Top Ten Articles – March 2020

Well, it’s the end of the month and this means that it’s time for me to compile a list of links to the ten best articles about writing, reading, making art etc… that I’ve posted here over the past month (plus a couple of honourable mentions too).

All in all, this month’s articles turned out fairly well although, like with a couple of previous months, I’ve had to rely on my pre-made article buffer more than usual (due to a number of time-based reasons) and this month’s daily articles probably took about a month and a half to actually write. Seriously, if you’re running a blog, then try to make as large of a pre-written “buffer” as you can during the times when you have more time – it really does come in handy sometimes 🙂

In terms of reviews – apart from the usual “Doom II” WAD review, I didn’t review any computer games this month (I’d planned to finish and review either “Braid” and/or “Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure”, but got distracted by playing “Devil Daggers” again).

On the plus side, I ended up reviewing fourteen novels this month 🙂 My favourites were probably: “Cold Warriors” by Rebecca Levene, “A Closed And Common Orbit” by Becky Chambers, “Tangled Up In Blue” by Joan D. Vinge, “Area 7” by Matthew Reilly and “Pandora” by Anne Rice.

Anyway, here are the lists 🙂 Enjoy 🙂

Top Ten Articles – March 2020:

– “Four More Reasons To Read Older Novels
– “Four Sneaky Tricks That Thriller Authors Use To Make Their Stories More Gripping
– “Three Reasons Why Gruesome Horror Fiction Isn’t Scary
– “Three Tips For Blending The Horror And Thriller Genres
– “Three Cool Things That Only Novels Can Do
– “Do Thriller Novels Have To Be Fast-Paced? – A Ramble
– “Three Random Tips For Getting Into Reading Novels
– “Three Thoughts About Writing Sequels
– “Why Making ‘Tech Demo’ Paintings Can Make You Feel Inspired Again – A Ramble
– “Three Thoughts About ‘Life Story’-Style First-Person Narration

Honourable mentions:

– “Three Quick Thoughts About How Long A Novel Takes To Read
– “Why Sanitised Violence Ruins The Thriller Genre – A Ramble

Four Sneaky Tricks That Thriller Authors Use To Make Their Stories More Gripping

Well, since I’m reading a fast-paced thriller novel at the moment (“Area 7” by Matthew Reilly), I thought that I’d talk about some of the sneaky tricks that thriller authors use to make their stories more gripping. After all, just like how videogames will often have hidden mechanics/rules to increase the player’s enjoyment, there are a few sneaky tricks that thriller authors can use to make their stories feel more gripping.

You’ve probably seen these techniques before and may not even have consciously noticed them. So, what are they and why are they there?

1) Time limit trickery: Time limits are inherently suspenseful. After all, there is nothing more frightening than the feeling of time running out. It is evocative of impending doom, inevitable death and all sorts of other terrifying things. When there is a time limit, every moment suddenly matters a lot more. The ticking clock is constantly at the back of the reader’s mind as they wait for the other shoe to drop.

However, in books at least, these time limits are actually a really clever illusion. After all, unlike a ticking clock in a film or a videogame that moves at one second per second, time moves as quickly as the author wants it to in a novel.

What this means is that – when the ticking clock is a background thing and/or has a time limit of longer than a few minutes (eg: longer than the reader can directly keep track of) – you can cram in hours of story events whilst still making the reader feel like the characters only have tens of minutes left. Yes, you need to remind your reader of the time limit every now and then, and to show it decreasing in a way that feels just about realistic – but you have a lot of leeway when it comes to the actual passage of time in your story.

As long as the time limit feels convincing to the reader, then you can secretly disregard it and cram in slightly more story events than would realistically happen in that time period, whilst maintaining a high level of suspense. And, when the time limit gets a bit lower, you can ramp up the suspense even more by reminding the reader of it more frequently than you did earlier in the story. As long as all of this isn’t done in an obviously unrealistic way (eg: showing characters travelling across the world in less than five minutes etc…), then you’d be surprised at how many hours of suspenseful story events can happen in just one urgent hour of in-universe time.

