Friday, February 21, 2014

Writing HORROR

Writing HORROR

When writing a Horror story, one must begin with a Monster. The most terrifying of course, are the ones you don’t notice, or refuse to notice. The ones right next to you.
“The most dangerous wolves are those that are hairy on the inside.”
-- A Company of Wolves
So, let us begin with what makes a Monster ACT like a Monster.

The Personality of a MONSTER

Think, who are the people that walk right up to you every day – and you let them? Who are people who could ask you to go with them to an isolated location, or just out of sight for a quick word -- and you wouldn't even think twice about refusing them?

• Your neighbors
• Your co-workers
• Your friends
• Your lover
• Your parents
• Your siblings
• Your children

Now imagine if one of them was a man-slaughtering or even man-eating Monster?

In reality, it happens all the time. They’re known as Psychopaths.
"Psychopaths cannot be understood in terms of antisocial rearing or development. They are simply morally depraved individuals who represent the "monsters" in our society. They are unstoppable and untreatable predators whose violence is planned, purposeful and emotionless."
-- What is a Psychopath?
Not only that, Psychopaths are COMMON.

The American Psychiatric Association estimate that 1 in about 25-30 people are Psychopaths. Do you know more than 30 people? Check your Friends list. Check your email address book. Check your phone contacts. According to statistics, for every 30 people you know at least 1 is a Psychopath – an actual monster.

How's that for scary?

The Psychopaths’ weakness, however, is that they’re actually pretty easy to spot by their behavior patterns. Here’s a checklist:

20 Traits of a Psychopath
1. Glibness and Superficial Charm
– Smooth-talking, engaging and slick. (They talk, and talk, and talk...without ever really saying anything. They also frequently mix-up their vocabulary.)

2. Grandiose Self-Worth
– Greatly inflated idea of one's abilities and self-esteem, arrogance and a sense of superiority. (Pride is one of the few emotions they can actually feel, even if they've done nothing to earn it.)

3. Needs Stimulation/Prone to Boredom
– An excessive need for new, exciting stimulation and risk-taking. (Attention-seeking even to the point of provoking fights just to keep the focus on themselves.)

4. Pathological Lying
– When moderate: shrewd, crafty, sly and clever; when extreme: deceptive, deceitful, underhanded and unscrupulous. (When caught, they'll lie even more to cover their lies.)

5. Manipulative
– Uses deceit and deception to cheat others for personal gain. (They have only one agenda: themselves.)

6. No Guilt/Remorse
-- no feelings or concern for losses, pain and suffering of others, cold-hearted and unsympathetic. (Love, Affection, and most importantly, Compassion are things they simply cannot feel -- or respond to.)

7. Emotional Poverty
– Limited range or depth of feelings; interpersonal coldness.
(They are only capable of feeling 5 emotions: Pride, Hate, Greed, Fear, Amusement. This is Biological, not psychological. It wasn't 'done to them', they were born this way. It's a Genetic flaw.)

8. Lacks Empathy
– A lack of feelings toward others; cold, contemptuous and inconsiderate. (I repeat: Love, Affection, and most importantly, Compassion are things they simply cannot feel -- or respond to.)

9. Parasitic Lifestyle
– Intentional, manipulative, selfish, and exploitative financial dependence on others. (They prefer the easy route, and it's much easier to mooch off of other people, or just plain steal, than it is to work for it.)

10. Poor Behavioral Controls
– Expressions of negative feelings, verbal abuse and inappropriate expressions of anger.
(Since they can only feel 5 emotions, they can only Respond with those 5 emotions: Pride, Hate, Greed, Fear, Amusement. Anything else is an Act.)

11. Promiscuity
– Brief, superficial relations, numerous affairs and an indiscriminate choice of sexual partners. (They literally don't care who, or what, they sleep with because sex is limited to strictly physical sensation. They can't feel any of the emotions that make sex special, such as Love or Affection -- but they know You do, and will happily use it against you.)

