Where is the most dangerous place for your characters to go? – Eight questions for building fictional worlds.

Building Fictional Worlds Part I: Setting and Characterization

When building a fictional setting, the connection between your characters and the world they live could make or break the believability of your creations. Therefore it is very important to deepen the connection between your characters and their landscape.

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Setting Impacts Character

It was 5:45am last Wednesday when I drafted a scene between two characters having an argument about their beliefs. Each character came from a different regions of their fictional world – one from a well-developed medieval city, and the other from a seaside fishing village at the end of Sothgren Reach.

These two characters have vastly different experiences, and to make matters more complicated, their perspectives are shaped by regional differences. Their stories converged in my work in progress The Witch’s Uprising, the first in nine novels about my fictional world – Brylennia.

Crafting Brylennia has been an exhilarating experience, resulting in characters that share a rich history, with a variety of perspectives.

Early sketches and inspirations

 

The following eight questions were useful in my development of Brylennia. These questions have helped me flesh out different aspects of Brylennia, and of each other regions “on the map.”

My goal was to strengthen the connection between the setting and the characters inhabiting it, resulting in a detail-rich experience for readers. Also, I wanted to have some fun creating a fictional world. Hopefully you can use these questions in your own projects or as a way to spark your reading curiosity.


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Here are eight questions to ask yourself to strengthen the connection between the setting and your characters:

  1. How has the landscape changed over time?
  2. How has the geography influenced the beliefs of your characters?  For example, if they are polytheistic, is there an emphasis on one god or goddess over another?
  3. Does geography influence the inequities in your societies? (If there are inequities).
  4. Are any particular people in direct access to resources that others do not have? How does all this influence an intelligent person from the region, or an ignorant person for that matter? Does this cause prejudice between groups of people?
  5. What freedoms or privileges does one group enjoy over others, if any?
  6. Do people dress differently in each region? Is this due to fashion, practicality, some other reason, or a combination of these reasons?
  7. Where is the most dangerous place to go?
  8. What’s the safest way from one place to another in your world? Who has made it through, and who has not?

So you know, I hope to explore each of these questions individually in future posts as part of a world-building series. You can stay updated on these posts as they are published via this blog.

If it’s easy for you, please follow me here on WordPress,  Twitter , and/or via email as part of our reader’s club

I hope these work for you!

-Curtis

Are you depleted of ideas, or do you just need to re-energize? Three questions to ask yourself when experiencing a creative block.

It was Saturday morning, and I stared at a half-written scene in the all-to-familiar agony of writer’s block. My usual urge to craft a scene had left me, and my cat, Horton, made a bed of my forearms. The time had finally come to do something else.

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My relationship with creativity is ridiculous.

At times, ideas won’t stop entering my mind. However, there is the occasion when I feel like my mind has run completely dry. During these times, I often try to re-energize my writing, change a routine, or work on a different aspect of my writing project.

This usually happens after I have planned an arc or chapter and the actual work of fleshing out the scene stands before me. Don’t get me wrong – I very much enjoy the process, especially if the idea is brand new. This was not the case with my current project.

Routines and Low Points

For those of you new to Paper Palaces, I am working on a fantasy saga known as A Thousand Watchful Eyes. I chip away at this project each day in a different way. Last week, I wrote about how little changes in my routine have impacted my writing progress.

While I have continued with my routine this week, I took some time to reflect on how I could revamp my daily writing habits. I added a half-hour writing sprint to my morning tasks.

The results were surprising:

  • 4/5 of the days were successful.
  • On Thursday, I wrote nothing, opting for more sleep from an exhaustive week. (I made up the lost word count on Friday).
  • I wrote an average of 800 words per sprint.
  • With each day, I felt like my scenes were developing, but all too slowly. Some were a little stale.
  • By Saturday, I felt some writer’s apprehension and eventually some blockage with creating new material.

What I do when faced with a creative block:

When faced with a creative block, I usually turn to revision. Revision energizes me and gives me relatively simple task to accomplish. It activates the creative part of my mind, and pushes me forward.

For me, the obvious solution was to take the new scenes from this week and revise; however, I just didn’t want to do it. I was completely tired of writing the novel, which many writer’s know is a dangerous place to be. This is what I consider a low point in the writing process.

So… what did I do?

