Posts Tagged ‘The Girl Next Door’

Writers deal with a lot of tenses, and I don’t mean the ones associated when we hunch over our computers so we can better bang out stories.* No, I mean tenses like past tense and present tense, the tenses authors use to tell a story. Like first and third person POV, the use of either can vary from story to story (future tense and second person POV are rare, for reasons I’m sure people reading this blog can understand). And although I feel like I know plenty on the subject of using tenses sometimes, occasionally I find I still have something to learn.

Earlier today, I received an email from a magazine I submitted a short story to a couple months back. They rejected it. Which, honestly, I wasn’t broken up about. I figured out there were changes to this particular story while it was in consideration at the publication, so I thought this was for the best. However, they did include some notes on what worked and didn’t work with the story. Among those was one that really struck me.

They said that narrating in past tense, while giving the narration strength, also made it clear that the story took place in the past, and therefore made the story overall weaker, as it kind of gave away the ending. Namely, that the protagonist survives.

Now sometimes in a horror story, that’s fine. Part of the thrill is seeing how things turn out when you already have some idea of the ending. Interview with the Vampire is framed just as its title suggests, a vampire getting interviewed about his life. Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door is told by the narrator when he’s an adult remembering his childhood traumas (still the scariest novel I’ve ever read). And Salem’s Lot by Stephen King begins with two of the main cast in Mexico after escaping the town, then rewinds to the beginning of the events, and then afterwards shows those two characters burning the town down.

But apparently, with this story, that should not have been the case, as it took away some of the tension. And a horror story without tension is like a hamburger without a bun. It’s missing something essential.

Food metaphors aside, this shows an issue not only with the story, but a lesson I can learn from. With stories, it often seems instinctual, at least to me, about what tense to write in. Perhaps in future, I should weigh options and think about what the pros and cons of writing a story in past versus present tense. Perhaps then I’ll be able to write my stories and make them more effective in scaring the pants out of people.

And that goes especially with the story I got the rejection for today. I feel like this one could be one of my best if I can polish it a bit more and maybe get some more feedback on it. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens when I try changing the tense (and maybe the POV. I feel like that could also be an effective strategy for this story).

At least I know there’s still room for me to improve and become a better writer. I hear perfection gets boring pretty quickly.

Well, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m off to do battle with some exorcists who believe I’m an ancient entity here to usher in the end of the world (they’re right on one count, at least), and then do some writing. Thankfully with this story I’m working on now, I’m sure I have the right tense and POV for what I’m trying to do. That should make things easier further down the line.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*In all seriousness though, take care of your backs, fellow writers. That will come back to haunt you if you don’t practice better posture. Believe me, I know. Brought to you by a writer giving a shit.

It’s a quarter past two in the morning, I’m very tired and have no idea why I do this to myself, and thank God Almighty I don’t have work tomorrow morning, or I’d be one hot wreck. But anyway, good news! After over a month of hard work, I’ve just finished a new novella, which is both my first new story of 2019, and as my most disturbing story yet.

“The Autopsy Kid and Mrs. Autopsy” (wow, talk about a title) is a piece of human-based horror al a Misery and The Girl Next Door. It follows a young girl living in France who becomes entangled with a very disturbed young man after she’s caught shoplifting by said young man. It’s a really dark and gruesome story, with plenty of viscera and a very disturbed villain to boot. And as I said above, it’s probably my most disturbing story yet (and Snake included a scene where a dude got impaled in the most painful way possible). There were points during the writing process where I got a little uncomfortable, which says something about the story and how potential readers might react.

Still, it’s a first draft, so it’s going to take a lot of work before it’s ready for publication. And that’s even if I can get it published somewhere. Besides its length, this is, as I said, pretty dark stuff. Granted, human-based horror is usually very dark and requires a certain kind of nerve to get through it (everyone remembers the hobbling scene from Misery, right?). But this story? I’m sure plenty of editors would want me to censor some of the stuff that goes on in this one.

Not to mention the villain shares some similarities with another villain I’ve created that’ll be coming out at some point. But I’m less worried about this problem. I mean, if Criminal Minds can get away with variations of the same villains over and over again, eleven years in a row, why can’t I have similar villains every now and then?

Well, with any luck, I’m sure I could get it published in a short story collection, either one I put out myself or with a publishing press. I’m sure with the right marketing and a bit of editing and luck, this story could be well-received and give more than a few people nightmares.

Anyway, I’m just glad to get this story done. I had a feeling I’d get it done this weekend, but I had no idea I’d be up well past midnight working on it, adding about seven thousand words in the past twenty-four hours (a new record for me) before I could sit back and say that the first draft is finished.. I’m pretty sure I looked something like this during the past couple of hours.

I hear we even look a little alike. At least, I do in one of my many terrible visages.

Anyway, today’s writing brings the total page and word count to 164 pages and 48,581 words. Not exactly the longest I’ve ever written, but still quite a bit. And enough to leave me really exhausted right now.

Anyway, I can’t even imagine editing this behemoth right now. Pretty sure I’m going to leave it alone for a long while so that when I do return to it, I can look at it with fresh eyes. And in the meantime, I’m going to head to bed and sleep as late as I can. In the morning, I’ll likely have a celebratory movie marathon with low-calorie ice cream and hot tea. And if I do any more stories before I have to work on Rose again, it’s going to be something much, much shorter.

So until next time my Followers of Fear, good night and pleasant nightmares.

Lately I’ve been working on a new story that’s likely going to be a novelette or novella. It’s about ten-thousand words long at the time I’m writing this, and it’s unusual subject matter for me because it’s human-based horror.