12. No Realistic Long-Term Goals
– Inability or constant failure to develop and accomplish long-term plans. (To make a long-term goal, one must have a passion for that goal. The only emotions they can feel passion with are Pride, Greed, Amusement, Fear, and Hate, which is why they can be unusually persistent if they are angered.)

13. Impulsiveness
– Behaviors lacking reflection or planning and done without considering consequences. (Greed / Amusement / Pride + extremely short attention spans = stupid stunts.)

14. Irresponsible
– Repeated failure to fulfill or honor commitments and obligations. (If they think they can get away with it, they will Try to get away with it.)

15. Fails to Accept Responsibility for Own Behavior
– Denial of responsibility and an attempt to manipulate others through this. (When caught, they will ALWAYS blame someone or something else. They are incapable of feeling bad about their actions because the emotions needed to feel Remorse or Guilt, such as affection or compassion, are Missing. However, Fear they definitely feel, so they will do everything in their power to avoid Punishment.)

16. Many Short-Term Marital Relationships
– Lack of commitment to a long-term relationship. (Love, Affection, and most importantly, Compassion are things they simply cannot feel, so relationships happen out of Greed. In other words, they only form attachments to those they can Use. When they can't be used any more, they leave.)

17. Early Behavior Problems
– A variety of dysfunctional and unacceptable behaviors before age thirteen. (As early as 4 years old.)

18. Juvenile Delinquency
– Serious criminal behavioral problems between the ages of 13-18.

19. Revocation of Conditional Release
– Violating probation or other conditional release because of technicalities. (If they think they can get away with it, they will Try to get away with it.)

20. Criminal Versatility

– Diversity of criminal offenses, whether or not the individual has been arrested or convicted. (If one trick stops working they'll happily try another.)

For more detail, read this:
-- What is a Sociopath? --

Know anybody like this? I’m absolutely sure you do. I do. In fact, I can name two from my own immediate family, one of which was actually diagnosed Sociopathic. The difference between a Sociopath and a Psychopath? The Sociopath hasn't killed their victims. They prefer to destroy them, emotionally and financially -- in addition to physical bullying.

The real horror comes in when friends, family, and particularly lovers refuse to see the Monster staring them in the face. Why not? Those fascinated by them (their confidence, their physical attractiveness, their smiling, sweet-talking charm…) simply will not listen to reason, even when warned by those they say they trust, those who have seen the psychopath in action. This is particularly true with Women ‘in love’ with such monsters.

Why won’t they listen? Because they don’t want to.

The psychopath goes out of their way to make the people they consider their possessions (friends, co-workers, family members, lovers…) their victims feel "special” and most importantly: needed. And they’re good at it.

These Monsters are so good at pretending to be exactly what their victims want them to be, (spouse, lover, best friend, parent...) their victims refuse to believe it even when the evidence is staring them in the face. Even when they have been shown point blank that everything they have been told are lies the people that love them still refuse to see the truth -– that it’s only a matter of time before the Monster eats them.

They want the illusion that the Monster made for them; “I love you,” “I need you,” “I’m the only one who will ever accept you as you are,” even if they only get to see that illusion for two short weeks right after the Monster does terrible things to them.

"Take a look at Ted Bundy; my friend's mother once went on a double-date with him and claimed he was the nicest person. His mother said he was the "best son any mother could have." Bundy was also apparently quite good-looking, which made him even more dangerous."
-- What is a Psychopath?
What exactly do these Monsters DO to convince their victims to remain victims? Here’s a list:

Lavish flattery
-- They tell them all the things they want to hear.

Impressive-sounding Credentials
-- They use name-dropping, detailed resumes, or other credentials to sound impressive. However, when investigated, their information is exaggerated and/or completely false.

Trustworthy on the surface
-- They pay back initial loans, or favors, or appear to be unselfishly helping others. Once they are believed they drop everything. “Loan? What loan?”