I worked on something else.

I decided to take the day off  – not from project itself, but rather from the task of generating and revising scenes. Instead, I opted for investing time in tasks that inspire me to write the chapters, refresh my mindset, and help me build a richer, more interesting fantasy world for my characters to live in. 

This is my advice for any person feeling the lull of a project that requires dedication willpower, time, and sustained effort.

Here are three questions you should ask yourself when feeling sapped of creativity:

  1. Is there something else I can work on?

  2. How can I make this more fun?

  3. Am I depleted of ideas, or do I just need to re-energize?

These open-ended questions will help you to reflect on your project, whether you are a writer, reader, musician, dancer, entrepreneur, or anyone else who dedicates time, effort, and routine to a task. They help me revitalize my projects and habits that have devolved into mind-numbing work.

At the end of the day, I write because I love it, because I am fascinated by the world, and because I just really, really have to tell the story of these characters. Some mornings, I forget these simple reasons, as many people do.

In order to keep the momentum going, we must re-connect with the passion behind our passion projects. Here is how I approach each question:

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Question # 1: Is there something else I can work on?

This question is definitely inspired by the idea of creative procrastination. At the end of the week, and the beginning of the weekend, I often want to rest. This was especially true after this week. By shifting my focus to a different aspect of my project – world-building and map-making, I made good use of my time and kept my passion for my fantasy series fresh.

Question # 2: How can I make this more fun?

I won’t lie to you. When I answered this question, it lead me to Youtube, where I began “researching” how to make fantasy maps.

After ten minutes, I felt better.

I cannot deny that this is a form of procrastination, but I would be lying to you if I said it didn’t help me create new material for my novel.

This world-building step was very fun. I ended up drafting new ideas for how the setting of this series will impact my novel without detracting from the integrity of the world I had already created.

Question # 3: Am I depleted of ideas, or do I just need to re-energize?

This question is the most important, as asking the question always leads to activity. Usually, this question comes first.

While my answers vary, I rarely say that I am depleted of ideas, even if I feel that it may be true. When I ask this question, I often can find that there is something in my writing for me to investigate, some idea that makes me interested, a character who needs attention.

Although I have experienced writer’s block, I find the notion of “lacking ideas” a little silly. This is mostly due to my experience with curiosity. If I stay curious, I often come up with new ideas. On the other hand, I almost always feel the need to re-energize at the end of the week.

Maybe this is a signal to me that I need to take a closer look at how I work. Maybe I should always revamp and re-energize on Saturday. Maybe I should schedule blocks of time for just having fun with the novel, or maybe I should schedule nothing at all.

Take-Away

If I remember anything from this Saturday, it is to always re-connect with the passion behind my projects, to push forward with my tasks, and not to give up just because a blank screen or half-written scene feels intimidating.


I hope these questions help you with your creative projects.

-Curtis

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A Lightning Storm in My Brain – Navy SEALS, Dark Magic, Middle School, and a Secret Worth Sharing

On my way to work, the sun is rising, I look across a snowy field, and a flock of birds scatters into the air like flakes of debris from a campfire.

I hear a navy SEAL sternly recount the horrors of war.  He talks about discipline in everyday life, and I absorb his experience through my headphones.

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The SEAL’s adventures are far too modern for me to write about, but this field and his words recall an older type of warfare to my mind. The rhythm of horse hooves enters me. When his podcast is over, and everything is silent, my brain is still busy.

I daydream:

Steel clashes and a young woman rides her horse across a snowy field, much like the one I see before me. The woman will travel an entire realm, beyond the forest and the mountains, to a place where she discovers something far more powerful than the enemy she faces.

She is not yet seventeen, yet she tries to save the world from the rise of dark magic.

I breathe in slowly. Right now, she is a twelve-year old girl, a character in my novel, that has yet to grow. She cannot even hold a sword, but someday she will set foot in a snowy field. Someday, after she has surpassed the challenges of the book I am currently writing for her, she will change.

The Lightning Storm in My Brain

When I write, one thought leads to another branching out in several unpredictable directions, like a lightning storm. I feel the same is true when I listen to music or podcasts. One person’s experience leads me to think of another’s.

Sometimes I chart story ideas, plotting possible novels based on these little moments of exploration. Other times, I sit down and draft a scene, discovering the characters within it.