2) Segmented chapters: Although short chapters are a very well-known technique for making thriller stories more gripping (since they allow for lots of mini-cliffhangers, they allow faster jumping between multiple plot threads and they also make the reader think “I’ll read just one more little chapter…”), there is a much cleverer and more subtle variant of this that you’ve probably seen in quite a few fast-paced thriller novels without even consciously noticing why it is there.

I am, of course, talking about segmented chapters. This is when a short chapter is actually two or three even shorter chapters. For example, a four-page chapter might begin with a 1-2 page scene set somewhere and then there will be a line break and then another 1-2 page scene set somewhere else.

But, of course, this can be used in even more creative ways. To give you another example, a single page of Matthew Reilly’s “Area 7” that I read shortly before writing this article contains two 4-7 line micro-chapters sandwiched between parts of two other 1-2 page mini-chapters. The whole chapter is just six pages long.

Yes, micro-chapters should only be used occasionally (since too many of them too often can be disorientating) and you should not to include too many mini-chapters per chapter, but this technique is basically a souped-up version of the traditional short chapters that you’ll find in a thriller, but less noticeable than traditional short chapters are. If short chapters make your reader think “Just one more chapter”, then segmented chapters help to propel the reader through that “one more chapter” and into the next one.

3) Injuries, invulnerability and empathy: Although the technique of showing the main character facing and surviving “impossible” situations (using strategy, trickery, knowledge etc… rather than just brute force) is such a well-known way to make a thriller story feel more complex and gripping that there are even entire TV shows (eg: “The A-Team”, “Burn Notice” etc…) based around this idea, I thought that I’d talk about something else that you’ve probably seen in thriller novels but might not know why it is there.

I am, of course, talking about the classic thriller novel thing where the main character has several broken bones, is bleeding profusely from several injuries and has a concussion and yet still somehow manages to outwit and defeat the villain. Although the reader knows that the main character will survive and win despite lots of injuries, this still makes the novel even more gripping – even though the equivalents in other mediums (eg: regenerating health/”infinite health” cheat codes in videogames, superhero characters in films/comics etc…) have the exact opposite effect. But, why?

Well, it is all to do with how books can tap into a reader’s feelings of empathy more deeply than any other mediums can. Although the main character in a thriller novel might secretly be invincible, the audience gets to feel their pain (via vivid descriptions) as they survive injuries that they realistically wouldn’t. This creates the sense that they are genuinely struggling against adversity or are so determined that not even incredible agony will stop them – and, because the audience actually feels how the characters feel, this is much more convincing than it is in visual mediums like games, films etc…

4) Technical details: If you’ve read a fast-paced thriller novel, you’ve probably seen something like this. You’re right in the middle of a dramatic part of the book, when the narrator and/or author suddenly stops and gives you an explanation of some piece of technology, science, transportation, weaponry etc… When done badly, this can break up the pacing of a scene and/or result in reader boredom. However, when done well, it can actually make a thriller story more gripping.

But, why? Well, it all comes down to knowledge. Not only do these segments make the reader feel like they’re being let in on some interesting secrets or insider knowledge (which makes them curious enough to read more), but it also creates the impression that either the writer and/or the main character are intelligent. This subtly hints to the reader that the rest of the story will be intriguingly unpredictable and/or that the main character will later come up with some kind of brilliantly clever plan that will be really fun to see.

And, even with clearly fictional things, these kind of technical descriptions/explanations also add a hint of realism to the story – which makes everything feel a bit more intense, grounded and logical. It shows the reader that there are rules and limits to a story’s “world”, which increases their feeling of immersion in the story.

However, these sections only “work” when they are as concise as possible, when they are directly relevant to the plot and – most crucially – when they are about something that is extraordinary/unusual in some way or another (eg: something “secret” or “high-tech”).


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Reasons Why Gruesome Horror Fiction Isn’t Scary

Well, although I’ve written about the topic of gruesomeness in horror fiction before, I ended up thinking about it again after watching a few episodes of a hilarious comedy horror TV show called “Ash Vs. Evil Dead”. Although television and prose fiction are two very different mediums, one of the interesting things about “Ash Vs. Evil Dead” is that it is almost as cartoonishly ultra-gruesome as many classic 1980s British horror novels are. And, seeing this level of gruesomeness in a visual medium rather than a written one made me think of more reasons why gruesomeness isn’t inherently scary in horror fiction.

