Horror Stories and Word Limits

Let’s do an activity.  I’m going to ask you a question, so wherever you’re reading this take a moment to clear your mind. Now, when I ask, “What are you afraid of?” what comes to mind?


If you’re like me, this image suddenly pops into your head.

But I mean it. What are you really afraid of? Snakes? Clowns? Heights? Rabid dogs? The IRS? Are you afraid of commitment? If someone were to ask me that question, my answer is quite simple. It’s only one word: Spiders. I’ve gotten a lot better over the years when it comes to dealing with the eight legged freaks, but I’m still definitely arachnophobic. I am a firm believer that if the pits of Hell were to open right now, spiders would be one of the first things to crawl out and terrorize the world.

So when it comes to horror stories and writing horror, there’s one very easy mantra to follow: Write about what makes you afraid.

At the writing con I went to last year I sat in on a horror panel with E.J. Stevens, P.T. Hylton, and Catherynne Valente. All were authors I was lucky enough to meet and converse with outside of the panel (P.T. had the hotel room next to mine and I could hear him filming his vlogs), and all are experienced horror writers with extremely valuable insights.

P.T., like myself, is more afraid of the unknown than anything. So in his writing, it doesn’t matter what macabre or grotesque monster is revealed at the end, as long as the reader is kept in a constant state of high strung tension and only fed enough info to keep them reading. He doesn’t want them to know too much, because he wants them to stay in the unknown. E.J. emphasized using the right vocabulary in horror, which is good advice for any genre, but the right choice of words can dictate whether the reader is only a little creeped out or downright horrified. And for Ms. Valente, what made her scared ever since she was a little girl were classic fairy tales. So she wrote a series of short stories that put a terror twist on fairy tale stories. The beast, instead of falling in love with the beauty, eats her. Hansel and Gretle don’t escape, but are cooked and eaten, along with dozens of other village children.

Because, you know, this isn’t terrifying enough already.

I managed to incorporate all of that great advice into my writing, and finished up two horror stories that I’ve been working on this past week. One isn’t so much horror as it is, “What the hell is going on here?”, and then a big reveal at the end. But the second story… Is scary. Scary AF. To the point that I cannot edit said story at night for long before my skin starts to crawl. I had to stop writing and walk downstairs the other night just to remind myself that I’m not alone, I’m with others, giant talking spiders don’t exists, I’m not in danger of getting by organs liquefied and extracted. All is well. On one hand, it’s a little annoying that I get creeped out from my own story, but on the other hand it’s also a pretty good sign; the story must be adequately scary.

The only legitimate problem I’m having with the story is its length. The publisher is looking for stories no longer than 9000 words, but this macabre spectacle is considerably longer than that, so I’ve had to do some major surgery in the past few days. Getting all the right info for the reader to progress through the story, while also keeping the full descriptions of all the terrifying moments so that story becomes memorably scary. Like I said, it took some major surgery, lots of cutting and splicing together, but I’m pretty satisfied with the results. It’s quite close to the word limit, but it fits.

So those are my most recent writing endeavors. The two stories should be polished up soon, I may even send them to an editor before the publisher, but they’ll be submitted before the end of the month. I’ve been pretty bummed lately for having to shelf my novel till a later date, but the more authors I connect with, the more I find out it’s taken them years and years to finish their first novel, if they ever finish. So that was reassuring. Most of them never release their first novel or get it published because it’s not very good, it’s from when they were first getting the hang of writing. While that does help me not beat myself up so much about taking a long time on my novel, I still plan on getting it published one day. Soon… Very soon…

Stick around for more updates about my writings, an interview with author Randal Greene about his new novel, and reviews for everything I’ve been reading.


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