Three Tips For Writing Reassuring Horror Fiction

Well, I recently ended up thinking about the topic of reassuring horror fiction recently. And, yes, I know that this sounds like a contradiction in terms – but, horror fiction can be reassuring.

A day or so before I wrote this article, I was stressed out by various things and I also realised that I had to start reading another novel if I wanted to post a review here tomorrow. I’d planned to read a more high-brow novel, but I just didn’t feel in the mood for it.

So, I started reading a sci-fi horror novel (“Aliens: Rogue” by Sandy Schofield) instead. This was the kind of cheesy horror novel I used to read all the time when I was a teenager and it just felt reassuring to be reading this type of fiction again. Like watching a favourite old film or playing an old computer game you really love.

So, I thought that I’d offer a few tips for writing reassuring horror fiction because, yes, horror fiction can be reassuring. So, let’s get started:

1) Unrealistic horror: One of the first ways to write reassuring horror is to make sure that the horrors in your story are clearly unrealistic.

Whether they’re zombies, monsters, vampires etc… the trick here is to come up with a story that will be grippingly suspenseful but, when it is over, your audience will have no reason to keep feeling afraid. This helps your audience to feel tough and fearless and, as such, will make your story feel considerably more reassuring.

And, yes, familiarity helps a lot here too. A classic cinematic example of this is the first “Nightmare On Elm Street” movie. The film itself contains some inventively macabre moments and some nail-biting suspense, but the horror doesn’t linger afterwards for the simple reason that Freddy Krueger is such a pop culture icon. He’s an over-the-top, fantastical monster who is conceptually scary (eg: the idea of a monster who haunts people’s dreams) but, because he’s so well-known, he isn’t likely to shock or disturb the audience too much.

A good literary example is probably Clive Barker’s “The Scarlet Gospels“. This novel is an incredibly gruesome, fast-paced horror thriller – but it isn’t really that scary for the simple reason that the novel’s main villain is such a well-known horror monster (after all, Clive Barker created the “Hellraiser” franchise). So, the reader gets to experience a grisly trip to hell and back without feeling too scared because, chances are, they’ve already seen at least one or two of the “Hellraiser” films and know what to expect.

But, of course, if you’re writing your own horror fiction, then you’ll either have to come up with your own horror monsters (make them witty, over-the-top, slightly silly etc..) or use popular types of monsters that aren’t copyrighted (eg: vampires, werewolves, zombies etc…).

2) Tough protagonists: Real, frightening horror is all about vulnerability. It’s about being alone at night and hearing something approaching. It’s about finding yourself out of your depth. It’s about bleakness, hopelessness and sorrow. It’s about facing certain and inevitable death. All of this stuff is, as you might have guessed, not particularly reassuring.

So, a good way to make your horror fiction a bit more reassuring is to give your protagonists the means and skills to confidently fight back against the horror.

For example, I recently read a novel called “Patient Zero” by Jonathan Maberry. It’s a military action-thriller novel with zombies in it. It was quite a lot of fun to read, but not particularly scary for the simple reason that – even when the main character is unarmed – he’s a well-trained soldier with lots of martial arts experience. As such, whilst the novel is certainly gruesome and suspenseful, you get all of the drama of a horror novel without any of the lingering unease or fear.

The best examples of this sort of thing can, of course, be found in computer and video games. For example, the reason why horror-themed first-person shooter games like “Doom II“, “Left 4 Dead 2“, “Quake” etc.. aren’t very scary is because you’re usually playing as either a well-armed soldier or part of an expert team.

By contrast, a game like “Silent Hill 3” is about fifty times more terrifying for the simple reason that your character is a lone teenager who isn’t very good with weapons (and the game’s combat system is deliberately slow and imprecise to reflect this fact).

So, if your main character is tough and has the means to confidently fight back against the horrors they encounter, then your horror story will be a lot more reassuring.

3) Gory horror: This might sound counter-intuitive but, just because you’re writing a reassuring horror story, don’t be afraid to make it really gruesome. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First of all, gruesome horror is only scary when it also includes other forms of horror too. So, if you don’t include those, then you can make your story as gory as you want whilst also making your audience feel brave and tough because they aren’t feeling too scared by it.

