Today’s Art (28th October 2019)

Gasp! Here’s the third page of “Slasher”, this year’s Halloween comic 🙂 Stay tuned for the fourth page tomorrow 🙂

If you want to see some of the previous Halloween comics, they can be found here: 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. And, if you want to see more of Harvey’s investigations, they can be found here, here, here and here.

You can also find links to many other comics featuring the characters from this one here.

As usual, this comic page is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE ] “Slasher – Page 3” By C. A. Brown

Is Horror Fiction About Perspective?

Well, I thought that I’d talk about writing horror fiction again. This is mostly because, whilst the early 2000s detective thriller novel I’m reading at the moment (“The Apprentice” by Tess Gerritsen) contains a lot of horror elements, I noticed that it is both very similar and very different to a 1990s horror novel called “Exquisite Corpse” by Poppy Z. Brite.

But, I should probably include a mild SPOILER warning for both of these books before I go any further.

In short, the premise of both novels revolves around two serial killers teaming up with each other. However, although both novels feature many moments of horror, one thing that sets Gerritsen’s “The Apprentice” and Brite’s “Exquisite Corpse” apart from each other is the use of perspective.

Although Gerritsen’s detective novel features a few brief segments narrated by one of the killers, the main character is the detective who is trying to catch them. This lends the novel a much more fast-paced, suspenseful and mysterious atmosphere which, whilst it contains a decent amount of horror, is somewhat reassuring given the distance between the reader and the story’s “monsters”. After all, the reader spends most of the story in the company of a well-trained detective.

On the other hand, Brite’s horror novel makes the two killers the main characters. Yes, the novel uses a mixture of first and third person narration but, by using a slightly different focus, this story instantly becomes significantly creepier and more disturbing. In short, the reader is forced to see the events of a detective novel type story from an unexpected perspective and this makes the story much more of a horror novel. After all, the reader isn’t spending time in the reassuring company of a competent detective, but in the company of two vicious murderers.

An interesting middle ground between these two novels can also be found in Jeff Lindsay’s “Dexter” novels, which are detective novels where the detective is a serial killer who catches other serial killers. This allows for a really interesting blend of disturbing horror (thanks to the creepy protagonist) and more reassuring detective-based drama.

So, perspective can have a surprisingly large impact on the atmosphere, tone and general creepiness of a horror story. But, this isn’t a simple case of “horror stories are stories from the monster’s perspective”.

For example, some of the best vampire novels I’ve read (like Jocelynn Drake’s awesome “Dark Days” series and Anne Rice’s “The Vampire Armand) have vampire protagonists, yet they aren’t really that scary. Sure, these stories are thrilling, atmospheric, gothic, beauitful and/or generally awesome, but not really that frightening. After all, the narrators are powerful vampires who are on the reader’s “side”, so to speak.

So, it’s probably more of a matter of vulnerability and character than anything else. In short, horror fiction works best when the main character is vulnerable in some way (eg: the protagonist in Nick Cutter’s terrifying “The Deep” is a scientist trapped in an underwater research base). Likewise, in the scariest novels where the protagonist is some kind of “monster”, they will usually be pursued or persecuted by a more powerful group of people who think that they are the “good guys”.

In addition to this, horror novels can also use perspective to scare the reader by making the main character frightening. This can be because the main character is completely and irredeemably evil or because they are an unreliable narrator in some way or another. Because the story is told from their perspective, the reader is forced to empathise with them – which is a really disturbing experience. A good example of this is probably Whitley Strieber’s “The Hunger“, which is a rare example of a vampire novel that is actually scary.

So, yes, horror fiction is about perspective. But it is more about vulnerability and/or characters than just simply making the main character a vampire, zombie, monster etc…..

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Basic Tips For Adding Horror Elements To Other Genres Of Fiction

Well, I thought that I’d talk about adding horror elements to other genres of fiction today. This is mostly because the final novel I’ll be reviewing for this month’s horror marathon (“The Apprentice” by Tess Gerritsen) probably isn’t technically a “horror” novel. After all, it’s technically a detective thriller novel.