Don’t get me wrong, horror fiction can and should be gruesome. When used well, gruesome moments can really intensify any other types of horror that your story uses. Likewise, gruesomeness not being inherently scary can actually be a good thing sometimes – especially in the comedy horror genre or for those moments when you want to sneakily dial back the scariness in order to make your readers feel more courageous and/or to lull them into a false sense of security.

Gruesomeness in horror fiction isn’t a bad thing. But it isn’t scary either, and here’s a few reasons why:

1) Spectacle, shock and craft: This is a bit like the old rule about using profanity in fiction – you can use as much of it as you like, but every time will have slightly less dramatic impact than the previous one. In other words, gruesome horror fiction isn’t scary because the audience gets used to it fairly quickly. It goes from a horrifying unexpected thing to just an ordinary part of the story.

And, when this happens, the audience is more likely to see these moments as spectacle rather than horror. Yes, they can still be dramatic, but it will be in a more theatrical way than the “realistic” way you should be aiming for if you want to write scary horror fiction. In other words, because the audience no longer feels shocked, they are much more likely to pay attention to the craft behind these scenes. And this reminds the audience that they’re just reading a novel or watching a film. In other words, something artificial that cannot scare them.

In the case of a TV show like “Ash Vs. Evil Dead”, this will probably mean that you’ll end up thinking “Wow! I wonder how many gallons of stage blood they used in this scene?” or “Was that blood spatter CGI?” rather than “Oh my god! An evil zombie!“. In a horror novel, it will probably mean that you’ll pay more attention to the – surprisingly poetic – descriptions and turns of phrase that are a hallmark of old-school British splatterpunk fiction and/or to any characteristic phrases that the author uses in these scenes (eg: Shaun Hutson’s frequent use of words like “coppery”, “putrescent”, “mucoid”, “liquescent”, “orb” etc…)

So, frequent gruesome moments in horror fiction are less scary than you might think because not only do they lose their shock value quickly, but they also focus the audience’s attention on the craft of the scene – which can break their immersion in the story.

2) Slapstick, exaggeration and realism: By their very nature, the kind of ultra-gruesome descriptions that you’ll see in horror fiction or the special effects you’ll see in a gruesome horror film, are unrealistic. After all, they have to be as gruesome as possible to shock or gross out the audience. And this usually lends these scenes a certain level of exaggeration and melodrama that can often come across as a more macabre form of slapstick comedy. This is, of course, absolutely great for things in the comedy horror genre (like “Ash Vs. Evil Dead”), but it makes “serious” horror feel a bit less serious.

After all, truly scary horror – the type that will haunt the reader’s nightmares for days afterwards- relies on verisimilitude. The feeling that the story could actually happen. To you.

However, outside of a Halloween party, no-one is going to see a gruesome zombie or monster lurching towards them. Likewise, although horrific things unfortunately do happen in real life, the chances of actually seeing or experiencing them are thankfully relatively low (despite the frightening impression that reading or watching the news may give you).

In other words, gruesome moments of horror will seem unrealistic (and therefore less scary) because not only will most people be lucky enough never to see anything like it in real life, but also because the only way to write “shocking” gruesome moments is to exaggerate them to the point where they almost seem like a grim type of slapstick comedy.

3) Focus and consequences: Most gruesome horror isn’t scary because of what it focuses on. In other words, it focuses more on the messy physical consequences of horrific events rather than the much more disturbing emotional and psychological consequences of them.

For example, one of the most genuinely shocking and disturbing “gruesome” moments I’ve read in a novel during the past couple of years is actually less “gruesome” than a typical scene in a splatterpunk horror novel. I am, of course, talking about the opening chapter of Jack O’Connell’s “Word Made Flesh” (read it at your own peril. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!).

Although this scene is fairly gruesome, it is genuinely disturbing because – instead of just devoting page after page to gory descriptions – the chapter also focuses on things like the horrific concept of what is happening, on the agony a character suffers and on the chillingly cold cruelty of several other characters. It is also narrated by a creepy fourth wall breaking narrator who will callously crack jokes about what is happening in a way that makes it feel like someone very very evil is sitting right next to you. It is a chapter that you won’t forget reading.

