Writing Paranormal Fiction
by Ken Stark
So, what is a horror writer doing on Nina Romano’s blog?
Well, fear not, my friends! I may write scary stories, but I’m actually the nicest guy in the world. Of course, that’s what they always say about the next-door neighbor just before they discover bodies buried in his basement….. and it suddenly occurs to me that I might not actually be helping the point I’m trying to make.
(Ahem) Okay, let me start over.
Hello everyone, and welcome to my guest blog! Thank you for inviting me, Nina. It’s an honor to be here!
Nina and I have been Twitter friends since forever, and she thought I might pop into her blog to share a few words about writing paranormal fiction. Most of what I write does, in fact, contain some elements of the paranormal, but what I mostly do is try to scare the pants off of people. So if you don’t mind, I’ll co-opt her invitation and do my best to give a few tips to those of you leaning toward the dark side.
For me, there is only one rule for writing horror. Make it believable! As a writer, I can create any world I want and inhabit with whatever creatures suit my fancy, but my made-up reality has to obey the laws of physics of that world, and the characters I throw into harm’s way have to react to the weirdness as convincingly as you or I or Great Aunt Fannie. The suspension of disbelief falls upon me as the writer, not the reader, and the moment I break those laws of physics or a character behaves in a way that no rational human ever would, then the spell if broken and the reader is reminded that he is reading a book and not living an adventure.
Yes, you’re right. Every writer should be striving for such realism no matter the genre. But I want to scare the poop out of the reader, so what more can I do besides making it believable? Fear is the most primal of emotions. We humans are hard-wired to feel fear. I would even argue that a healthy sense of fear is how we survived as a species. We fear the unknown. We fear the dark. And most of all, we fear anything that intrudes on our familiar little world, and for good reason. Any early hominid not afraid of the creepy, multi-legged creature crouched between the rocks or who giggled as a slithering thing dropped from the branches of a tree would have been quickly removed from the gene pool.
Think about the last time you had a fright. Maybe you were watching TV and looked up to see a big, fat spider hanging over your head. Maybe you were home alone and heard the proverbial ‘bump in the night.’ Maybe it was something as simple as being engrossed in a good book and someone suddenly tapped you on the shoulder. Whatever startled you, it did so because it came out of nowhere to intrude on your familiar little world. It started your heart racing. Hormonal cascade of epinephrine and norepinephrine. Tunnel vision. Auditory exclusion. Hyperarousal. The classic ‘fight or flight’ response, if only for a moment. In short, it tapped into that very same primal fear that kept your distant ancestors alive.
When I write, I like to take an ordinary person in an ordinary town on an ordinary day and drop the horror right into his or her lap. No preamble, no foreshadowing, no alternate time-lines or aliens worlds; just an ordinary person going about his or her day until the world turns suddenly upside-down. And to go the extra mile, I like to show that screwed-up world through that one character’s eyes. No popping into the villains head, no watching the monster being created, no knowing what might be lurking down that dark alley. Whether it’s written in first person or third, I want the reader to discover every moment of the horror at the same time the character does, to feel what he feels and to know only as much as he, every step of the way. It can be a tricky thing to hold such a myopic viewpoint throughout a whole book, but if done right, the reader will identify closely with that main character and maybe even put themselves in their place, and that is the ultimate goal. After all, fear might be ubiquitous, but it is also a very personal thing.
And it’s just that simple, my dark-leaning friends. Of course, there are as many ways to make a story scary as there are writers inclined to do so, but for my money, nothing works better than taking the familiar and twisting it into the truly bizarre. But that’s just me. Write the story you have in your head and do it your way, and if you draw something from this to help you along, all the better.
And for those of you rather less inclined toward the dark side, I thank you for your indulgence. And thank you, Nina, for letting me crash the party! I had a blast! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to pop down to the basement for a bit of, uh…..gardening.