Most of my ideas are forgotten when they are not written down, but there are always a few that resurface. Some even return after years of paying attention to other story ideas, other characters, other plots.

It is as if some themes and some characters have a life of their own, an insistence for their voices to be heard and their stories to be told. 

The thrill of creating fiction, especially pre-writing and beginning stages is often amazing, and most writers know it.

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A Secret Worth Sharing

At times, the act of writing a novel is somewhat mechanical. I found more progress in my word counts and chapter construction simply from dedicating more time towards the craft. Still, one aspect of writing fiction amazes me:

The world seems to change when I’m working on a fiction project. Hours go by while I am absorbed in a scene, and then the next day arrives.

Every detail of every aspect of my life begs to be stitched or weaved into the tapestry of the story. 

Strangers in Chicago become workers in a medieval village square. An unruly beard of a friend becomes the mark of an ancient man in Brylennia. The arguments and discussions of my middle school students remind me of the energetic relentlessness of human curiosity. In the midst of growing from childhood to adulthood, the complexity of human emotion unfolds for us. The world feels – somehow – new and familiar when I write.

It is with this feeling – this thrilling mixture of happiness, introspection, and inquisitive observation, that I share with you one realization I had today. Here is one secret, or rather one truth, worth sharing.

Writing is more than just a mechanical act; it is more than just meeting a word count or completing a novel.

Writing, in many ways, is forging a sword from raw material, imagining the person who will wield it, shaping and tempering the wild steel into something crafted and refined.

It is recalling the family and friends who have loved you, and remembering the lessons within every tarnished relationship.

Writing is the act of bringing together the seen and unseen in any given circumstance.

It is living deeply, and it is a challenge worth pursuing.

 

4 Stages of Writing: A plant-based approach to creating fiction

Crafting Fiction

I have a relationship with writing, and it’s mostly good. Sometimes, I am consistent about creating chapters, and sometimes… I am not. Like all relationships, writing takes time, dedication, reflection, and care to stay healthy.

I admire writers who have found systems that work for their writing processes. Personally, I try new strategies all the time. I particularly like dedicating a daily time, a weekly word count, and a scheduled one-day session.

While I do seem to favor longer writing sessions, I hit a road bump with my last six-hour Saturday.  Thankfully, my fiancé was there to guide me through:

The Results of My Writing Process

On December 23rd, I wrote the latest installment of The Staghorn Crown, a monthly serial novel that I release for Patreon. Last night, I posted it on Patreon in PDF and eBook formats. Each installment is one or two chapters long, usually 2,000-3,000 words in length per installment. You can read the opening chapters here.

For Installment Three,  I drafted scenes during a six-hour Saturday session. The results were interesting, leading me to this insight about the writing process.

My “Rough Batch” of Words

My six-hour writing session initially produced four “chapter starters” which needed heavy revision. Unfortunately, I clumsily tried to revise too many chapters at once, neglecting my usual practice of working chapter by chapter, scene by scene.

This was a “rough batch” of writing. Laura helped me re-organize the chapters scene by scene for clarity and continuity. Installment Three includes two of these revised chapters. Through redrafting scenes, editing, revising, and polishing the writing, I was reminded of how the entire process is like growing and tending to plants.

4 Plant-Based Stages of Writing: Planting Seeds, Watering, Pruning, and Thriving

Stage One – Planting: With plants, we plant seeds and water the initial sprout. Likewise, in writing, we first plant the seeds of our ideas through the prewriting and initial drafting process.

Stage Two – Watering: We then water the seeds and sprouts of our ideas by adding new material, revising, or complementing the writing with additional structures.

Stage Three – Pruning: When the plant begins to mature,  we prune away the pieces that make the plant unhealthy or inhibit it from growing into something more magnificent.

In writing, we do the same with edits, cuts, and rearrangement. It’s reminiscent of bonzai at some stages – we have to be delicate, and deliberate. Sometimes, no pruning is necessary. How lucky!

Stage Four – Thriving: Lastly, we let the plant thrive. Our initial work is finished. Although, sometimes you have to repeat stages for your work to stay alive.

It’s not a perfect metaphor, but it reminded me of the steps I had missed. I usually spend more time “watering the plants,” and as I know well, skipping this stage could really do some damage.