Yet, at the same time, there are a lot of horror genre elements in it. Whether it is the grisly crime scene descriptions, the scenes written from the perspective of a serial killer, the fact that the detective is haunted by one of her previous cases etc… there’s a surprising amount of horror in what, due to mainstream publishing’s aversion to the horror genre at the time it was published, is presented as a mainstream crime thriller novel.

Of course, this is far from the only “non-horror” novel to incorporate elements from the horror genre. So, I thought that I’d offer a few tips for how to do this:

1) Relevance: This is the most important and obvious thing to remember. Any horror elements you add to your story have to be a good fit with the story that you’re telling. In other words, they need to emerge naturally from the story that you’re telling. After all, at least some members of your audience might not be fans of the horror genre and might be put off by sudden and unexpected moments of horror.

Luckily, most genres have a few things in common with the horror genre. For example, thriller/detective fiction and horror fiction both often include suspense, evil characters and brutal violence. Science fiction includes the potential for dystopian futures, terrifying alien lifeforms and the misuse of technology. Fantasy fiction includes things like scary monsters, abandoned buildings, dark magic etc…

So, yes, horror can be blended seamlessly with most other genres if you are willing to see what they have in common with the horror genre. Plus, if you find this difficult, then there is always the old technique of including a nightmare/dream sequence in your story. However, be sure to clearly signal to your reader that your character is dreaming in an early part of the scene (seriously, there is nothing worse than the corny old “It was all a dream!” plot twist, however dramatic it might seem to you).

2) Read some horror fiction!: If you want to add some horror to your non-horror story, then read some horror fiction first! Not only is this the best way to learn how to write horror, but it will also give you some idea of what does and doesn’t “work” in the horror genre. It’ll also give you something to compare your scenes of horror to too.

Likewise, it’ll also show you the wide variety of different types of horror you can include in your story. Like heavy metal music (which is often assumed to be just one genre), there are numerous sub-genres and types of horror that you might not know about if you haven’t really had much experience with the genre.

Well-known types of horror include psychological horror (eg: horror designed to mess with the readers’ and/or characters’ minds), gory horror (pretty self-explanatory), body horror (horror focusing on mutations/distortions of the human body), character-based horror (eg: scary characters), gothic horror (brooding, gloomy, tragic horror) etc…

So, if possible, read a wide variety of horror novels. Not only will this show you all of the different types of horror you can use, but it will also show you that most horror authors will use several of these types of horror in their stories. After all, if you just include one type of horror then your audience will get used to it after a while. Still, if you just want to include a couple of brief moments of horror, then just using one type will work.

3) Comedy horror: If you want to include some horror elements but are worried that they won’t fit into the emotional tone of your story, then one way to get around this is to include some comedy horror in your story. And, yes, this is a genre. It can include things like parodies of the horror genre, obviously silly scenes that use the techniques of the horror genre (eg: watch the movie “Gremlins 2” for an example), characters who react to horrific moments in hilarious ways etc…

A good literary example of this can be found in Clive Cussler’s 1975 thriller novel “Iceberg“. Although the novel is a (somewhat dated) action/adventure thriller novel, it includes a brilliant moment of comedy horror.

The first couple of pages of “Iceberg” read like something from a thoroughly cheesy and sleazy vintage horror novel… only for it to be revealed that this is a scene from a horror novel one of the characters is reading to pass the time. Cue a brief, but hilarious, conversation about horror fiction with another character.

So, yes, comedy horror can be invaluable if you want to include some horror elements in your story without drastically changing the emotional tone.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Advantages That Horror Film/Game Novelisations Have Over The Source Material

Well, I thought that I’d talk about a somewhat overlooked segment of horror literature today. I am, of course, talking about novelisations of horror films and games. This is mostly because I recently re-read S.D.Perry’s novelisation of “Resident Evil 2” and because I’m currently re-reading George A. Romero & Susanna Sparrow’s novelisation of “Dawn Of The Dead”.

But, I should probably talk briefly about the history of novelisations before I talk about some of the advantages that they have over the source material. Even though I’ve only done some brief reading about the history, novelisations seem to have emerged as a literary genre thanks to the lack of home video in the past. In short, once a film ended it’s run in the cinema, the only way to re-experience it at home in the past was to read a novel based on it.

