Inside the Macabre Mind of the Horror Writer

(c) 2014, Amanda Headlee

(c) 2014, Amanda Headlee

Within each and every one of us are those dark thoughts that causes our skin to prickle and muscles to shiver in terror, thoughts that horrifically shame us. Deep in the recesses of each human mind is darkness. That darkness is what fuels our terror and nightmares. It is what gives us our conscience, our morality. However, there is a breed of humans that feed off the darkness and wallow in pits of of human fear. Those special, select humans are the ones that dabble in the writing of horror. The key difference between horror writers and others is that those who script the macabre shine a big spotlight on the darkness within their minds, drawing attention to it, where the majority of other writers prefer to not acknowledge that aspect of their being.

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Begin at the end?

The King of Hearts once told the White Rabbit, “Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”1

I guess that seems logical, especially in the realm of writing.  Unfortunately, I am sometimes an illogical person.  One would think that in order to write a story, one must start at the beginning.  Yet, this is one of those “writing rules” that I have never been able to follow.  See, I suffer with a sickness where I cannot start at the beginning; I have to start at the end.

When I know how a story is to end that is when I know how it is to begin.  It seems that my mind is wired a bit differently, but luckily I do not suffer from this disease alone.  One of the greatest authors of the macabre, Edgar Allen Poe, was an avid believer that a story’s plot should be written from the end to the beginning.

I usually begin by drafting out exactly word for word how my story is to end then slowly arc into the events that lead into the end, stopping when the story begins.  Sometimes, after writing the ending, I jump to the beginning, draft the introductory paragraph, and then plot the middle.  Other times, I write down a mélange of events that I envision happening and then script the beginning, which is followed by chronologically setting the plot pieces together from those drafted events.  Nevertheless, in each and every case the ending is always the first part that I start with.

Yes, I know I am backwards.  However, as a writer in the genre of the macabre, it is quintessential that a story ends with terror – always.  If an ending does not instill an emotion of horror within the audience, then I do not feel that the story has the effect that I need.  The story is set aside to fester in my brain until the ending is perfect.  Once the ending is perfect, the story can begin.

This is one of many characteristics that make me a unique writer, and I embrace it.  Be proud of your unique characteristics, defy the rules, embrace your individuality, and use correct grammar.

1Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, New York : MacMillan. (1865). Print.

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The Challenge of Genre – Experiment!


Note:  Amanda Headlee is on deadline for submission.  She’ll return soon.

One reason I love my writers group is that we challenge each other.  Not long ago, Amanda Headlee challenged several of us to embrace her genre of literary horror.  Now, Amanda isn’t a King or Koontz kind of horror writer.  Think Poe or Lovecraft…suggestive, hinting, and all the more frightening because it plays to the reader’s imagination.  Wanting more advice,  I went to Michelle and asked her how she creates a complicated not-necessarily-good character.  Her response was simple:  “If the character wants to commit murder, you let them.”

So we set the timer and I typed for 33 minutes.  Not my genre, not my kind of scene, not anything I would set out to write.  It is a complete short story of 1150 words.  When I was done and read over it, I was surprised at some of the images my hands added without my conscious input.

It was a good lesson.  The piece is decent, I realized it didn’t bother me at all to write from a serial killer’s perspective as I expected it might, and I learned a bit about layering information so the reader comes to knowledge at the right time in the story.  Something else I re-learned is that the suggestion of a gruesome act can get more response than a detailed description.

And it got me thinking.  I haven’t written romance in at least a decade, though I know an element of romance is good for any story.  I plan to try my hand at it very soon – not for publication, but to learn which elements make for strong romance, intimacy, and sensual tension.  Those are skills I can use in my own stories, alongside the elements that make for good suspense and horror.  Mystery, humor, suspense, fantasy, science fiction, these things I know, but writing a short story strictly in one genre will certainly hone and reinforce the skills I have gained.  I’m interested in trying steampunk because I like the challenge of making mechanical elements part of a character or a character in themselves.  It sounds fun.

So here’s my challenge to you:  Write for at least thirty minutes in a genre you’ve never tried.  Don’t judge yourself, but work at getting it right the best you can.  Analyze the elements of that genre and revise your piece.

What do you think?  How did you do?  What did you learn?  Is it something you’ll try again in the future or are you already doing this?