And, yet, it is technically less gruesome than a splatterpunk novel. Yet, it is more shocking because of what it chooses to focus on. So, gruesome horror fiction usually isn’t that scary because it often focuses on the least scary elements of horrific moments and events.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Three Tips For Blending The Horror And Thriller Genres

Well, after reading a horror thriller novel that managed to be both grippingly thrilling and suitably scary, I thought that I’d talk about how to blend the horror and thriller genres today.

After all, this is something that is very easy to get wrong – resulting in either a horror-flavoured thriller novel (that is thrilling but not that scary) or a scary novel that is more like an old-fashioned slower-paced thriller than the kind of fast-paced thriller readers might be expecting.

So, how can you blend the two genres well? Here are a few tips.

1) Suspense and mystery: Both the horror and thriller genres rely heavily on suspense and mystery. So, use this to your advantage! Whether it is the suspense of someone facing almost-certain death or a chilling mystery that the main character has to unravel even though they know that the answers will haunt their nightmares (and the reader’s) for many nights afterwards, it is very easy to use these two things to create a story that is both thrilling and scary.

So, why do people get this wrong? Well, the main reason is that they forget that both genres can use these things at the same time. In other words, they might include suspenseful moments that are thrilling but not scary, mysteries that are scary but not thrilling etc… This tends to result in a novel that is more like one genre than the other.

The trick here is to look for mysterious and suspenseful things that contain elements from both genres at the same time.

Let’s start with suspense. Thriller novel suspense revolves around the a character suddenly finding themselves out of their depth (eg: outgunned, outnumbered, outfunded, outwitted etc…) and the clever way that they survive or avoid this danger by thinking on their feet. Traditional horror suspense tends to revolve around slow, creeping dread – with the character gradually becoming more and more threatened by something terrifyingly unstoppable.

So, to blend these two things, you might want to – for example – introduce a thriller-style immediate threat (eg: a horde of hungry zombies) whilst also hinting at a much greater threat (eg: the zombies look like the plucky band of survivors the main character met two chapters ago, hinting that everyone will eventually turn into zombies). Or you could show a character surviving a dangerous situation in the short term, only to slowly realise that they have placed themselves (or someone else) in even more danger.

As for mystery, both genres usually focus on the main character investigating some kind of nefarious and/or evil series of events. In a thriller, the villains are more likely to have “practical” motivations/goals (eg: money, power, revenge etc..) and will use “realistic” methods to get these things. In a horror story, the villains’ motivations are likely to be a bit more twisted, strange and/or disturbing, and they are also more likely to resort to crueller and/or more bizarre methods too.

So, the trick here is to blend both of these things – to come up with a mystery revolving around an evil scheme that has a practical purpose, but has chillingly evil horror-style motivations or methods behind it (or vice versa).

2) Characters: Thrillers and horror stories are at odds with each other when it comes to characters. In a thriller, the main focus is on the plot – with the characters being more of a secondary thing. In a genuinely scary horror story, the characters are usually more important than the plot. Good horror relies on good characters, good thriller fiction relies on a good plot.

You can probably see where I’m going with this. To write a good horror thriller novel, you have to devote more time to characterisation than you would in a thriller novel and more time to the plot than you would in a horror novel. But, unless you want to write a giant tome, how do you do all of this in a sensible number of pages?

There are several ways of doing this. One way is to include a lot of characterisation for one or two characters (usually the main character and the villain), but slightly less for the other characters. Another way to do this is to make the characters’ personalities and backstories the main driving force behind the complicated events of the main plot. Yet another way is to use personality-filled first-person narration that allows you to focus on the plot whilst also frequently showing the narrator’s reactions/thoughts about what is happening.

In short, both the characters and the plot are important in a good horror thriller story.

3) Violence: One of the easiest ways to blend both the horror and thriller genres is to take a horror genre approach to the scenes of violence in a thriller story. In thrillers – especially action thriller novels – violence is often a fast-paced and sanitised thing that is designed to “look” spectacular and/or get the reader’s adrenaline flowing. In horror stories, violence tends to be a much more painful, drawn-out and ugly thing with extremely grisly immediate consequences and much longer-lasting psychological consequences. It is written in a way that is meant to be horrifying to read.