In addition to this, although novelisations are less common today, one reason why they are still written is because they are apparently relatively cheap to commission (and therefore can be profitable even if they sell a relatively small number of copies). But, although they are apparently written more quickly than original novels, they still have a number of interesting advantages over the source material that they are adapting, especially in the horror genre:

1) Depth: Because even the shortest novels can cover more ground than a 1-2 hour horror movie and can do things that videogames can’t, novelisations will provide a much richer and deeper experience than the source material. They can get inside of the heads of the characters, they can use language to set the scene/mood in interesting ways, they don’t have to worry about a “special effects” budget, they instantly have ultra-realistic “graphics” etc….

So, you’ll usually get an experience that is more atmospheric, peopled with better characters and more spectacular than the source material. This is useful in the horror genre for the simple reason that these things also improve the horror elements too.

For example, in the original 1998 “Resident Evil 2” videogame, the horrifying zombies and monsters were blocky, pixellated 3D models. In S.D.Perry’s 1999 novelisation, they are the kind of gruesome, realistic walking corpses and inhuman beasts that you might expect to see in a trailer for the 2019 remake of the videogame. Yes, the novel was 20 years ahead of the games in this regard!

Likewise, the characters in the original 1998 videogame had a few cheesy lines of dialogue and a few short CGI movies to tell you who they are. On the other hand, the novelisation gives even some of the background characters (who only appear a couple of times in the game) a lot more personality and backstory. This means that the reader cares more about the characters, which means that the scenes of horror have more of an impact than they did in the source material.

So, horror movie/game novelisations will often tell a deeper and more dramatic version of the source material’s storyline.

2) Alterations: This one can be a bit hit-and-miss but, when it works, it works! In short, in order to adapt a film or game into a book, the author usually has to make some alterations. These can result in all sorts of really creative changes which can really add a lot to the source material.

Going back to S.D.Perry’s novelisation of “Resident Evil 2”, one of the major changes from the game is to the pacing. The original 1998 videogame is a surprisingly slow-paced thing that involves lots of exploration and puzzle-solving. On the other hand, Perry’s novelisation is much more of a streamlined, fast-paced thriller. This turns the game’s story into something much more intense, gripping, suspenseful and dramatic than you might expect.

Yes, sometimes, alterations don’t always work perfectly (compare Keith R. A. DeCandido’s novelisation to the first “Resident Evil” movie for an example), but they’re also really fascinating because they provide something new for people who have already read/played the source material.

A good example of this is David Bischoff’s novelisation of the early 1990s comedy horror movie “Gremlins 2“. In the film, there is a fourth-wall breaking scene where the gremlins insert themselves into various other films playing in a cinema. The novelisation adapts in this in a really clever way by replacing it with a scene where the gremlins break into the author’s study and try to write part of the book.

So, yes, novelisations can be really interesting “alternate versions” of the source material. So, if you’ve seen a horror movie or played a horror game, you can’t be entirely certain of what to expect when you read a novelisation. Which adds to the horror 🙂

3) No censorship: This was much more of an issue in the past than it is today, but one advantage that horror novelisations traditionally had was the fact that that they didn’t have to get the approval of a censorship board before they were released. Anyone who has read anything about the history of British film censorship will know that it is only relatively recently that the censors have stopped routinely hacking horror movies to shreds.

A good example of this is Romero & Sparrow’s 1978 novelisation of “Dawn Of The Dead”. Although it has been about a decade and a half since I saw the film (so I can’t make much of a comparison), one of the cool things about the novel is that it is even more gruesome than you might expect.

Yes, it’s slightly less gory than the splatterpunk fiction of the 1980s, but it still has a level of intense grisly horror that would have probably been heavily trimmed by the film censors of the day. So, novelisations were historically a way to bypass censorship.

4) No barriers to entry: One of the really cool things about novelisations is that they are a more open format than films or games can be.

For example, unlike their source material, videogame novelisations don’t have system requirements. This is why, although I didn’t have any technology modern enough to play the game on, I was still able to enjoy Rick Burroughs’ novelisation of “Alan Wake”. It didn’t bar my entry to the story with a list of expensive tech I had to buy beforehand, it just welcomed me with open arms.

Likewise, going back to film censorship, I both read and watched “Dawn Of The Dead” for the first time during my mid-teens. With the book, it was just a simple matter of spotting it in a charity shop/second-hand bookshop and then buying it (for just 40p, according to the price written in the inside cover. I miss early-mid 2000s book pricing). I really enjoyed the novel back then and, along with numerous other vintage horror novels, it was something that fostered a long-lasting interest in both reading and writing.

On the other hand, when I saw the film back then, I had to wait for it to appear on TV and then set up my VCR. After all, thanks to over-zealous film censors (who were obviously never teenagers), I couldn’t exactly walk into a shop and buy a VHS or DVD copy of it because I didn’t look close enough to eighteen. The film didn’t deprave or corrupt me (it didn’t even frighten me, if I remember rightly) but, thanks to some people in an office in London, I had a much more difficult time finding and enjoying this cool movie than I probably should have.

So, one awesome thing about horror novelisations is the fact that they don’t have a load of deliberate barriers (like system requirements, film certificates etc..) that get between the audience and the story 🙂

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Why Your Horror Story Needs To Include Moments Of Wonder

Well, I thought that I’d take a quick look at a slightly old-school (and very much overlooked) ingredient in truly great horror fiction. I am, of course, talking about wonder. This is when the reader is left feeling awe-struck by something. When a story goes from being mere words on a page to being something almost magical. And, although this element might seem more at home in the sci-fi and fantasy genres, it can be used really well in horror fiction too.

A brilliant example of this is the horror novel I’m currently reading (“The Vampire Armand” by Anne Rice). Although this novel has some moments of horror and some disturbing story elements, the first half also includes a lot of moments of wonder (such as exquisitely evocative descriptions of Renaissance Venice). Seriously, this novel has a lot more wonder than you might expect in a horror novel.

Another awesome example is Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes“. This novel is written in such a wonderous, atmospheric and poetic way that the reader is left feeling both fascinated and scared by the creepy events of the story. It is difficult to describe, but the writing style is what turns this story from a “silly” story about a creepy funfair into something altogether more memorable, fascinating, powerful and profound.

Yet another example can be found in the horror and dark fantasy fiction of Clive Barker. For example, novels like “Cabal“, “The Scarlet Gospels” and “Weaveworld” will often include delightfully bizarre locations, fascinating distortions of reality, inventively unearthly creatures, beautiful narration etc… in addition to scenes of horror.

But, why is wonder such an important part of horror fiction? Well, there are several reasons for this. The first is that it helps to create atmosphere, which is essential for good horror. Showing the reader something wonderous draws them further into the world of your story. It is such a break from the mundane world that it will linger in their imagination for long after they finish a reading session.

Secondly, it is unexpected. Although good horror fiction relies on surprising the reader with unexpected horrific things, horror readers will usually expect scenes of horror to appear. So, delighting the reader occasionally can really catch them off guard. It means that, rather than just waiting for the next horrific thing to happen, the reader is genuinely uncertain about what to expect next.

Thirdly, it is all about contrast. By including moments of delightful wonder in your horror story, your moments of horror will appear even more horrific in comparison.

Plus, you can also contrast wonder and horror in some really clever ways too. The classic example of this is the splatterpunk fiction of authors like Shaun Hutson, James Herbert, Clive Barker etc… who will often describe horrific, gruesome and grotesque things in the kind of poetic, formal and/or “beautiful” way that you’d expect to read in a scene of wonder. This works really well when you want to gross out the reader 🙂

Finally, it is about tone and atmosphere. Traditional horror fiction is often about “good vs evil”, about “good” characters encountering the forces of evil and emerging victorious thanks to their moral principles, courage, scientific knowledge etc… Needless to say, this type of story tends to be very stern and gloomy in tone.

So, adding some moments of delight and wonder to your horror story shows your reader that you’re telling a more interesting, and less predictable, type of story. By making your reader feel emotions like happiness, joy, amazement, relaxation, desire etc… you are showing your reader that this isn’t a stern old-fashioned horror story. That they’re entering a fictional world where the old “rules” don’t apply and things are about to get interesting….

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Ways To Survive A Horror Publishing Drought

Well, since I’m focusing on the horror genre more than usual this month, I thought that I’d look at a rather dark period in the genre’s history – because it provides some interesting lessons about what to do when no-one seems to want to publish horror fiction.

Anyway, some context. Between the mid-1970s and the early-mid 1990s, horror fiction was apparently an incredibly popular genre. Numerous authors published horror novels and, from the sheer number of old horror novels I found in second-hand shops/charity shops during my teenage years in the ’00s, they were read a lot more widely than they are now.

But, at some point during the 1990s, horror fiction fell out of fashion in publishing. In fact, it’s only within the past decade that modern horror fiction actually seems to be gaining some vague level of popularity again. Even so, finding a dedicated “horror” shelf in bookshops today is more difficult than it used to be – even when horror fiction was at it’s least popular. At best, horror is often lumped in with sci-fi & fantasy these days.

But, despite this, authors from the heyday of horror fiction kept publishing new books when the genre was in decline. So, how did they survive?

1) Related genres: In 1980s Britain, two of the biggest names in horror fiction were Clive Barker and Shaun Hutson. Although there was apparently some antagonism/rivalry between the two authors during the 1980s, they both wrote splatterpunk horror novels during that decade. And, when horror fiction fell out of fashion, both of them dealt with this crisis in a vaguely similar way.

They looked through their own fiction for any other genres hidden in there and focused more on those genres.

For example, Shaun Hutson’s 1980s horror fiction often has a strong “gritty realism” element to it. So, during the horror drought of the 1990s/early-mid 2000s, he took this element and used it to write several grim, gritty, ultra-violent crime thrillers instead (eg: “Exit Wounds”, “Deadhead” etc..). Since this genre seems to be eternally popular, Hutson was still able to write stories that were similar in tone to his classic horror fiction at a time when many publishers avoided horror fiction.

On the other hand, Clive Barker’s 1980s horror fiction often has a strong dark fantasy element to it. This meant that, when horror fell out of fashion, he was still able to write several novels that included his distinctive interpretation of the fantasy genre (in addition to a couple of general fiction novels) – even though it wasn’t until the 2000s that he was able to reintroduce more horror elements into his fiction (with novels like “Coldheart Canyon” and “Mister B. Gone”).

The lesson in all of this is that, if you write horror, then you’ve probably also got another genre hiding in your fiction too. So, if you find it difficult to publish horror fiction, then focus slightly more on that other genre.

2) Fame:
When I was a teenager during the early-mid ’00s, one thing that I’d always see on the shockingly slender “horror” shelves in major bookshops were several Stephen King novels. At the time, this used to really annoy me (since I expected a wider variety of authors). But, in retrospect, this offers a really interesting lesson in how to survive a horror publishing drought.

In short, fame can be extremely useful during a horror drought. Yes, this is probably the most difficult way to survive a horror drought (since you also need a horror boom in order to get that fame in the first place) but it can work. I mean, thanks to numerous film adaptations, regular publications and being a household name, Stephen King was still able to put out new horror fiction during a time when publishers were apparently reluctant to even consider printing stuff in this genre.

Likewise, the next novel I plan to review (“The Vampire Armand” by Anne Rice) was first published in 1998. This is a gothic horror novel about vampires that was published at a time when horror fiction wasn’t a popular genre. How and why did this book get around this obstacle? At a guess, it’s probably due to both the famous 1994 film adaptation of Rice’s “Interview With The Vampire” and the fact that Rice is a very well-known author with a lot of fans. So, yes, fame can be useful during a horror drought.

3) Smaller presses and/or self-publishing: Although mainstream publishing’s interest in the horror genre can vary over time, there is always going to be an audience for it. As such, smaller presses can help to keep the horror genre alive during publishing droughts. Not to mention that, these days, self-publishing is much easier than it probably was during the 1990s/early-mid 2000s too.

For example, even though horror fiction was probably slightly more popular during the late 2000s, one of my enduring memories of that time period was seeing books from a slightly lesser-known publisher/imprint called Abaddon Books on the horror shelves of major bookshops.

Although this smaller press only really seemed to last a couple of years, they mostly published horror novels (with collections like the awesome zombie-themed “Tomes Of The Dead” collection) and it was really really cool to actually see new horror novels in bookshops back then.