Is your process similar? Or, do you have a different metaphor?

-Curtis


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I will update this group with the most popular / relevant posts, news, and materials related to the process of creating and publishing my fantasy series.  You can post your own content too, if you think our community will find it useful.


How One Children’s Fantasy Book Inspired Me to Rethink My Artistic Process…

Lyra’s Oxford

Philip Pullman published his trilogy, His Dark Materials in 1995.  The three main books in the series included:

Northern Lights (The Golden Compass in the U.S.)

The Amber Spyglass

The Subtle Knife

Lyra’s Oxford is a companion novel to the set, along with Once Upon a Time in the North. When I was looking through my book collection, I found an old copy of Lyra’s Oxford in my bookshelf. It was sandwiched between a few other paperbacks I’ve neglected over the years. This edition is simply beautiful in the way it is designed and executed. It is this design that made me take a step back and rethink my creative process.  Take a look at the photos below:

The artwork is the most striking aspect of the book’s visual appeal.  Jon Lawrence, illustrator and engraver, contributed these visuals to the book. The aesthetic is amazing. For me, I can’t resist the look of woodcut and engraved design, nor can I resist the appeal of engraver as a metaphor.

Engravers work on their products with sustained effort over a long period of time, eventually rendering an intricate whole from thousands of little creative decisions.  The parallels to the writing process are pretty obvious.

Jon Lawrence’s work inspires me.  The artwork, layout, and overall aesthetic of this edition urged me to sit down, slow down, and rethink what I do.

Mapping Out A Story

In the center of Lyra’s Oxford, a neatly creased fold-out waits for readers to discover its secrets. This unassuming piece of paper is folded into eighths, with the facing page entitled “The Globetrotter,” a “Series of Maps for the Traveller.”

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The Globetrotter – Lyra’s Oxford, Philip Pullman

As the reader unfolds each section, the pages reveal publications, sketches, and advertisements that directly and indirectly allude to characters in the whole His Dark Materials series. It is an outstanding example of keeping continuity within a series.

When fully unfolded, one side of the fold-out  features a tricolor of Oxford, rendered in gorgeous engraver’s print. This style reminds me of the woodcuts of Will Schaff, another artist whose artwork I enjoy. The other side features a plain grid-style map of Oxford. Of course, the map is not the “real” Oxford. This is the Oxford of Lyra Belacqua, the main character in Pullman’s series. Still, there are similarities between both Oxfords.   

 

I felt a surge of curiosity when I first opened the map. My eye was drawn to each cartouche, emblem, and ink-lined street.

 

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Fold-Out: Jon Lawrence, Lyra’s Oxford

 

Lawrence’s work does a great job at mapping out a story without even telling it. I imagine the collaboration between Pullman and Lawrence was riveting; or, at least I hope so! While I looked at this map, I thought about a comment my fiancé made in my early journey of planning The Staghorn Crown, a fantasy quintet that follows the lives of four girls as they come of age in a magical fortress called the Stellaria.  As I drafted the first scenes of The Staghorn Crown, Laura turned to me and said, “I assume when this is published, you’ll have a map of this place.”

Of course, I had a very specific idea of what I wanted the Stellaria to look like, but I had not thought about hiring an artist to make it. Until then, I had made my own sketches of rooms, towers, and ancient keeps.

After my encounter with Jon Lawrence’s engravings, I could enrich the reading experience of my novels by having these maps available. My search for the best artist to render them is underway, and I continue to sketch in the meantime.

Keeping My Goals, Changing My Process

What is my  largest take-away?

I learned that I need to periodically slow down and look at the bigger picture. How will my own books provide an experience for the reader? How can I make my own writing immersive? After all, I enjoy the experiences provided by Pullman, Martin, Gaiman, Rowling, Barnhill, and Nix,  and feel inspired whenever I read them.

Lyra’s Oxford gave me the space to sit down and rethink my creative process. I have so many questions:

How do I craft fiction with excellent continuity? How many revisions will this take? I write this, smiling and knowing that it will take enough revisions to make me happily exhausted.

Part of this blog is documenting this complex process.

