raising the tension.
  • Have external plot happen to the character. Things like losing a loved one or a job would greatly affect your character and force them to change and adapt. Change is what makes our stories dynamic.
  • Each character should have a flaw that actually affects them. Not something cute like being clumsy. Flaws make your characters relatable and more realistic.
  • Show, don’t tell. Develop your characters through their actions and dialogue. Don’t just say they are smart, show them figuring out the villain’s plans before anyone else does. Don’t say he’s bad, show him deceiving an old widow’s out of her money. Also use what they say and how they talk for characterization. How we communicate says a lot about how we grew up and who we are as a person.
  • Use other characters as foils or mirrors for your main characters. You can show another character with the same flaw, but who deals with it in a very different way. Or if one character is having a flat arc for a while, meaning they don’t change, you can develop a secondary character so the story isn’t flat.
  • Character arcs. Character arcs can be positive, negative, or flat. Positive and negative arcs are both dynamic, meaning the protagonist changes throughout the arc. In a positive arc, he grows and improves. In a negative arc, he can’t overcome his fatal flaw and suffers tragedy, whether physical or emotional or both. In a flat arc, the character doesn’t change. This is common for serial characters like Bond or Sherlock Holmes, where their personality and flaws stay the same from book to book.

Our characters should change and grow, that is what readers can relate to and like to see. Let your reader see your characters struggle with a flaw and learn to improve themselves. Dynamic arcs make dynamic stories. Which type of arcs do you like writing best? Share below and happy writing.

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Omniscient POV

I’ve talked previously about POV, but a further explanation of omniscient POV was requested, so here it is. Point of view (POV) is important because it affects every sentence of your story and can really make or break your story. But it doesn’t take more than an informed decision to decide on your POV. So let’s take a look at one we don’t talk about as much and has been said is the hardest to write, third person omniscient.

First thing you need to understand you’re writing from a narrator’s POV and not from the characters. This confusion leads to head hopping where we jump from one character’s POV to the next within the same scene or chapter. Omniscient POV is privy to each character’s thoughts, but they are filtered through the narrator’s POV. We do not jump into that character’s head and access their thoughts and feelings like we would in third limited or multiple. The characters do not know each other’s thoughts, nor should they have information only the narrator knows.

An example would be:

Jenny took a sip of her tea, a worried look on her face as she glanced at the clock again. Peter was late, which wasn’t like him.

Peter looked furtively at his watch as he took in the pleasant sound of Sharon laughing. She had perfect teeth and lush blonde hair that always framed her face exactly right. Jenny could wait.

While we have a glimpse into what they’re thinking it’s not direct thoughts. It’s filtered through the narrator and doesn’t descend into any one character. And we don’t get any of their feelings as we would experience them in limited or multiple.

Omniscient POV can be divided into two categories, objective and subjective. Remember that omniscient is a narrator and not a character. This makes it separate. An objective narrator is one without a personality. They relate events as they happen without any opinions. The POV is cinematic, like a camera following the characters around. We get action and dialogue, but don’t go into the internal thoughts or feelings of the characters. We avoid words like felt, sad, happy, angry, etc. The other is a subjective narrator. A subjective narrator has a strong voice and can show the internal thoughts of multiple characters. But everything is filtered through that narrator and their “voice,” not the characters. Remember going into the character’s POV is third limited and multiple, not omniscient.

Let’s talk about some pros of omniscient. First, it allows you God-like knowledge. It allows you to move to any character at any time. You’re not limited to one POV in a scene or chapter. You can also give your reader any information without using a character as intermediary.

Cons of omniscient. There is a lot more distance between the reader and the characters than with other POVs. This can make it harder for readers to emotionally connect with the characters. This POV can also lead to more telling rather than showing. Emotions are also harder to convey. And beware of losing tension in your story because the reader knows too much.

Omniscient POV is great for plot driven stories rather than character driven ones due to the distance between character and reader. If you’re wondering if this POV is right for you, try it out in a short story or two and see how they read. Any tips for omniscient POV? Share below and happy writing.

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Writing the Sequel

We’ve talked about planning and writing series here, but now that I am knee deep into writing my sequel, I thought we could talk about what goes into making a good sequel. I’ve learned that sequels are inherently more ambitious, there’s more characters, more going on, and more to juggle to keep it all straight, but I’m also more equipped to do so having written the first book. So let’s look at some things to keep in mind when writing sequels.

