Back when I used to write a lot more fiction than I have in recent years, the horror genre was one of my favourite genres to work in. I’m sure that I’ve probably mentioned this before, but one of the signs that your horror story is going well is when you actually feel genuinely frightened or disturbed whilst you’re writing.
After all, if you’re coming up with a variety of terrifying scenes, dark plot twists or inventively macabre descriptions then it can be very easy to feel freaked out at yourself after a while.
This usually happens because you’re either frightened by the events of the story or – more commonly – because you’re freaked out that you actually came up with all of this stuff.
In order to explain some of the things in this article, I’m going to have to use descriptions of some of my own unpublished horror fiction. I’ll try to keep these descriptions as undetailed as possible, but I should probably warn your that this article may contain DISTURBING DESCRIPTIONS. Consider yourself warned.
Anyway, how do you deal with the times when you get freaked out by your own horror fiction? Here are a few tips:
1) Remember that it’s just a story: When writing is at it’s best, it’s an incredibly immersive experience. It’s the kind of experience where the images that flash through your imagination appear on the page almost as soon as you think them. It’s an almost magical experience, which can make you feel like you’re actually a part of your story.
This is why you get freaked out when you write something truly horrific. It isn’t because you’re some kind of evil sociopath – quite the opposite in fact. It’s because you’ve empathised with your characters to such a degree that you feel like a terrible person for inflicting horrific events on them.
So, although it sounds obvious, you might sometimes have to find a way to emotionally distance yourself from your characters and remind yourself that it’s just a story.
Sometimes this can involve thinking about parts of your story in a more abstract way (eg: thinking about your main character as “the main character” rather than using their name) or it can involve things like imagining what a review of your story – written in a very formal way- might look like.
2) Take a break: If you don’t have a deadline, then one of the best ways to get over being disturbed by one of your horror stories is just to take a break from it for a while and to distract yourself by watching or listening to something a bit more uplifting. In fact, you might even have to ignore your story for a while.
When you’re writing horror fiction, there’s a certain mood that can often go along with it. I wouldn’t exactly describe it as an “bad” mood, because it’s quite enjoyable when you’re actually writing. For a while at least….
It’s the kind of mood where you impishly want to shock your audience, it’s the kind of mood where your mind gleefully tries to be as morbidly inventive as possible when it comes to thinking of new horrors to put down on the page. But, after a while, being in this mood will probably leave you feeling slightly freaked out at yourself.
So, if you take a break, then you give yourself time for this mood to dissipate. Yes, you’ll still be freaked out at yourself for a while. But, after a while, you’ll probably start to think about other things than your story.
If your story still interests you, then you can return to it a bit later and take things a bit more slowly. But, if it’s just too freaky to write, then -for the sake of your own sanity – it’s usually best to just abandon it. I had to do this with at least two short horror stories that I tried to write in late 2009/ early 2010.
For example, one of them was a story called “Pulch” which began with a graphic description of the narrator being slowly dissolved by a giant flesh-eating plant. It was a brilliantly macabre idea when I came up with it, but after writing a few hundred words, I was totally freaked out at myself. I tried to take a break from the story, but although the idea behind it seemed like the kind of inventively macabre thing that I’d want to read in a horror novel, I felt too grossed out at myself to actually write any more. So, I abandoned the story.
3) Tone it down: This is perhaps the worst way to deal with a situation like this, but one advantage of toning down a horrific part of your story (or re-writing it completely) is that it actually allows you to keep writing straight away.
If you’re working to a deadline (whether self-imposed or externally-imposed), then pre-emptively or retroactively toning down part of your story so that you don’t feel as freaked out at yourself as you were when you originally came up with the idea can be a great way to keep writing. Just be sure not to tone it down too much.
So, if you have to tone your story down for the sake of your own sanity – try leaving a few things to your audience’s imaginations instead of actually showing them. To give you an example from my own unpublished work, back in early-mid 2009, I decided to unofficially take the “3 Day Novel” challenge, just to see if I could do it.
The novella I wrote (titled “Indigo”) was this surreal horror/detective story that mostly took place in a strange dream-world of some kind. The story starts when the narrator, a private detective, has a new client called Amanda who is suffering from a bizarre series of recurring nightmares. Anyway, after a long (and thoroughly grotesque) description of one of these nightmares, she points out that she only woke up after receiving a fairly nasty injury.
You can probably guess what the obvious plot twist here will be. In case you didn’t, it’s that her injuries from the dream also appeared in the waking world too. This, of course, leads to the events of the rest of the story.
But, after writing the nightmare scene (which is probably one of the more grotesque things I’ve ever written) I was starting to feel more than a little bit freaked out at myself. But, since I’d set myself a rather tight deadline, I couldn’t exactly stop writing.
So, in the end, the scene where this plot twist is revealed doesn’t actually contain any graphic descriptions of injuries. If I remember rightly, it just involves the narrator mentioning that Amanda rolled up her sleeve and that the narrator was shocked by what she saw. Thanks to the descriptions in the nightmare scene, the audience can still guess what the narrator saw, but I spared myself from having to write another gruesome description – with minimal damage to the story as a whole.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