Fiction’s Little Houses of Horror: How Authors Write Scenes that Go “Boo!”
How can words on a page make your skin crawl? Your pulse race? Your heart leap out of your chest? Or cause you to break into a cold sweat? After all, they’re just words …on…a…page. Right?
We asked three horror/paranormal writers to explain the elements of horror writing that they use to create scenes that make our minds hit the panic button, over and over again. As you’ll see, they were surprisingly forthcoming. But how much can you really explain about something so intangible, and yet so visceral, as “horror”? Can fear be reduced to a simple formula, or is part of summoning our hobgoblins simply too arcane an art to sum up in a few words? Like sorcery, does it defy easy explanation?
Today’s authors: Athanasios Galanis, author of the paranormal/horror thriller,Mad Gods: Revelation Canceled?; Teresa Gabelman, author of the vampire saga Damon (The Protectors Series) and Renee Pawlish, author of the horror/thrillerNephilim: Genesis of Evil are all featured in “The Last Way Station Mega Book Tour”,a new concept in virtual book touring, in which authors take part in tag-team guest blogs, like this one. The tour, which I founded, is named in honor of my book, The Last Way Station. Click here to take your chance at winning a Kindle Fire in the tour’s official Sweepstakes and then here to learn more about our featured authors and their books.
In addition to discussing their approaches to horror writing, and what scares them, our authors have included excerpts from their current books. Two made audio recordings, so you can experience how they make horror come to life on the page, in their own voices. The third provided a quite potent written example.
So, let’s get started.
Author Teresa Gabelman: “Dark forests, creepy basements and old houses don’t scare me, it’s the characters that make me jump.”
“To me, the scary things that make me keep my lights on at night are something so realistic it could really happened to anyone of us. I also love to add a villain who you would never think was evil and throw them in there for a surprise twist. Dark forests, creepy basements and old houses don’t scare me, it’s the characters that make me jump.
“It’s especially scary if it is someone totally unexpected. The character that rated high on my scary scale was Annie Wilkes in Stephen King’s Misery. She was nothing like the horror ‘bad guys’ I had ever read before, but she rated right up there with the best of them. So it’s not really a place or circumstance that makes horror scary to me, but the characters that could, maybe, be your next door neighbor.”
Story Summary for Damon (The Protectors Series):
Damon DeMaster’s is a vampire warrior who has taken an oath not only to protect his own kind and humans. Crimson Rush (Vampire Blood), a new drug on the streets, targets children, and the Vampire Council has ordered Damon to find out who is behind it and to stop them.
Social worker Nicole Callahan fights for the rights of every child placed in her care, vampire and human alike. She sees the emerging vampire-human war of survival as a threat to the children of both races.
Damon and his fellow warriors train Nicole and her colleagues to fight with them against the new dangers. As sparks fly and tensions mount, Nicole and Damon must rely on each other to keep all of the children safe.
Chad stood in the middle of a small, dark, nasty-smelling room wondering, for the hundredth time, if he had truly lost his mind. Memories of the night at the hospital haunted him. No, he hadn’t lost his mind; Revenge had overtaken it. The need for revenge was strong, filling every waking second, making him sick with hate.
“You got the money?” A raspy voice echoed from a dark corner of the room.
Chad tossed the envelope on the table next to him. “It’s all there. Count it if you want.”
Long pale fingers reached out from the darkness tapping the envelope with one long pointed fingernail. “You sure about this, human? Usually it is you bringing me treats to feed my hunger. Their blood is so sweet and tangy.”
No, he wasn’t fucking sure about this, Chad thought, but straightened up. Too much depended on this transaction and he’d be damned if he’d back out now. He had some paybacks to dish out, and this was his only option.
“Yeah, I’m sure so let’s do this before I change my mind.” The envelope disappeared into the darkness.
“There ain’t no going back.” The voice deepened.
“No shit.” Chad watched the thing behind the voice come into the shadowy light and knew he was totally screwed. Red eyes glowed from the darkness as a figure moved toward him. God this was crazy, but if he didn’t take care of that bitch and her blood-sucking hero he was as good as dead, anyway. This was the only way. Not a praying man, he sent one up anyway hoping the ‘big guy’ would hear his one last request to survive what was to come.
“Any last requests human?”
“Yeah, make it quick.” Chad stepped back, his eyes growing wide as he got his first look at the thing behind the voice. “Oh God.”
“Don’t think God’s gonna help you now.” The evil laugh echoed through the dark room.
Chad screamed as he was attacked. His last thought was of the bitch and her lover dying by his hand. Soon, very soon. The screams stopped and the only sound in the dark room was the sloppy grotesque sounds of the creature sucking Chad’s blood from his body.
Author Athanasios Galanis: “Taking the everyday, familiar and comfortable and making it alien, will make something scary.”
“Taking the everyday, familiar and comfortable and making it alien, will make something scary.
“You walk into your home, and you find the front door open when you know you closed it before you left for work. What will you find when you slowly walk though the same door you didn’t think twice about yesterday? Will your pets be ok, will your possessions still be there? Is it possible somebody could still be inside?
“Your heart is racing and part of you is screaming to just call 911 on your cell phone and don’t go in alone, but you ignore it because that’s your home and you’ve been invaded and you have to know the damage. Is there going to be damage or is the chill running up your spine just your imagination trying to beat your heart in a race to drive you crazy?”
Story Summary for Mad Gods: Revelation Canceled?:
The Antichrist lives. He is wanted dead or alive by Satanists, the Catholic Church and the Dark Nobility. Kostadino, the immortal, supernatural heir to the dead kings of Constantinople, must save the boy or let the world turn into hell on earth. He kidnaps him and the two begin a life on the run, pursued by the tireless agents of good and evil.
The Mad Gods story line plays itself out on multiple continents and across vast stretches of time in a tightly woven narrative that moves, seamlessly, between the natural, and supernatural, worlds.
Author Renee Pawlish: “The best horror [writing] … sets up a scene with suspense, and then uses great descriptions to keep the tension and fear building.”
“Making a scene scary is an art. A good start is one where the threat is real, but not necessarily in your face right from the start of the scene. I don’t believe in just throwing violence and gore at a reader in the hopes that this will frighten them. The best horror that I’ve read and enjoyed is that which sets up a scene with suspense, and then uses great descriptions to keep the tension and fear building. If you write your scene well enough, the reader’s imagination will do far more than your descriptions of violence and blood will ever do.”
Story Summary for Nephilim: Genesis of Evil:
A dark power described in Genesis revisits a small mountain town. A journalist who witnessed an evil presence searches for answers. He finds a town succumbing to supernatural forces. Now, an evil prophesy may be fulfilled by the Nephilim.