Writers are always told our fiction should be informed by our experiences, because the best stories have a kernel of truth to them. With this in mind we smuggle our quote books into our characters’ mouths. We cast colleagues as our leads, and we misappropriate our memoirs into our material. We find and replace our own names and over-share under aliases. We launder tell off speeches through nom de plumes and reveal our truth through jest.
We write what we know until we write the fantastic elements of our story. Then we drop that mantra completely. Without the experiences to draw from we use other methods to ground our stories. We impose rules on the impossible.
A ghost can pester the living from the further, but will be weaker than a person who dares to go there. A magician can project a torch flame across the room, but the heat will diminish 60%. A Jedi can project his consciousness across the galaxy, but the journey will kill him.
We rely on western storytelling conventions to suspend our readers’ disbelief. We hope an internal logic will do the trick. For the most part it works, but what if there was a way to make our fantasies resonate with the same sense of authenticity as stories in our diaries? What if we had fantastic life experiences and we didn’t even know it?
Dreams are Experiences
Dreams are the only place (outside of drug fueled journeys, psychotic episodes, and virtual reality) where we experience true fantasy. Unlike daydreams, dreams push us out of the driver’s seat. When we ride through dream country we’re not creators, we’re experiencers. Our feelings aren’t manufactured, they’re reactive, and due to this delusion of perception, our observations are authentic.
I have friends who check out whenever I pitch them a story, but they lean in whenever I start talking about nightmares.
This is why I advocate the keeping of a nightmare journal, a Compendium of phantasms, an Atlas of the abyss, a Bestiary of bogeymen. You get the idea. Continue reading Why Every Horror Writer Needs A Nightmare Journal
“My favorite jump scares toy with your expectations.”
Cue the Psycho Strings
In horror movies, jump scares make teenagers lose their popcorn, while veteran viewers hold onto their Milk Duds. Veterans know the rhythms of the genre. They know what it means when the score fades beneath a howling wind. They watch the victim tiptoe through a long uninterrupted shot. They know when to expect a cat to jump out, and when to expect a killer. While teens wince at the simple sight of blood, vets yawn at all the spiritless slaughter. If they’ve seen one hook pop out of someone’s throat, they’ve seen them all.
They’ve been exposed to far too many cheap chills, generic gotchas, and bargain BOO’s. Without good storytelling, panic feels passé, alert seems antiquated, and carnage seems commonplace.
Veteran viewers have been inoculated against these dated daunts. They lean back in their seats, with comfortable dry pants, secure in their immunity. What if there was a new strain of jump scare, one that resembled those creep show clichés, but broke through their resistance? Continue reading Cue the Psycho Strings