I’ve written before on the differences between supernatural and human-based horror stories, and how authors tend to gravitate to one or the other with the stories they write. Personally, I tend to gravitate towards stories with supernatural threats in both what I read and what I write, But occasionally I do like a human-based horror story. In fact, the scariest novel I’ve ever read was human-based horror (The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum, and that novel still leaves me shaking!), and back in college I wrote a human-based horror/thriller novel called Snake that I had a lot of fun writing.

But this is my first time really delving into human-based horror since Snake, and I’m realizing a few things about it that separates it from supernatural horror. Specifically, the mechanics of such stories. Let me try to explain it: in my mind, supernatural horror stories work something like driving into a dark tunnel that you find out has some dangerous structural issues. Now prior to entering the tunnel, you’ve heard of structural issues, but you’ve been told to treat them like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, as in they’re not real and you don’t have to worry about them. Because of that, you may only half-believe in structural issues at most. Until you start driving into the tunnel, and you come to the realization that not only do structural issues exist, but they can kill you if you’re not careful navigating them.

This is how a lot of supernatural horror stories work: people go into a situation pretty sure that nothing beyond the natural realm can hurt them, only to realize there’s a dark, second world all around them that until now they didn’t believe in, and if they’re not careful, it’s going to kill them.

Human-based horror, on the other hand, works more like a downward spiral. At the very top of the spiral, things don’t necessarily start so bad. There’s probably a hint of evil, but nothing to really alarm you yet. But as you get further down the spiral, things start to get darker. Someone starts showing violent or cruel impulses. Someone else may end up grievously injured or even dead. As time goes on, the injuries or deaths may get more gruesome, or be explored in more detail. The person or persons causing the horror may get nastier, bolder, and crueler. This will only continue to escalate as the characters (and the reader) get down the spiral, and things come to its inevitable head.

We need only look at one of the most famous volumes of human-based horror, Misery¬†by Stephen King, to see this in action. At the beginning, Annie Wilkes is only hinted at being the monster she is. But as time goes on, she starts torturing Paul Sheldon to do as she wants. First it’s small stuff: making him drink soapy water or withholding food and medication. But then Annie gets worse, hitting his legs when he complains about the typewriter, cutting off his foot when he leaves the room, and then cutting off a thumb when he complains about the typewriter breaking down. All leading to that fateful night, after Annie kills a State Trooper, where she and Paul have the battle of (and over) their lives.

I’ll let you know how the story goes as I continue writing it, shall I?

This is the mechanic that I’m keeping in mind as I write this new story. And so far, I’m finding it works. This is quickly becoming one of the most disturbing stories I’ve ever tried writing. Hell, I felt a little uncomfortable while writing one particular scene, so I can only imagine what it’ll do to my readers if I get the story published. And I’m learning quite a bit from writing it too. I’m looking forward to how this story develops as I continue writing it.

I’ll let you guys know how it turns out when it’s finished, shall I?

What tips or insights do you have for writing human-based horror?

Good morning folks, I’m posting from Washington DC today, where I’m again hanging out for a few days for work. But just because I’m working, that doesn’t mean I’m slacking. So let’s get started on Day Six of the Ten Day Book Challenge, brought to you by my cousin Matthew.

Now before we go any further, I have to go over the rules of this thing again:

  • Thank whoever nominated you with big, bold print. If they have a blog, link to the post where you got tagged there.
  • Explain the rules.
  • Post the cover of a book that was influential on you or that you love dearly.
  • Explain why (because I don’t see the point of just posting a picture of a book cover without an explanation. That goes for Facebook as well as blogs).
  • Tag someone else to do the challenge, and let them know they’ve been tagged.

Today’s book is the scariest book I’ve ever read, which I came across last year and have been shaking ever since. What book could that be, you ask? The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum, that’s what.

I didn’t know much about this novel going in. I’d just seen it recommended to me as an audio book on Audible. It was too short an audio book for me to download (as I listen to these mainly at work and have to make them last throughout the month, I have a rule not to get any shorter than twelve hours long), I was intrigued enough to get it as a paperback. The novel follows David, a twelve-year-old living in the 1950s whose next door neighbor Ruth and her sons take in their cousins, the beautiful teen Meg and the sweet disabled Susan, after they’ve lost their parents. However, Ruth is anything but loving to her new charges, and especially targets Meg to vent her anger at them and at life. But because Ruth is so popular with the kids, who see this awful abuse, many don’t do anything to stop it. In fact, some help out with it. And David will have to make a decision about what to do about this as the level of abuse intensifies.

This novel is terrifying. For one thing, the level of brutality isn’t glossed over, but exposed in terms that leave nothing to the imagination. You see every injury, every attack, every bit of indifference to the suffering of others. It was so horrifying and tragic, there were times I had to put the book down just to process it and keep my equilibrium. It’s even scarier when you find out that it was based on a real story. Yeah, that’s true: there was something similar that happened in the 1960s, and it’s just as scary just reading the details about it.

This makes me wonder, was this novel an attempt by Ketchum to make sense of a tragedy he likely read about in the newspaper or on TV while in his late teens? Or did he already understand, and was trying to make us ask and understand too?

I’m going to caution anyone who wants to read this novel. It is intense, it is terrifying, and it is world-shaking. If you do decide to read it, I hope you have the stomach for it.

Next up, I’m tagging my friend Dellani Oakes. Have fun, Dellani! I can’t wait to see what you post.

Well, that’s all for now. I’ve got to be somewhere soon, so hi-ho! Hi-ho! It’s off to work I go. Yeah, I made that reference, and I proudly stand by it. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!