Lies that sound like the Truth

-- When small inconsistencies or unexplained loose ends come up in their stories, they glibly provide explanations that sound plausible, often using a thick coating of meaningless chit-chat to distract their listener away from the their initial question.

Intense eye contact
-- A "predatory stare"—unblinking, fixated, and emotionless that’s often mistaken for a sign of empathy, or rapt attention. It’s not. It’s an intimidation technique.

Loving Isolation
-- They slowly and subtly separate their victims from those who may question their plans. "No one loves; knows you; trusts you, better than I do."

For more:  How to Spot a Con Artist

How to Make Your Own Monster

So…! Now you know how your monster thinks; what they do, how they do it, and how easily they can fool the people closest to them. You also have their potential victims; those who refuse to see the evidence right in front of their eyes, “He’s never done anything to me?” or worse, those helping them hide their deeds. “I walked into a door. I tripped on the stairs.” "He didn't mean it, it was an accident."

All you need now is a Costume to wrap them in, such as:
• Vampire
• Werewolf
• Sorcerer
• Demon
• Witch
• Mad Scientist
• Ancient god whose seal was accidentally broken…
• Creepy next door neighbor

All that’s left is to Research the mythical monster of your choice.

Once you wrap this costume around the psychopathic personality you’ll have a monster worthy of any Horror story you could possible think of. Even better, it’s realistic. After all, there is nothing more frightening than Reality.

What’s next? A place for Terrible Deeds to happen.

A PLACE for Horror

Coming up with a place for Horror to happen is easy. The scariest places for terrible things to happen are the places we go to daily: school, work, the grocery store, our own homes… Think of all the close-by, but out of sight areas terrible things can happen in while people walk right past the door:

• Empty classrooms
• School boiler room
• Principal’s office
• Janitor’s office
• Apartment building boiler room
• Apartment building laundry room
• Apartment storage sheds
• Stock room in a grocery store
• Store manager’s office
• Office records and filing room
• Empty board room
• Public toilet stall
• Attic
• Basement
• Kitchen
• Bedroom
• Bathroom

Any place just out of casual sight can be the stage for a Terrible Deed, or two. Of course, abandoned buildings, crumbling castles, derelict factories, dark alleys, and dingy clubs with back rooms will also work.

Now you need, a Terrible Deed, or even better, a history of terrible deeds that have yet to come to light.

ACTS of Horror

This is particularly easy. Read or watch the News. You can also go to Google News and type: ‘murder’ in the search bar. There, now you have all the terrible deeds you could possible use.

A Motive?

Monsters don’t need Motives to do their Evil Deeds.
They do them because they simply WANT to.

If the opportunity presents itself, they'll do it. In fact, impulsiveness is a trademark of their kind. Sometimes it’s simple Greed; someone has something they want so they take it, or they destroy it just to make the one who did have it suffer from its loss. Sometimes it's Pride; someone called them on their lies, or got more attention than they did, so they trash that person's credibility, usually with Lies. Amusement is often the trigger for bullying, especially if their target cannot fight back.

Any one of the 5 emotions they feel; Greed, Hate, Pride, Fear, and Amusement, can trigger an Impulse to Do Something -- usually terrible.

No, Monsters don't need a motive. However, if they’re caught, they have thousands of excuses, and all of them begin with: “It wasn’t my fault...!” because Fear is something they definitely feel.

ALL monsters enjoy causing suffering; mentally, emotionally, financially… No matter how much they say they don’t, they do. You can see it in their smile. They find it vastly entertaining to watch desperate people do desperate things; especially if they’re the ones who triggered it.

And desperate people pushed into a corner will do desperate things.

Ordinary, normal people WILL commit Terrible Deeds
when they feel they have no other option. 

Normal, ordinary, not-psychopathic people will kill, lie, cheat, and steal in self-defense, and to defend those they love. This can make them monstrous -- but not Monsters.