For example, compare the films “Shaun Of The Dead” and “Saw III” – both films contain buckets of stage blood, but “Shaun Of The Dead” is a comedy about zombies. It’s gory, but it isn’t frightening because there are no other types of horror present.

On the other hand, “Saw III” is a scary, shocking, disturbing and unsettling film (people actually fainted when it was shown in cinemas) for the simple reason that all of the film’s gory scenes are accompanied by “realistic” examples of several other types of horror – such as vulnerability, cruelty/sadism, hopelessness, certain death, psychological horror etc….

Secondly, over-the-top gory horror isn’t inherently scary if it is presented in a clearly unrealistic context. In essence, the less likely something is to actually happen in real life, the less genuinely frightening it will be (and the more “fearless” your audience will feel whilst reading it).

This is why, for example, an ultra-gruesome zombie apocalypse novel probably won’t be very scary, but something like a short description of realistic horrors (eg: warfare, disease, violent crimes, natural disasters etc..) will be disturbing. So, if your horror story takes place in an unrealistic context, then you can make it as gruesome as you want without disturbing your audience too much.

So, yes, reassuring horror doesn’t have to mean sanitised horror.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

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Six Things I’ve Learnt From Running A Blog For Six Years

Woo hoo! This blog is six years old πŸ™‚ I know that I say this every year, but back when I started this blog in 2013, I had no idea that this random, impulsive project would keep going for so long πŸ™‚ Seriously, I’m surprised that it has only been six years since I started this blog since it feels like it’s been a part of my life for longer than this.

Anyway, like I do on each of these anniversaries (eg: 2014 [part one, part two], 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 ) , I thought that I’d share some of the things that I’ve learnt from running a blog, in case it is useful to you too.

So, let’s get started:

1) Good rules have multiple uses: Although I’ve set myself various rules about this blog over the years, I’ve noticed something about the rules that I’ve actually kept following. If a rule is good, then it will often quickly turn out to be useful for other reasons too.

For example, a few months ago, I got back into reading books regularly and I also started posting novel reviews here every 2-5 days. However, after the first eight book reviews, I set myself a rule that I wouldn’t read two books by the same author directly after each other. But, why?

Simply put, the only way I could get back into reading was to start by binge-reading eight thriller novels by the same author (Clive Cussler). But, by the end of the eighth review, I didn’t even want to look at another Clive Cussler novel. I was completely and utterly bored with them. Which was a shame, because they were so much fun to read. So, I initially set myself this rule so that I wouldn’t end up ruining the works of my other favourite authors for myself.

But, after following it for a while, it turned out to have a lot of other benefits that I hadn’t expected. It pushed me to look for authors I hadn’t read before (and I discovered some really brilliant ones, like Jocelynn Drake, Jack O’Connell, Jodi Taylor and Neal Stephenson). It also meant that I read books in all of my favourite genres, rather than just focusing on just one or two of them. I could go on for a while, but it’s a really useful rule πŸ™‚

So, yes, one test of a good rule is that it will often usually have more than one benefit.

2) Keep a link directory: If you’re writing blog posts/reviews quite far in advance of publication, then it’s usually a good idea to keep a directory of links to some of your upcoming articles in case you have to link to them in future articles.

Most blogging sites will often include a “permalink” description for scheduled and drafted articles. For upcoming articles that you might link to in other future articles, just copy these permalinks into a text file – like this:

This is a screenshot of my link directory, containing permalinks to all of the book reviews I’ve posted since 2018/19. At the time of preparing this article, all of these reviews hadn’t been posted yet (and were draft articles).

Not only will a directory like this make it easier to link within your site, but it can also be useful for your own reference too. For example, by keeping links to all of my book reviews, I’m able to work out how many books I’ve reviewed since I got back into reading regularly. This helps to keep me motivated to read and review more.

3) Know your limits (and work around them): In addition to writing regular book reviews, another thing I got back into was writing fiction. Although most of it hasn’t appeared on this site – all of this extra reading and writing meant that I had less time than I’d had a year or two ago.

And, well, something had to give. But, I didn’t want to reduce my posting schedule or anything like that. So, I had to be a little bit sneaky. It took me a little while, but I realised that one of the largest time-drains was trying to think of ideas for paintings. And, since I’d recently got a second-hand digital camera and had practiced making photo-based paintings in the past, the solution to this problem was a little bit of a no-brainer. Most of my art over the past few months has been photo-based paintings, like this one:

“Fareham Creek – Window” by C. A. Brown

This is a photo I took of Fareham Creek last May (and, yes, I make these photo-based paintings quite far in advance).

Yes, these are a bit different to my traditional sci-fi, gothic horror, 1990s etc.. paintings, and I really miss making these kinds of art [EDIT: These types of art will return more regularly from mid-June onwards πŸ™‚ ], but it’s allowed me to keep painting when I’ve had less time. Likewise, my monthly comics have become a bit shorter and visually simpler for time reasons.

Plus, in order to fit in the reading time for the book reviews, I’ve been watching far less TV and playing fewer computer games (which is why there are fewer TV show-based articles/reviews, no film reviews, no game reviews other than the usual “Doom II” level reviews etc… [EDIT: Game reviews will also return more regularly in November πŸ™‚ ]) over the past few months.

So, yes, know your limits – and find ways to work around them.

4) Experiment: Over the past few months, I’ve been messing around a lot with an open-source graphics program called “GIMP” (GNU Image Manipulation Program).

Not only has this given me numerous ways to improve my usual digitally-edited watercolour paintings, but it’s also meant that I’ve been able to make things like dramatic digitally-edited line drawings and even the occasional 100% digital piece of art:

“Westbrook – Sleeping Sun” By C. A. Brown

“Low Light – Silent Hall” By C. A. Brown

So, why have I mentioned this? Simply put, it’s to remind you that it can be a good idea to experiment with different things occasionally. If you want to keep up your interest in the things that you’re blogging about, then don’t be afraid to experiment with different stuff every now and then.

5) Review notes: Although this isn’t exactly something new that I’ve learnt, it’s something I’ve been reminded of over the past few months. Basically, if you’re reviewing something, then take notes. Even if you don’t use literally everything in your notes in your review, then take notes regardless.

There are lots of ways to do this. For example, when reading a novel, I’ll use a small square of note paper as both a bookmark and a space to note down what is happening. Having small handwriting helps here (and, yes, ballpoint pens are annoying for tiny writing – but the ink doesn’t soak through the paper like with rollerball pens).

Here’s an example (which contains SPOILERS for Jodi Taylor’s “A Symphony Of Echoes):

This is one side of my bookmark plot notes for Jodi Taylor’s “A Symphony Of Echoes”. Hooray for micro-writing!

After each reading session, I’ll also make more extensive “impressions so far” notes in a notebook. Instead of focusing on writing down plot details (I’ve got the bookmark for this, after all), these notes tend to focus on things like themes, techniques and my general impressions of what I’ve read.

Yes, stopping to take notes can get in the way of enjoying the thing you’re reviewing, but it’s important because it not only helps you to remember more stuff about the thing you’re reviewing, but it also means that you can look back at your notes and see how your views about the thing you’re reviewing have changed whilst you’ve been reading, watching, playing etc.. it.

So, even if you don’t end up using literally every detail in your notes, then taking notes will still result in better reviews.

6) Always have a buffer!: When I was writing some of the daily short stories (like these) that were posted here early last year, I forgot one of the earliest lessons that I’d learnt when I started this blog back in 2013.

Back then, I didn’t have a buffer of pre-made/ pre-scheduled articles, so the early days of my blog were a chaotic, stressful, rushed and panicked time. Over time, I thankfully built up a fairly large buffer of articles – meaning that I didn’t feel anywhere near as much time pressure or deadline stress.

Since these daily short stories were a spontaneous idea, I foolishly forgot this. As such, I was constantly panicking about finishing and posting a story at the end of every day. Eventually, I was able to build up a small 5-7 day story buffer but, because of all of the time stress before this, I ended up abandoning the idea of daily short stories after a month or two. In retrospect, I should have built up a buffer before posting any stories here.

So, yes, always build up a buffer before you start posting regular features on your blog! And, yes, it can be easy to forget this when you’re eager to start a new project. But, it’s very important!

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Three Sneaky Ways To Reduce Reader Frustration

One of the interesting things that I’ve noticed since I got back into reading regularly a few months ago is that I’ve started to notice things like story structure a lot more than I used to. Of course, this also means that I also tend to notice things like flaws, various pet peeves and poor planning/design choices a lot more too.

Still, I’ve also seen stories that contain things that should annoy me but somehow don’t because of clever writing. So, I thought that I’d offer a few tips for how to reduce some of the more common types of story problems.

1) Cliffhangers – Less Is More!: Yes, if you’re writing a continuous series, then a dramatic cliffhanger ending can be a good way to keep your readers excited for the next instalment.

However, from the reader’s perspective, there is nothing more frustrating than reading a dramatic story only for it to suddenly end on a cliffhanger. Not only can it feel disappointing, but it can also feel slightly manipulative too (eg: your readers feel like they’re being forced into reading the next book).

So, how can you include the dramatic suspense of a cliffhanger ending without leaving your readers feeling cheated or manipulated? Well, it is all to do with scale.

Simply put, the best cliffhanger endings I’ve seen (such as in some instalments of Jocelynn Drake’s “Dark Days” series) will often be relatively small in scale, whilst also offering some sense of resolution too.

In other words, the main plot of the novel will be resolved – but the tantalising beginning of another plot will appear in the final chapter. Or, if you want to do something a bit more sophisticated, the main plot of the novel should be resolved, but the background story arc of the series can still be left unresolved.

By keeping the cliffhanger relatively small and/or in the background, the reader still gets the satisfaction of a resolved storyline in addition to an intriguing, but less overbearing, cliffhanger ending.

Likewise, another thing that helps to soften the blow of a cliffhanger ending is good signposting. In other words, label your story as “part one of…” or whatever, so that the reader doesn’t go into the story expecting a full, self-contained story. After all, a lot of cliffhanger-based frustration happens when readers are led to expect a full story, only to suddenly discover that they’ve only got part of a longer story.

2) Perspective changes – Consistency And Signposting!: Usually, there is nothing more jarring and disorientating than stories that switch between multiple first-person narrators or stories that switch between first and third person perspective.

However, the novel I’m reading at the time of writing (“Patient Zero” by Jonathan Maberry) actually manages to handle frequent switches between first and third person perspective reasonably well, in a mostly non-frustrating way.

But, how does Maberry do it? First of all, the title of each chapter includes a small segment that tells you where the events of the chapter take place (which also tells you which character or characters it will involve). Although this might seem like it’s stating the obvious, the fact that the reader doesn’t have to spend the first few paragraphs of each chapter working out what is going on keeps the story flowing reasonably well despite the frequent changes between first and third person narration.

Secondly, and most importantly, the narrative voice in both the first and third person segments of the novel is reasonably consistent too.

In other words, there aren’t huge stylistic changes between the two types of narration. Although this might seem like it would make the story bland, it actually makes it much more readable – for the simple reason that it doesn’t break the “flow” of the story too much. The switches between first and third person narration are reasonably seamless, since the writing style in both is fairly similar.

But, of course, it’s usually a good idea to stick to just using third-person narration if you want to focus on multiple main characters in multiple locations.

3) Slow Pacing – Distinctiveness And Interest!: Not every novel has to be an ultra-fast unputdownable page-turner. Sometimes there are valid reasons for a writer to do things a bit more slowly. And, whilst it goes without saying that slow pacing should only be used when it is actually a necessary part of the story, how can you keep your reader’s attention during the slower parts of your story?

First of all, give them a reason to keep reading! Whether it is an intriguingly strange or mysterious premise, or possibly even a feeling of suspense or curiosity, you need to make sure that your reader has a good reason to keep reading a slower story. In other words, there has to be some kind of dramatic payoff for all of the slow storytelling and/or something to hold the reader’s interest when your story slows to a crawl.

Secondly, make your story distinctive. If you include things like an interesting narrative voice, atmospheric settings, fascinating characters, clever descriptions, a sense of humour etc.. then your readers won’t care too much about the slow pacing for the simple reason that they’ll be too busy enjoying your writing. In other words, if a story is well-written enough, then a slow pace will actually give the reader more time to enjoy the good writing. So, make sure that the slow-paced parts of your story are well-written!

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

One Reason Why Having Your Own Writing Or Art Style Matters

Even though this is a short article about writing and making art, I’m going to have to start by talking about music for a few paragraphs. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

Although I haven’t really listened to that much rap music, I recently listened to Tinie Tempah’s “Disc-Overy” album and really enjoyed it (after getting nostalgic about a couple of songs from it I first heard about eight or nine years ago), not to mention that it also showed me something about the value of having a unique “style”.

In addition to Tinie Tempah’s voice/musical style, the humour, rhymes and instrumental elements (eg: 1980s synth music etc..) on the album’s best tracks really stand out πŸ™‚ What this all means is that you can instantly recognise a Tinie Tempah song whenever you hear one, even if you aren’t an expert on the genre or haven’t heard that particular song before.

Or, to give another rap-related example, although I’ve only seen a few modern music videos by Dizzee Rascal – his music videos have often this really cool “1980s/90s movie” style to them. Whether it is the ludicrously gruesome 1980s horror movie parody music video for “Couple Of Stacks” or the macabre hilarity of the 1990s Cockney gangster movie-style music video for “Bop N Keep It Dippin”, these are about a million miles away from a typical mainstream music video and they are absolutely awesome πŸ™‚

So, why have I spent a few paragraphs talking about rap music?

One of the many benefits of having a unique style is that it allows you to appeal to people who aren’t typically fans of the genre that you’re making stuff in. It means that people who don’t have an encyclopaedic knowledge of your genre can still go “Ah, I recognise this!” when they encounter something that you’ve made.

Having your own unique style also helps to appeal to people who are more interested in other genres because the best way to find your own unique style is to have influences from outside of your chosen genre.

One side-effect of this is that people who like other stuff might also like your stuff because it includes elements of their favourite genres too. In other words, it means that you’ll have something in common with more than just enthusiastic fans of your genre.

For example, the Dizzee Rascal music videos I mentioned earlier have a wonderfully twisted sense of humour that will be recognisable to anyone who loves horror movies, heavy metal music etc.. And, as such, even if you’re more of a fan of other genres of music, the videos are still absolutely awesome because they’re a modern tribute to the “edgy” and “controversial” cinema of the past.

So, yes, finding your own unique writing style, art style etc.. is important because it can expand your audience beyond just fans of your favourite genre.

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Sorry for the short article, but I hope that it was useful πŸ™‚

Using Banality In Dystopian Fiction

Well, I thought that I’d talk about dystopian fiction today. This is mostly because the dystopian alternate history novel that I’m reading at the moment (a novel from 2012 called “Dominion” by C. J. Sansom. Mild SPOILERS ahead) contains some absolutely perfect examples of one of the most essential (but easily missed) techniques for writing good dystopian fiction.

Although “Dominion” fits into the classic “What if Britain lost WW2?” genre of alternate history fiction, it is even more chilling than other things I’ve seen in the genre for the simple reason that – for some parts of the story – the dystopian elements are kept in the background. In some parts, the story almost just reads like an “ordinary” historical novel set in 1950s Britain.

Even though these “everyday life” elements of the story can slow the first half of story down quite significantly, they are there for a very good reason. By occasionally focusing on the banal, ordinary side of life – Sansom not only makes the story’s more obviously dystopian moments stand out more by contrast, but he also adds a significant amount of chilling realism to the story too.

After all, everyday life is usually ordinary, mundane and banal. And, by showing the characters having to deal with all of this boring everyday stuff (or even seeking refuge in it), the dystopian world of Sansom’s novel seems considerably more chilling.

Not only is this because it makes it easier to relate to the characters, but it’s also because it allows for all kinds of clever (and disturbing) social and political satire too.

For example, there’s one scene in “Dominion” where three of the characters stop off at a pub during a car journey. In the pub, they briefly overhear a few grumpy old men moaning about how the government (which, in the novel, is run by literal fascists) isn’t treating unemployed people harshly enough.

This disturbing dialogue segment could, almost word for word, probably be heard in some actual pubs during the early-mid 2010s (eg: during Iain Duncan Smith’s tenure as Work and Pensions secretary, when he tried to introduce an unlawful “work programme” ). This scene is an utterly brilliant, but very disturbing, piece of social and political satire. And it works because of how ordinary, mundane and everyday it is.

Likewise, the way that some of the many horrors in the story are sometimes pushed into the background also mirrors how people cope with the idea of bad things happening in the world.

In other words, showing the characters in a dystopian story sometimes focusing more on mundane everyday life (instead of thinking about all of the horrors that are happening out of sight) lends the story a chilling level of timeless realism. Especially in an age where, thanks to modern news media, we hear about all of the horrors of the world on a very regular basis.

In addition to this, a more obvious focus on the ordinary and everyday also helps to add a chilling sense of powerlessness to a dystopian story. For example, many of the more famous classic works of dystopian fiction deliberately avoid focusing on obviously “heroic”, powerful or influential characters.

For example, the protagonist of Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” is a low-level bureaucrat, the protagonist of Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” is literally a prisoner and the protagonist of Bradbury’s “Farenheit 451” is a low-ranking government henchman.

By focusing on characters who lead miserable “ordinary” lives in the dystopian worlds of these stories, the writers are able to create a chilling sense of powerlessness that you probably wouldn’t get with a more obviously heroic Katniss Everdeen -like main character.

Yes, your dystopian story obviously has to have moments of suspense, drama etc.. too. But don’t overlook the banal, the mundane and the ordinary too. It is these things that can really bring a horrifying fictional dystopia to life!

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Three Tips For Finding Your Own “Style” Of Horror Fiction

If you’re interested in writing horror fiction, then one of the things that can really surprise you is when the type of horror fiction that you enjoy reading isn’t the same as the type that you are best at writing.

So, I thought that I’d offer a few tips for finding your own “style” of horror fiction.

1) Experimentation and introspection: As any evil scientist will tell you, nothing beats good old-fashioned experiments. Simply put, the best way to work out whether a particular type of horror fiction really works for you is simply to try writing some of it. In addition to showing you what you are good at, it’ll also show you what doesn’t work for you.

And, as I mentioned earlier, this might catch you by surprise. The things that you enjoy as a reader might not be the same things you really thrive at writing. This can happen for a number of reasons – perhaps it was written in a different context to the one you’re writing in? Perhaps you don’t know enough about your favourite genre of horror to feel confident enough about writing it? Is the stuff you enjoy reading too intellectual or not intellectual enough? Who knows?

Once you’ve got over the shock of “I can’t write this, but I really enjoy reading it”, try to work out why. As soon as you work out the reasons for this, then you can either take steps (eg: research, writing practice etc..) to get better at the genre of horror you want to write or, more interestingly, you can use what you’ve learnt in order to find genres of horror fiction that do work for you.

2) Other influences: Another way to find your own style of horror fiction is just to look at your other influences and see if you can find a way to add a bit of horror to them. And, yes, you should have influences from outside the horror genre too. In fact, you almost certainly already do.

I mean, unless you’ve spent your entire life watching nothing but horror movies, reading nothing but horror novels, playing nothing but horror videogames and listening to nothing but the growlier types of heavy metal then you’re going to have other influences, whether you know it or not. And this is a good thing.

Why? If you want to come up with your own unique, distinctive “style” of horror then you’re going to have to introduce stuff from outside the horror genre. After all, fans of the horror genre are already familiar with everything within the horror genre. So, if you want to create horror fiction that’s a bit more unique and a bit more “you”, then you’re going to have to look outside the genre at the things you love for inspiration.

And, sometimes, the style of horror fiction you thrive at writing might be different to the type you enjoy reading. One reason for this can simply be that the greatest influences on your writing come from outside the horror genre. So, try to find a way to add some horror to them rather than just trying to copy the horror novels you enjoy reading.

3) Your own fears and sensibilities: Although the old advice to write about what actually scares you might seem simplistic at first glance, it’s actually really clever advice – if you put some thought into it first. In other words, instead of just copy-pasting your phobias and nightmares onto the page, try to work out why they scare you so much.

Once you’ve worked this out, you can take the basic underlying idea and apply it to much more interesting and imaginative situations. You can give your story a level of personality and depth that a simple monster story cannot.

And, yes, many of the famous tropes of the horror genre started out this way. For example, although zombies might be grotesque-looking walking corpses, this usually isn’t the main source of horror in a good zombie story. In a good zombie story, the zombies will often be a metaphor for some other, more realistic, fear – such as disease, loss of individuality, societal collapse, mortality, bereavement/grief, existential meaninglessness etc…

So, yes, do a bit of introspection and work out why your fears exist – then take that knowledge and use it in a new and imaginative way.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Two Reasons Why Writers Include Metafiction In Their Stories

If you’ve never heard the word “metafiction” before, it’s a fancy word for “stories about stories”. It can also refer to references to other stories within stories. And, one of the interesting things I’ve noticed since I got back into reading regularly a few months ago is how often it can appear in novels.

Yes, it doesn’t always appear – but I’ve seen it in sci-fi novels like Neal Stephenson’s “The Diamond Age“, noir/horror novels like Jack O’Connell’s “Word Made Flesh” and dark fantasy novels like Clive Barker’s “Weaveworld” – and it’s something that always catches me by surprise whenever I see it.

So, I thought that I’d list two of the main reasons why writers include metafiction in their stories.

1) Influences and culture: Generally speaking, if someone is writing fiction then they’ve probably read quite a bit of it too. And, whilst this won’t teach you literally everything about writing, there is no better way to learn what does and doesn’t work in fiction than reading lots of it. Likewise, if you want to develop your own unique writing style and sensibility, then you need to read lots of different things by different writers.

As such, writers can end up including metafiction in their stories as a way of paying tribute to the writers who have influenced them and/or made them interested in writing. This is exactly the same as film-makers and game designers including references to other films/games in their work in order to both provide something for their fans and to tip their hats to their inspirations.

But, it is more than this. It’s also about culture too. Just like how films from the 1980s/90s onwards will often reference older films out of a sense of tradition and to reward those knowledgeable about the history/culture of cinema, writers also do something similar – but in a more general way.

In short, whilst novels are one of the older storytelling mediums out there, they aren’t really part of popular culture in the way that films and videogames are. Because there are so many novels out there and they aren’t usually that widely-advertised, it’s very easy to find lots of awesome novels that no-one around you has even heard of before. As such, reading can feel like a somewhat lonely activity when compared to watching films or playing games.

So, including stuff about the magic of stories, reading etc.. in stories can be a way for writers to make their readers feel like part of a culture or community. It’s kind of like how the indie computer game “Retro City Rampage” includes lots of references to other obscure indie games – these games may not be ultra-popular, but they are referenced in a way which makes them seem like they are. It’s all about creating a feeling of culture and community.

2) What books can do (that everything else can’t): Another reason why writers include metafiction in their stories is because it allows them to highlight what books can do that no-other medium can. Every medium has it’s own strengths and failings, and creative people will usually find interesting ways to highlight these strengths.

For example, a well-edited and visually-striking montage sequence in a film can’t easily be replicated in a stage play. Comic makers can use things like panel layouts and art styles in inventive ways that film-makers can only dream of. Game designers can use gameplay mechanics to create experiences that can’t appear in any other medium. I’m sure you get the idea.

And, the written word can do so much stuff that visual media can’t. It is a truly unique medium in a lot of ways. Not only is it ten times more vivid and immersive than even the most modern virtual reality games, but no two readers will imagine/interpret a story in exactly the same way as each other. Books can do things like altering the rate that time flows (where the events of a single second can take several pages, and a century might be covered in a single sentence). Books can linger in the imagination like nothing else can. I could probably go on for a while.

So, yes, writers include stuff about stories in their stories because it’s a way of showing what books can do that nothing else can. And, as I mentioned earlier, this also probably has something to do with how books are often overlooked in modern popular culture too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