So, is it just a simple matter of blending the two things? Yes, but…

One common mistake that you’ll find in horror-flavoured thriller novels is that they will just focus on the gory elements of horror-genre style violence. Yes, adding lots of blood and guts will make a thriller story feel grittier and more intense – but it won’t be particularly scary. If you want a more balanced blend of the horror and thriller genres, then you also need to give equal emphasis to all of the other horrifying effects of violence too (eg: pain, suffering, fear, psychological after-effects etc…).

So, if you want a good horror thriller story, then you’ll need to do more than just make your thriller novel a bit more gruesome.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Cool Things That Only Novels Can Do

I don’t know if I’ve written about this topic before, but I thought that I’d take a quick look at some of the things that only novels can do. After all, even though novels probably aren’t the most popular entertainment medium these days, they can do a lot of really cool and interesting stuff that you won’t really see in films, TV shows, videogames etc…

So, here are just three of the many cool things that you’ll only really see in novels:

1) Deeper Characterisation: One of the things that novels can do better than literally any other medium is to create complex, detailed characters. This is because novels can quite literally show you what the characters are thinking and feeling. Yes, other mediums can imply some of this stuff by using things like voice-overs, editing, dialogue, flashback scenes, facial expressions, in-game text etc… but only books can quite literally place you inside someone else’s mind.

And this isn’t just for stories told from a first-person perspective, it also appears in many third-person perspective stories too. Because novels are a non-visual medium, they aren’t limited by what can be shown in an image (eg: a frame of a film or a game). As such, they can go a lot deeper when it comes to showing how characters react to things, what they are feeling, what they think about various topics, how they see the world etc.. than any other medium can.

Not only does this give you the unique experience of temporarily being someone else, but it also adds an extra level of richness and depth to the other parts of a story too. For example, a suspenseful scene in a novel will be a lot more suspenseful because you can feel the character’s pounding heart and hear their racing thoughts. A romance will be more passionate because you’ll actually get to directly know what one or both of the couple are feeling. A horror story will be a lot scarier because you’ll get every detail of a character’s terrified reactions and/or a chilling glimpse inside the mind of a scary person.

I could go on, but one of the things that novels can do a hundred times better than any other medium is quite literally letting you see things from the characters’ perspectives.

2) Personal interpretation: Another unique thing about novels is that no two readers will have quite the same experience when they read the same book. When you see a film or play a game, it will look exactly the same as what everyone else sees when they look at it. Not so with novels.

With novels, you quite literally have to build your own mental images of the settings, characters etc… from the descriptions that the author has provided. What this means is that you get an experience that is tailor-made to your own experiences, imagination and sensibilities. A version of the story that is unique to you. Your own personal “cover version” of whatever was inside the author’s imagination when they were writing.

Not only is this a great workout for your imagination, but it has lots of other cool effects too. The setting of a novel will usually feel a lot more immersive and memorable because you have to “build it yourself”. Older novels can also sometimes age a lot better than older films, videogames etc… can, because you are the one supplying the “graphics”, “special effects” etc… (For a good example, read Neal Stephenson’s 1992 sci-fi novel “Snow Crash“. Despite being almost three decades old, it still “looks” as realistic and detailed as a modern CGI-heavy film and/or “AAA” videogame).

This also means that you’ll feel much more of a personal connection to a novel than you probably will to a film or a game. After all, whilst a film can play to an empty room and some games can technically play themselves (with bots etc..), a novel literally cannot “work” without your unique personal input.

3) Time and focus: Novels can play with time and focus in a way that other mediums can’t do anywhere near as well. Yes, films and games can include things like slow motion, close-ups, turn-based gameplay and fast editing, but one second of film or gameplay will always take one second. Likewise, a close-up shot of something can only show you the outside of it and will only usually last a few seconds (or longer, if it’s an art film).

On the other hand, not only can time flow a lot more freely in novels, but they can also focus on things in a way that film makers and game devs really can’t. To give you an example, a novel may spend an entire page describing an old statue – keeping the reader interested in it by focusing on numerous unusual details, using clever descriptions and talking about the statue’s interesting history. And the scene might take place in, say, the one second it takes for a character to glance at the statue.