How can you tell the Difference
between an ordinary person and a Monster?
Remorse and Regret.

A normal person will Regret that they caused pain to someone else. They will feel genuinely horrified that someone was hurt by their actions, or worse: died, and for a very long time, possibly their entire lives.

A psychopath; a Monster,
is physically incapable of feeling
either Regret or Remorse. 

Instead, they dive straight into Anger and blame. “It’s all their fault! If they hadn’t done such and such, this wouldn’t have happened!

Okay! You have a Monster, you have a list of horrific acts, and you have places for said acts to happen. Now you need someone to uncover and defeat the monster; a Hero.


The best heroes for Horror tales are those that seem completely helpless against the Monster. Most especially, the kind of people no one will believe when they say that they’ve discovered a monster in their midst.

Someone with:
• A history of Low Self-Esteem.
• A history of lying (after making accusations they couldn’t prove.)
• A history of violence (defending themselves against bullies.)
• A history of mental illness (for seeing the world differently.)
• A history of delinquency (frequent absenteeism at school or their job.)
• A history of being different (Goth, nerd, anime fan, artist, poet, stripper...)
• A history of seeking isolation (introverts, the studious...)

Monsters love making victims out of these people because of they are already OUTSIDERS, cut off from the rest of society, or because their trustworthiness has already been destroyed. Monsters know that despite any evidence they might present, these people will never be believed.

So, how does such a Hero defeat a Monster?
The same way one defeats a Bully on the playground.

You know how in grade school they tell you that the only way to defeat a bully is to stand up to one, and don’t back down, in other words; overpower them into backing off? On the playground, this becomes; “hit them back twice as hard as they hit you,” preferably with a pack of friends behind you (to keep the bully’s friends from jumping you,) but it can also mean, “get an adult to stop them,” preferably with expulsion. This technique actually works –- until you reach adulthood anyway.

Anyone that ever told you to Ignore a Bully never dealt with a Real one.

Ignoring bullies doesn’t work. In fact, it can make them downright dangerous. Every last one of them is narcissistic; all attention MUST be on them at all times. It’s why they are bullies to begin with; to get attention using the fastest and easiest means: violence. If they don’t get the attention they want, they get louder and even more aggressive. In fact, being ignored can enrage them to the point that they will chase after you. They will then go out of their way to make your life miserable in every possible way they can; above and beyond anything they might have originally done.

Don’t believe me? Check out the News reports. There are hundreds of cases of psychopathic juveniles that set schoolmates’ and teachers’ houses on fire, or knifed someone at school, or pushed someone into traffic just because they were ignored.

Once adulthood is reached, fighting becomes illegal, unless there are witnesses (and video) to say you were cornered first. That’s IF you know some sort of martial art and can actually defend yourself. For the rest of us, the only way to overpower them is by calling the cops. Unfortunately, that won’t work until After physical damage has been done that the cops can use as evidence against them.

The only other option for dealing with a bully is Disappear.

Change your phone numbers, change your email, change the privacy settings on your Facebook, and password protect anything public that they might try to get to. Disappearing can also mean quitting the job (if that’s where the bully is,) or even moving away. The more dangerous might try to track you down, but those can be arrested.

As for Story Monsters, the first rule applies:

Your characters' only chance at survival should be to Overpower them and KILL THEM ALL.

Other Characters

All you really need for a Horror story is:

a Monster
a Trusted Friend (often a mysterious teacher-type character, but occasionally a love interest) who may, or may not survive, but they are out for the count (or just absolutely no help at all,) during the climactic one on one Monster vs Hero battle scene.
• and a Hero.

All other characters tend to fall in these categories:

• Someone that Interferes with the Hero, until they become part of the body count.
• Someone that Helps the Hero, until they become part of the body count.
• A body waiting to be counted.

Anyone else is merely sprinkles on an already decorated cake.

On to the story!

