No-one was more surprised than I was when my first horror novel, ‘The House in the Attic’, became a number one bestseller. It was far from being my first book, but when its sequel, ‘The Mournsby Inheritance’, became a top ten bestseller I had to admit I was probably meant to be a horror writer rather than the fantasy star I’d imagined myself to be.
With these, and my subsequent horror stories, remaining my most popular, here are my favourite tips for anyone else considering entering the genre.
Horror doesn’t have to be all about knife-wielding maniacs. Sometimes the most innocent or harmless of objects can be made terrifying (for me, it was a dolls house). Be it a child’s toy, an idyllic location or a fun weekend away in an old hotel with friends, anything can be made creepy, anywhere can be made deadly. Sure, the old wooden jewellery casket Adam finds in the small antique shop and buys for his girl looks to be the perfect gift, but what is the history of the object? Where did it come from? Who owned it and what use did they put it to? Let your imagination go.
Okay, so most of us enjoy the occasional slasher flick, but a horror novel doesn’t mean your characters have to be dropping down dead in a pool of gore every other page. Take a look at some of the most popular horror stories/movies going around today. Many of them see all (or nearly all) of the cast survive. So, if you don’t like the idea of writing for the genre because of the blood-shedding, don’t worry. You can have as many of your characters see it through to the last page as you choose. Of course, if a character really does deserve an axe planting in their skull, well that’s okay too.
Horror is one of the few genres where reality and fantasy can co-exist without seeming ridiculous or contradictory. Who says that an old, immaculate porcelain doll found in an otherwise dilapidated property can’t go around throttling your characters? Why shouldn’t an old music box summon a demonic entity when played? Go for it! In the world of a horror novel, anything goes.
So you’re writing about a serial-killing, knife-wielding, sorority-stalking lunatic? While they might be in the perfect setting for their work, how about you? If you are finding it difficult to put yourself in the right mindset to see off your third cheerleader because the latest happy-go-lucky, everyone lives happily ever after animated film is playing in the background, you might need to rethink your work area. Surround yourself with things that inspire your writing, be it by plugging in your favourite rock music, thinking about the stories that creep you out or just having objects around you that get your creative juices flowing. Personally, I have an annoying tendency to write in the middle of the night. If I can scare myself, I know it’ll make my readers jump!
This applies to whatever you’re writing. Don’t let anyone tell you what to write or how to write it. Constructive criticism is one thing, pointing out spelling mistakes is fine, but other than that, write the best book that is in you. Conjure up the story you want to share. Just because someone says your story has no market, is not in favour and of no interest to the reading public, doesn’t mean you should listen. Perhaps your book is the very thing readers have been wishing for. Maybe it will be the next big thing. Who can know?
I was told by one publisher that there was no market for stories where the dead seek vengeance on the living and should forget it. Really? Strange that those are the very same novels that went on to be bestsellers, wouldn’t you agree? Just remember, no-one can tell your story better than you. Write your horror novel your way.
Written by Amazon best-selling author Helen Cardwell.
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