Going back to the first point on my list, a novel might devote several pages to describing all of the thoughts, memories and feelings that go into a split-second decision that a character makes. It might then devote a single paragraph to, say, the year that follows this decision. And, when done well, this would not only “flow” in a really seamless way, but the differences in focus would also shape how the reader experienced these parts of the story too (eg: the “split-second” part would have more impact than the “year” part).

But, it gets even cooler than this. One of the awesome things about the written word is that an author can also influence how quickly the reader can read any part of the story by adjusting things like sentence structure/length, the simplicity/complexity of the language etc… What this means is that, for example, a scene that takes place in ten minutes of real time can be written in a way that allows the reader to blaze through it in just two. Or, with some changes to the writing, that “ten minute” segment could actually take ten minutes (or longer) to read.

So, novels have a level of freedom with time and focus that other mediums can only dream of.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Similarities And Differences Between British And American 1980s Horror Novels

Well, since I’m currently reading a 1980s horror novel (“Carrion” by Gary Brandner), I thought that I’d talk about this cool era in the history of the horror genre today. But, one thing I noticed when reading “Carrion” was that, like other US horror novels from the 1980s, it was both similar and different to the British 1980s horror novels (by authors like Shaun Hutson, James Herbert etc..) that first made me interested in horror fiction during the early-mid 2000s.

So, I thought that I’d offer a few random thoughts about this topic- although I’ll probably be focusing slightly more on British horror fiction, since I’ve read more of it. Likewise, I’ll be talking about general trends that I’ve noticed. So – of course- there are exceptions (eg: Guy N. Smith’s “Accursed“, Jo Gannon’s “Plasmid” etc..) to some of these trends.

Anyway, the main difference between 1980s horror novels in Britain and America is probably the types of horror that they focus on. In short, due to things like stricter film censorship at the time (but little, if no, literary censorship 🙂 ), British horror novels from the 1980s often tend to focus a bit more on cynicism and shock value. They are often set in gloomy, seedy cities or bleak rural areas and the most prominent type of horror usually tends to be gory horror.

Yes, there are usually other types of horror too, but horror novels from 1980s Britain will usually take a certain amount of glee in grossing the reader out with beautifully-written gory descriptions. After all, horror movies were getting banned or trimmed to shreds for stuff like this, so there was much more of an incentive for writers to both rebel against this censorship and to give horror fans a more intense version of what they were missing out on in the video shops. This also links into the cynicism that you’ll usually find in British horror fiction from the 1980s.

The most famous way (probably pioneered in James Herbert’s 1974 novel “The Rats) that this cynicism is used is in how these novels handle background characters. In short, these novels will often start a chapter by introducing a new character and then spend several pages showing their backstory, everyday troubles etc.. only for them to suddenly die horribly at the end of the chapter. Not only does this create a bleak and nihilistic atmosphere, but it also allows for things like social commentary/satire and helps to give the stories a greater sense of scale too.

Likewise, thanks to the influence of James Herbert’s “The Rats”, monster horror also became a popular sub-genre in 1980s Britain. Often, this would take the form of a “scary” type of animal (eg: rats, slugs, crabs, scorpions etc…) becoming mutated and extremely bloodthirsty, and terrorising a town or city. In addition to being a hangover from the “Invasion Literature” of the early 20th century, this could also be a reflection of the apocalyptic cold war fears of the time too.

In contrast, the 1980s horror novels from the US that I’ve read often tend to focus slightly less on gory horror than their British counterparts. Instead, these horror novels often tend to be a little bit more traditional in their horror – with more of a focus on things like atmosphere, dread, psychological horror, the paranormal etc… After all, not only was film censorship less of an issue in the US (so there wasn’t an incentive to rebel against it), but the literary and cultural influences that went into these novels were probably slightly different too.

At a guess, this is probably because – during their formative years, these horror authors probably had greater or easier access to the works of early-mid 20th century US authors like H.P.Lovecraft and Shirley Jackson, who really helped to define this style of slow, creeping tension and dread for the modern age. Likewise, the influence of the classic horror comics of the 1940s-50s probably also played a role too, with these comics often focusing on morally-ambiguous characters (who suffer cruelly ironic fates) and having a distinctively twisted sense of humour that differs slightly from the cynical humour found in horror novels from 1980s Britain.