  • Make sure you have enough story for a second book. Don’t just write a sequel for the sake of having a series. Or to have another book to sell. Do you have enough plot for another book? Will you be able to develop your characters enough for another book? Don’t write a sequel stuffed with filler and static characters. Story comes first.
  • Don’t add filler. Every scene and character needs to move the story forward or serve a narrative purpose. Don’t fill your book with fluff that doesn’t serve the story. Your reader will get bored and may even put the book down, never to read you again. This is the number one killer of a good sequel.
  • You still have to start with a hook. Don’t just continue exactly where book one left off. You won’t need to go in depth reintroducing your characters and story world, but you do need to intrigue your reader and get them hooked on reading this new story.
  • Your sequel needs to be connected to the first book, either in plot, theme, or both. Usually the theme of the sequel will be a continuation of the first book’s themes or another side of the same coin. Also, unanswered story arcs from the first book are carried into the second one. Books one and two have different subplots and events, but are clearly part of the same overall story. Don’t lose your focus and tell a completely unrelated story in book two.
  • Keep writing dynamic characters. This means your characters continue to change and grow. Don’t stop developing them in book one. They need to react to what is happening to them in book two as well.
  • Keep your tension building. Your protagonist needs to keep facing growing conflict that rises to the climax where something great is at stake. Don’t drop your tension in the second book, keep it building to even greater heights.
  • Don’t overshare what happened in book one. Book two has to work as a standalone novel, but we don’t need to recap every single thing and person that happened in book one. Give pertinent backstory from book one as needed. Don’t go on and on explaining it.
  • Know the ending. Know where you are taking the story and what this book’s climax is going to be before you start. This way you can build towards the ending from page one. You can plant necessary information for the big payoff in the end. Make sure your story builds off the first book. Plan ahead.
  • Take notes on book one for consistency. You don’t want Steve, that blue-eyed hottie, to suddenly have green eyes in book two. Or for the sidekick to suddenly have different parents than in book one. I keep a master journal of all these details, so I can easily look them up as needed.
  • Don’t be afraid to add depth with subplots. Subplots are threads of side stories woven into the main plot. These can include the main characters, like in a romantic subplot, or further develop the theme using a minor character. They add complexity to your story, just make sure to weave them in.
  • Don’t ignore time. The events going on throughout the second book should show a natural passage of time from the first book. For instance, book one of my series takes place in the summer. When we get to book two, the weather is cooling and we move into the fall. It just wouldn’t be believable for two books worth of action to all occur over one season.

So these tips should help you out as you write your sequel. Sequels can be challenging to write, but it is definitely worth the effort. Having a plan will help you move forward, even if you don’t make a detailed outline. What are your best tips for writing a sequel? Share below and happy writing!

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.

Signs of Amateur Writing

Now before we begin, I will say that these signs of amateurish writing can be easily fixed once you know what to look for. So don’t get discouraged, especially if you haven’t heard this advice before. Now let’s look at these signs of amateur writing.

  • Using italics or exaggerated punctuation for emphasis. Because seriously how on earth will the reader ever know what I mean to emphasize if I don’t. Write. Like. This? Honestly, they will know because they have a modicum of intelligence and empathy enough to know which words have a stress to them. Trust in their intellect. Also, if it’s not clear, then you can use descriptions, like “he said the last word like steel.” You get the idea.
  • Exclamation points!!!! You may want to use them. You may even want to use multiples of them or use them in tandem with a question mark to make the elusive interrobang. Do not give into these urges. Fitzgerald said using exclamation points was like laughing at your own joke. That’s not a good thing. It’s actually obnoxious to laugh at your own jokes. They say limit one per story. Use it wisely.
  • Using dialogue tags other than said (or asked). Your characters should not eject, articulate, shout, or ejaculate words. These are hugely amateurish and distracting for the reader. This sort of intrusion of the author can be irritating for your readers. Said and asked are non-intrusive and the reader can just glide right over them. Stick to said and asked.
  • Not knowing when you need a new paragraph. Whenever a new character speaks, you need a new paragraph. Whenever a passage of time is shown, you need a new paragraph. If you change place, new paragraph. New topic, new person, new paragraph.
  • Relying on adverbs and adjectives. This is weak writing. Instead use strong verbs and concrete nouns. Paint a strong and clear picture with your words.
  • Purple prose. Purple prose is prose that is too elaborate or ornate. In its flowery nature, it draws attention to itself, inserting the author into the story and becoming a distraction and a chore to slough through for the reader. Remember your descriptions should serve the narrative and push the story forward, not just exist to sound fancy.
  • Head hopping. This is where the POV jumps from character to character without proper scene breaks or sticking to proper POV rules. Stick to one character POV per scene or chapter. Any character switches should be clear and keep each character POV so distinct and unique your reader will always know which POV it is.

If you’re guilty of these signs, don’t forget that good writing is rewriting. You can always make your writing stronger. What are your tips for avoiding amateur writing? Share below and happy writing.

Julia

Follow my column at Our Write Side and Twitter for more writing tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts.