Tonight I have been invited to speak to a group of college students about writing horror stories. They are having Halloween doings, and in addition to having an art display of terrifying images (my own title for it), they decided to have someone who writes horror come in and give a talk.
I would have not chosen myself for the honors. I am beyond flattered because I love being invited to talk to a group of students about what I do. Who doesn't like bending someone's ear about what they love doing? And being invited to do it is like a treat. So of course I said "yes" when the invitation came and I have been rubbing my hands gleefully about it ever since.
But I still would not have chosen myself for tonight's activities. I write ghost stories. And yes, I realize that a lot of ghost stories qualify as horror. Flat-out horror. There are the horror stories of vengeful or malicious spirits that definitely fall into that category, from Freddy Krueger to whatever-that-was in the film "The Conjuring." Anything having to do with demonic possession wins the title of "horror" in my opinion. And ghost stories by certain writers qualify without a doubt (think Stephen King and Shirley Jackson). But my stories are pretty much on the mild side. I have the reviews to prove it!
Also, the spirits in my story very rarely try to kill someone, unless it's incidental. That did happen on one occasion in my Bridgeton Park Cemetery series, and although the action was malevolent, the spirit itself was not a hunter. It did not set out to destroy anyone in its path. What happened to my character was simply that paths were crossed and there was a disagreement. (I am trying not to spoil the story for anyone who might not yet have read the book!)
Oh, and I guess I did have a malevolent spirit that DID try to kill people. That would be in my short story, Hunting Spirits.
But for the most part, my books aim more at the glancing-over-your-shoulder, did-anyone-else-hear-that? kind of tale. I want people to feel a bit uneasy, maybe sometimes a little spooked. But my goal has never been to terrify my readers, and Stephen King has flatly stated that he works to do just that. I'd say he succeeds, but that's a Captain Obvious statement.
So tonight I will talk about writing scary tales, structure, opening lines (crucial for every writer, not just horror writers), elements universal to tales of horror, and things like themes and motifs. I also plan to include a section on publishing, and other post-writing details. And I'm looking forward to all of it.
Sometimes when I do these, I get ideas for future stories. There are times students share ghost stories with me. Other times, ideas pop in just from the setting (who was the student in the back row, dressed in the fashion of another era, that never said a word, that no one else in the room recognized, and who disappeared without a trace? And why would he come to a workshop on writing stories about the dead...?)
Writers work primarily in solitude so getting out and talking to other like minds is crucial. Exchanging ideas, listening to other points of view, getting asked questions that make me think about the whole process - all of it gets me out of the single-person-working-in-a-room mindset. I can't wait to see what the students come up with for me tonight.