For those of you new to Paper Palaces, I am a self-publishing author and teacher.  My overall goal is to write a twelve-novel fantasy saga. In 2016, I created the world, mapped out the books, and treated the project as a hobby. My fiancé and I traveled to England, where I was inspired by the beautiful seaside town of Whitby and the Yorkshire Moors.  After that, I had to create these books. It’s become a little bit of an obsession.

While this dream began with a student’s response to a writing exercise, it has since grown. I hope it keeps growing. In the end, creating these twelve books is about sharing a great story with others. I have decided to keep the same goals, despite add one important aspect to my practice. I am thankfully spending more time slowing down.

The Goals I will Keep, No Matter How:

  • To complete the series and build a readership over the next six years.
  • To release preview chapters and installments of my work online to readers, patrons, students, and friends/family.
  • To become part of a writing community so I can see, appreciate, and share the magic of writing.

I hope the little decisions I make along the way are guided by these larger aspirations.


To stay updated on my books, consider joining the Books of Brylennia Facebook Group, where you can connect with Laura and me on the process of writing, editing, creating this fantasy series, and self-publishing. You can post your own contributions too. Join us on the journey. 

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Are you a teacher who writes?

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Are you a teacher who writes? It’s a simple question. I am, and I’m proud.

With a profession as important as teaching, I often feel like 100% of my time should be dedicated to my job. Most of the time, it is.

I’ve spent many Saturdays and Sundays grading papers and reading young adult novels, preparing lessons and tweaking those final-yet-impactful details that make a good lesson great. To be honest, I love the lifestyle, but sometimes I want to work on my own projects.

While most teachers can sympathize, teacher-writers often have an extra variable to add to the work-life balance equation. When do we dedicate time to our creative projects? When can we chip away at the looming manuscript in our living room? Is there a happy blend of teaching and writing?

I’m sure there is. At the end of the day, I’ve found what works for me. 

Are you a teacher who writes? How do you do it?

  • Leave a comment, I’d like to know.
  • If you have a blog or twitter, feel free to leave a link!

Saturday Writing Session # 2 – Take-aways from five hours of writing

Paper Palaces Saturday Writing Session (1)For those of you who don’t know, I’m a middle school teacher who is also trying to write a twelve-book fantasy saga in my spare time. It’s the most amazing job in the world, as I get to work with children and their writing. To do my job correctly, I need to be efficient and dedicated. Likewise, my writing practice should follow the same principles.

When I come home, I usually grade papers, work on novel-related projects, and spend time with my fiancé. I have to budget my time; it’s just a necessity. My career has its own schedule, calendar, and set of deadlines. As a result, managing my work life is often easier than finding the time to manage my writing projects.

Until a few weeks ago, I tried to write every day. For two years, I wrote in the morning. Last year, I wrote in the evenings.

In a previous post, I explored the benefits of sitting in one place for six straight hours and writing fiction. I talked about my first six-hour session and why I chose to write in a cafe of all places.

One of the largest findings from my six-hour Saturday session was how incredibly happy I felt.  This made sense. After all, writing is, to me, one of the best activities that a human being can choose to do.

Take-Aways from Today’s Session

Today, I wrote chapters for The Staghorn Crown, my serial novel for patrons on Patreon. I found the five-hour session was useful. Here are some take-aways:

  • I walked into the cafe with a blank page and an empty stomach. I walked out, five hours later, with a sandwich, two coffees, and 3,500 words of useable material.
  • The hour I spent revising felt easier than usual, as I had created solid fiction during the previous five hours.
  • Fewer passages needed pruning.
  • Scene-to-scene continuity was clearer.
  • I felt accomplished earlier in the day.
  • My writing deadlines are now impossible to miss.
  • My fiancé, who also happens to edit The Staghorn Crown seems to like this new approach as it frees up time during the week for us to enjoy each other’s company.
  • I’m happy.

If you like what your reading, consider following this blog, liking a post, or joining the Books of Brylennia Facebook Group.

Stay updated on my books, by joining the  Books of Brylennia Facebook Group. You can connect with Laura and me on the process of writing, editing, creating this fantasy series, and our methods of self-publishing. You can post your own contributions too. Join us on the journey.

Why I wrote for six hours on Saturday and will definitely do it again!

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On Saturday morning, I woke up at 5 a.m. and groggily prepared myself for six hours of writing. Fueled with two large coffees, and ready for anything, I opened my laptop, sat down, and produced 6,000 words (4,500 of which I’m willing to keep).