The Horror STORY

The basic plot for a Horror is pretty much the same as a basic adventure plot with a few minor shifts here and there:

Act One:
There’s a mysterious death
-- Or series of deaths.
Hero discovers Monster.
-- from evidence
-- by seeing the Monster in action.

Act Two:
All evidence disappears.
No one believes the Hero about a Monster
-- and/or they think the Hero is the killer.
Hero privately investigates Monster:
-- who/what Monster is.
-- a way to kill the Monster.
A Trusted Friend appears and reveals a way to kill the Monster.

Act Three:
Monster threatens Hero.
Hero refuses to give in to threat.
Someone close to the Hero dies.
-- Lover
-- Family member
-- Trusted Friend
-- all of the above.
Pissed off Hero gains Special Weapon and goes after Monster.
Annoyed Monster goes on killing spree.
Bodies pile up:
-- proving that the Hero is innocent of murder.
-- proving that there IS a Monster.

Act Four:
Hero goes on Monster Hunt
-- with friends
-- alone.
Monster is cornered and captured
-- or incapacitated.
Monster breaks free
-- or wakes up.
Monster attacks and bodies pile up.
-- Friends
-- Innocent bystanders.
Wounded Hero faces off with Monster and uses Special Weapon.
Fatally wounded, Monster issues one last vague threat.
Monster dies.
Hero goes home
-- to celebrate
-- to angst
-- or dies alone in the rain.

If you want to make your story longer, or Manga style, make Four Heroes (or more) and multiply the entire plot by four, (or however many heroes you have) with all the heroes running through the plot separately and Losing their climactic battle scene. (Often done as Back-Story.)

Once all that’s done, have the Heroes discover each other (usually by being rescued,) until you’ve gathered them all together. Once they agree to become a TEAM, run through the entire plot all over again. This time, when you get to final climactic battle scene, have all the Heroes fight the monster together. The Monster takes out each of the heroes one by one, leaving one last Hero (usually the weakest) to deliver the final blow.

You don’t want to know how much manga I’ve read, and anime I’ve watched, to discover just how common this plotting pattern. Really. Off the top of my head? D-Gray Man, Naruto, Yu Yu Hakusho, Saiyuki, One-Piece… And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

SHORT Horror

The Short Horror plot is actually done a little differently from the plot I just showed you. Mainly because the characters are pared down to focus on only three: a Monster, a Hero, and a Trusted Friend. The Hero deals directly and immediately with the Monster while the Trusted Friend is usually someone completely ignorant of what’s really going on and gets caught between them. Often there are other minor characters, but those are just to raise the angst quotient by way of interference and/or body count.

Short Horror is best told entirely from the Monster’s point of view, the Hero’s point of view or the Trusted Friend’s point of view -- and only the ONE from beginning to end.

While there are literally thousands of variations, the Short Horror plot comes in two basic flavors. Each still has 4 Acts, but the stories are far more condensed:

Hero vs Monster

Act 1 -- The Angsty Hero
-- While Hero is recovering from trauma, something mysterious happens.
-- Against advice, Hero investigates.
-- Hero discovers monster and barely escapes.
-- Despite obvious wounds, no one believes Hero about Monster.

Act 2 -- Monster Harasses Hero
-- Letters, phone calls, dead things in the mail.
-- Accidents start happening to close friends/family.
-- Hero isolates themselves to keep friends away from Monster.

Act 3 – Escape Attempt
-- Hero runs and hides in the one place they feel absolutely safe.
-- Someone Hero trusts arrives.
-- Trusted Friend unknowingly brings the Monster with them.
-- Trusted Friend is the Monster!

Act 4 – Hero vs Monster.
-- Trusted Friend interferes during fight and Monster attacks them.
-- Trusted friend finally realizes that Hero was right, but dies.
-- Angry Hero slays Monster and angsts over lost Friend.
-- Hero tries to reason with Friend/Monster who he does not want to kill.
-- Monster offers a bargain: remain with Monster forever or die.
-- Hero accepts and goes off with Monster.
-- Hero accepts and is devoured by Monster.
-- Hero accepts then slays Monster and commits suicide to keep promise.
-- Hero refuses, slays Monster, and angsts for the rest of his life.