So, yes, smaller presses and/or self-publishing can certainly be an option whenever the mainstream publishing industry loses interest in the horror genre.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Reasons Why Horror Writers Shouldn’t Just Read Horror Fiction

If you’re interested in writing horror fiction, you’ve probably heard the old piece of advice about how you shouldn’t just read horror fiction (and, yes, reading regularly is an important part of being a writer).

Anyway, deciding to have a horror marathon for this month’s book reviews reminded me of this advice. Especially since my reaction to focusing on horror novels rather than my usual mixture of genres (eg: sci-fi, detective, historical, urban fantasy/dark fantasy, thriller and horror fiction) was a bit different than I’d expected. So, I thought that I’d offer a few reasons why horror writers shouldn’t just read horror fiction.

1) It’ll make your stories more interesting: This has been said before by many other people, but it’s one of the main reasons why horror writers shouldn’t just read horror fiction.

In short, many of the best horror stories often take inspiration from outside of the horror genre. They’re frightening, creepy, unpredictable, compelling or dramatic because they also borrow elements from other genres.

For example, one of the scariest horror novels I’ve read in recent months is Nick Cutter’s “The Deep“. Whilst this novel uses a lot of horror genre techniques to great effect, it’s also interesting and unsettling because of the sci-fi elements that it includes.

Yes, sci-fi and horror are hardly a new combination (for a reverse example, read “Blood Music” by Greg Bear – a sci-fi novel with some horror elements) , but it adds a lot more potential and possibilities to a horror story than just the traditional settings of old buildings, gloomy streets etc…

Another example is the novel I’m reading at the moment, “Lifeblood” by P.N.Elrod (the sequel to Elrod’s “Bloodlist). Although this novel isn’t really particularly scary, it’s a really cool blend of the vampire genre and the hardboiled detective fiction of the 1920s-50s (eg: Chandler, Hammett, Spillane etc..). This alone makes it much more creative and interesting than the average vampire novel.

In short, if you want to make your horror novel more interesting, then you need to read other genres. Not only that, reading other genres will also teach you techniques that you might not learn from horror fiction alone. For example, if you want to learn how to write suspense and/or fast-paced scenes, then read thriller novels. If you want to learn how to add atmosphere, then read historical fiction. If you want to learn how to make modern technology terrifying, read dystopian sci-fi etc….

2) Variety is the spice of life: In short, I’d expected this month’s horror marathon to be easy. After all, I read a lot of horror fiction when I was younger. But, it is proving to be a bit more of a challenge than I’d initially expected.

Whilst I still enjoy horror fiction and hope to continue the marathon, reading so much of it in such a short space of time has made me aware of the limitations of just reading one genre. Some things become easier to predict, it’s easier to feel jaded and you start seeing the same types of characters/situations again and again. After a while, it makes you crave some variety.

I mean, one of the reasons why I’m currently reading a detective novel that only has a vague connection to the horror genre is because, out of the three vampire novels I’d thought about reading, P.N.Elrod’s “Lifeblood” seemed the most different from a typical horror novel. I needed a short break.

But, why? Simply put, horror fiction “works” by surprising the reader. It works because it is so different to many other genres. But, if you just read horror fiction, then it becomes ordinary, mundane, humdrum…. So, taking a break and reading something different can make the horror genre feel fresh again when you return to it. In short, reading other stuff reminds you of why the horror genre is so awesome.

3) Your horror story needs other stuff: If you’ve read horror fiction, then you’ll know that it isn’t 100% horror 100% of the time. Yes, more scary stuff than usual happens in a horror novel, but this isn’t 100% of the novel.

Even the most frightening horror novel will also include things like humour, drama, suspense, romance etc.. in addition to scary characters, monsters and/or situations. But, why? Well, a horror story is still a story. It can’t just be a random collection of frightening moments. In order to “work”, a horror story needs to tell a story. And stories usually include non-horror elements too. Because real life does.

There’s also the fact that good horror relies on clever pacing. It relies on the contrast between frightening and non-frightening moments. It relies on making the reader care about the characters (via characterisation, drama etc..). I could go on for a while, but horror stories need non-horror elements. And you’ll learn how to write these well by reading a wide range of novels.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