By lunch, I was running around my apartment, sharing my happiness with my fiancé. In the process, my excitement may have annoyed my cats!

This overwhelming feeling of productivity after a successful writing session is familiar to most authors and writers. Usually, I am a very slow writer. I spread my work out over the course of days, methodically planning, plotting, editing, and revising in an almost-meditative state.

To make matters worse, I’m huge fan of daily writing calendars and events, and I am often hooked by thirty-day challenges. However, if I want a balanced life with happy friends, family, students, and of course, a happy fiancé, I have to plan my time thoughtfully.

Throughout the last month, I have spent hours and hours of my time grading papers and attending to other areas of my work and home life. As a result, my regular writing hours became more and more irregular.

I attempted to fix this with a daily schedule, which lead to awkwardly written prose and disjointed scenes that needed to be rewritten. This has happened to me before, and my usual solution is a binge-writing session. Thankfully, I learned that I am not alone.

After a listening to this self-publishing podcast interview with author Steve Windsor, I learned that he typically writes for hours on end. Instead of writing in smaller chunks for several days a week – or having a quota of 500, or 1,000 words per day – Steve writes for longer sessions, often producing the highest word count he can.

In his podcast, he mentions sitting in a cafe for six hours and aiming for 15,000 words. This idea of planting yourself in one place, for hours on end, without the distractions of social media, commitments, or household chores thrilled me. It was inspiring to hear a different message for a change. I think longer writing sessions will be my new norm.

As I move forward and continue to work on my nine-novel series and prequel quintet, I’ll post about the experience here. I think I may have found a process that works for me.

Do you have a process that works for you?

Please share in the comments, link a blog post, or tweet your idea to @staghorncrown on Twitter.


Remember to like, comment, follow, or share via social media!

Fantasy Fans United

We are building a community for fans of fantasy fiction. Make a post with the hashtag #FantasyFansUnited on any of your social media accounts. All posts should be related to fantasy fiction, cinema, or artwork.

Fantasy Fans United

This call to action, and this week’s Coffee Question comes from Evanston, Illinois.

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Who else is looking for fantasy on WordPress?

When looking through the WordPress Reader, a friend of mine noticed the under-representation of fantasy enthusiasts on WordPress.

Knowing that there is a wealth of people interested in fantasy fiction, world building, swords and sorcery, magic, and medieval-inspired stories and novels, we couldn’t help but pose this question this week.

This Week’s Questions

Are you looking for fantasy too? What kind of fantasy content do you want to see on WordPress? Do you have a fantasy blog, website, or other content that you could share?

Sharing your thoughts, content, and WordPress sites allows other readers to see your enthusiasm for this genre.

Paper Palaces may decide to feature your blog posts and site content on Twitter and Instagram if it is relevant to future posts and questions.

Read my answers to these question below, or start sharing your own answers in the comments section!

My Answer:

I’m definitely looking for more fantasy on WordPress. I would like to see more fantasy book reviews, short stories, and novelists. I’m interested in characters with depth and magical worlds that feel complete.  Honestly, I’ll follow any content that seems interesting or tickles my interest.

For more about Coffee Questions please visit our site page.

What’s your answer? Comment below or post on your blog with the hashtag #fantasyfansunited.

Why should writers study horror?

Intelligent conversations about horror are happening daily, but who’s hearing them? Despite the large number of horror aficionados in the world, many readers and writers have steered away from works of horror without fully engaging the genre as a whole.

Putting aside your genre-preferences, all writers should spend a little time unpacking works of horror to see what all the screams are about.

Preconceptions

Reactions to horror are wildly polarized in our society. This may be, in part, related to our preconceived notions about horror. As October’s two spookiest days set in this year – Friday the 13th, and Halloween – many turn their TV’s and streaming services to horror-related movies and shows.

Instagram bubbles with well-rendered work from costume designers, make-up artists, Halloween enthusiasts, and horror fans. While it may seem like horror belongs to the month of October, there is enough spectacular work produced year-round to make every month overflow with the genre. Sadly, some associate horror only with B-list movies, teen tv-shows,  and gore / slasher films. While there is a place for these creations in the horror genre, the larger reality is that the breadth and depth of horror is much richer.