Devil’s Bargain

Act 1 - The Angsty Hero
-- While Hero is recovering from trauma, something mysterious happens.
-- Against advice, Hero investigates.
-- Hero discovers monster and makes a bargain with it.
-- Monster carries out bargain in the worst way possible.

Act 2 – The Bargain
-- Scared Hero tries to find way out of Bargain.
-- Scared Hero confesses, but no one believes Hero about Monster.
-- Reminders of bargain arrive: Letters, phone calls, dead things in the mail.
-- Accidents start happening to close friends.

Act 3 – Escape Attempt
-- Hero runs and hides in the one place they feel absolutely safe.
-- Someone Hero trusts arrives.
-- Trusted Friend unknowingly brings the Monster with them.
-- Trusted Friend is the Monster!

Act 4 – The Bargain’s Fulfillment
Hero accepts and…
-- goes off with Monster.
-- is devoured by Monster.
-- is transformed into a Monster.
-- gives Trusted Friend to Monster for devouring.
Hero refuses and…
-- Angry Monster devours Trusted Friend.
-- Angry Monster devours Hero.
-- Angry Monster devours them both.
-- Trusted Friend helps slay monster.
-- Trusted Friend offers themselves in Hero’s place.
-- Trusted Friend reveals that have already traded themselves for Hero.

Note: These plot-lines are, by no means, all the variations possible!

Okay! There you have it, a Monster, a Hero, and some Stories. Everything you need to write a basic Horror.

How to Write HORROR

Use lots of atmospheric description, and tons of angst. Horror thrives on graphic depictions, action scenes, and remorseful (angsty) narration.

The trick to making any scene really work is Detail; also known as DESCRIPTION, but especially in Horrors and Gothics. Atmosphere is what carries those stories, and for that you need detailed depictions of the environment (weather, temperature, light conditions, darkness levels, shadows, smells, and sounds,) in addition to detailed descriptions of your locations, and the characters. (Yes, the characters too!) Most especially, their Expressions.

SHOW the fear, don't just say: "They were scared."

While a monster is scarier when it's Less visible; perhaps only a patch of shadow, what defines the monster's vagueness is how perfectly visible the Rest of the scene and characters are. Go watch a horror movie and look how crystal clear the characters and their immediate surroundings are compared to the monsters (at first anyway.)

Keep in mind that when you get to your climactic Hero vs Monster scene you WILL have to describe your monster in detail too, so be prepared!

As an exercise, pull out your favorite highlighter and dig out an old horror paperback that you don't mind ruining. Go to the best scenes in the book and Highlight all the sections of Description. Now, really LOOK at what was described and what words they used. THAT'S what you need to do. Take notes on what you find, and keep them close so you can add more to them later.

Description is what will make or break your Horror story. Seriously.

The Secret to Horror

What many beginning writers miss is that at its core,
a Horror story is in fact, a MYSTERY story.

The core value of a Mystery is a contest between the Author who presents a Puzzle, and the Reader who seeks to discover the Solution before the end of the story.
  • A Good Mystery is one that Keeps the Reader Guessing until the very last page. 
  • A Poor one gives away the key Villain by the fourth chapter.
Never give anything away until the last possible second.

NEVER give the Monster a POV! 
Unless you intend to tell the whole story from the Monster's POV.

KEY: The Monster should be the Physical Representation, presented as a puzzle, of the story's Concept AND the final Answer.

If you tell your readers the final answer by the fourth chapter, you've just removed their reason for reading your story in the first place. So, Don't Do It! Okay?

Also! The final Answer should be more shocking than your Monster.


Morgan Hawke

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