Reason # 1: Author’s Craft & Audience Engagement

By reading a horror book, or simply watching a show, scene, or movie, writer’s can study the author’s craft. Author’s craft has multiple definitions; I am referring to the collection of techniques and methods that authors use to create a quality piece of literature or entertainment. Some of these techniques include character development, style, attention to detail, and use of genre-related tropes.

The most successful books, shows, and literature from the horror genre often involve well-developed characters, scenes, and worlds. Whether the world is completely fictional or set in a fictionalized reality (e.g. Stephen King’s Derry, Maine), experienced authors would agree that crafting these worlds and the people within them take time, effort and persistence.

Take Stranger Things, for example. This very popular show on Netflix is steeped with horror tropes and techniques, as well as conventions used in gothic literature. If writers dissected how this show tells a story,  they would find a wealth of lessons. Each character has their own motivations, but those motivations are revealed gradually. Likewise, the creators have also decided to reveal the most important plot details strategically, heightening the audience’s experience. Although the show is not without flaw, it is very well done!

As a result of their craft, Stranger Things grips an audience. Whether it’s references to dungeon and dragons, or apt head-nods to the popular works of horror, the show accomplishes a very important aspect of writing: audience engagement. At times, this ability to grip an audience is a lesson in itself.

The Take-Away For Writers?

Audience engagement is essential to any piece of literature or entertainment. If your audience or reader does not appreciate your craft, your storytelling, or any piece therein, they will not read your work.


Reason # 2: The Psychology of Horror

True horror pertains to more than just the physical. The human psyche is prone to countless fears that writers should understand. While developing a scene, writers should be aware of how and why their characters respond to the conflicts around them. By precisely creating scenes that work with the reader’s empathy for any character, the writer increases the quality of the reading experience.

Fear is a large component of this. Craft the character with all of his or her fears in mind – physical, mental, and spiritual. This adds a deeper dimension to the character, helping the reader psychologically engage with the character’s struggles. As human beings, we tend to empathize with characters. Sometimes, we draw parallels between ourselves and the protagonists of a book. Great horror writers capitalize on the humanity of their characters, giving reader’s a chance to identify with each scene.

Remember the last time you gripped a book in suspense? What about when a friend or family member said, “Don’t go in there!” to the television screen? As human beings we often feel the need to connect. If writers spent a short time studying how the best horror writers create these compelling scenes, we would see a lot of gripping fiction.

For scientific reasons why horror movies and literature grips us, see the suggested reading at the bottom of this post.

The Take-Away For Writers?

Creating fully-fleshed characters psychologically enhances your reader’s experience. Horror writers know this, and studying their techniques proves useful.


Reason # 3: Popular Literature

It’s difficult to write a blog post about horror without mentioning a few popular novelists and creators. Stephen King, one of the most popular contemporary novelists in the genre, has contributed over 50 novels to the world. Regardless of what you may think of his writing style and methods, King has clearly had a successful career as a writer.

Currently, I’m reading The Shining, and like King’s other books, the development of his characters and scenes is much slower and more rooted in reality than expected. While he pulls no punches, his scenes take time to develop, bringing the reader into a clear vision of what  he wants us to see. This attention to detail is one of the aforementioned techniques of author’s craft. Furthermore, King’s horror is rooted in the psychological nuances of human beings, not just the supernatural. This type of character development and scene creation lends itself to greater reader engagement, as the characters and worlds feel real.

Neil Gaiman’s creations, while not limited to horror, do the same. His work creates believable characters in situations and worlds that sometimes defy logic and expectation. Conversely, he plays with these realities he has created, ensuring his stories fit within their own logical set of rules and principles guiding their fictional worlds.

The Take-Away For Writers?

If the goal is to find out what attracts a broad audience of readers, popular authors and creators are perfect subjects of study.


Suggested Reading:

On Writing Horror (Revised Edition): A Handbook by the Horror Writer’s Association – Edited by Mort Castle (This book on GoodReads)

Horror is Good For You And Even Better For Kids – Tor.com

The Psychology of Fear: Exploring the Science Behind Horror Entertainment

Why Do We Watch Scary Films – Psychology Today


What are some horror works that you recommend?

Are there other reasons that writers should study horror?

Share your thoughts in the comments!