But, these differences aside, both types of horror novel have a lot in common with each other. Both usually contain a lot of subtle or overt social commentary about the issues of the day, both usually focus on ordinary people confronted with extraordinary things, both usually include lots of characterisation and both aren’t averse to including unhappy endings.

Another thing that both types of horror novel have in common is creativity and fun. One of the cool things about the 1980s was that horror fiction was both a popular genre and one that wasn’t seen as very “respectable”. What this meant was that there was a real incentive for horror authors to either come up with interesting ideas that would stand out from the crowd or to create their own distinctive “brand” of horror that you couldn’t find elsewhere. Plus, because they didn’t have to worry about impressing literary critics, 1980s horror novels could also be a lot weirder and wilder than other genres could be.

And, since the people who would judge these novels were ordinary readers rather than newspaper critics, there was also more of an incentive to make these stories fun to read. In other words, they often tend to have slightly more of a thriller-like structure, with well-placed dramatic or shocking moments and some of the coolest cover art that you’ll ever see. These were books written for the enjoyment of ordinary people (in the way that popular crime thriller novels are today) and this usually means that they will often still be a lot of fun to read even three or four decades later.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Three Thoughts About Writing Sequels

Well, since I’m currently reading a sci-fi novel called “A Closed And Common Orbit” by Becky Chambers, which is the sequel to a novel called “The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet“, I thought that I’d talk about the topic of literary sequels and offer a few thoughts about how to write them.

1) Balancing new and regular readers: One of the most challenging things about a literary sequel is getting the balance between making it familiar enough for readers of the previous book, but also accessible enough for new readers who haven’t read the previous book. Both types of readers want completely different things. Fans of the series want to jump straight back into the story and new readers want to know what is actually going on. The classic way of solving this is to give each book in a series a fairly self-contained main story (with some background story arcs continued from the previous book), whilst also adding short plot-relevant recaps to help out new readers.

But, you can do some slightly more creative things with your sequel. Chambers’ “A Closed And Common Orbit” offers a really good example of this – whilst it technically starts a few minutes after the ending of the previous novel, it instead focuses on a different group of characters who appeared near the end of the first book. What this means is that regular readers get a feeling of continuity, whilst the focus on a new group of main characters means that the story isn’t too confusing for new readers.

In addition to this, the novel also caters to new and familiar readers through the careful use of background details. In short, the story will mention and describe various alien species, locations, fictional languages etc.. in enough detail for new readers to get a general sense of what they are. Of course, if you’ve read the previous book, you’ll already know a lot of background details about these things – which instantly adds extra depth to the story, without the need for Chambers to re-explain literally everything again. So, it’s accessible to new readers whilst offering a bit of a bonus to readers of the previous novel.

Deciding how to balance your story for familiar and new readers depends a lot on the story you are telling (for example, a large fantasy epic split into several books should favour familiar readers, whereas something like a series of detective stories should favour new readers), but it is something that is worth thinking about carefully.

2) When to start it: Earlier, I mentioned that Chambers’ “A Closed And Common Orbit” started a few minutes after the end of the previous novel. In that novel, this works really well for the reasons that I’ve outlined earlier. However, it is often better to set your sequel days, weeks, months or even years after the events of your first novel.

Not only does this give the story a slightly more self-contained atmosphere, whilst also allowing for recaps to appear more easily, but it also means that it is a hell of a lot easier to write a dramatic opening scene for your sequel too. After all, if you aren’t limited to what happens directly after the first book, then you can set the opening scene somewhere else or even introduce an element of mystery about what happened between the first novel and the sequel.

And, this is important. To give you an example why (with some SPOILERS), read Jonathan Maberry’s excellent zombie novel “Dead Of Night” and then read the sequel “Fall Of Night“. Whilst both novels are good, one flaw is that “Fall Of Night” begins directly after “Dead Of Night”. The first novel ends with a really gripping, fast-paced and dramatic segment where some of the main characters finally manage to get into and successfully defend a fortified building. However, the opening segments of the sequel lag quite a bit because they focus on the bleak and claustrophobic aftermath of this small victory. Yes, this adds realism and dramatic weight to the story and – as a suspenseful middle section – would be brilliant. But, as an opening, it really isn’t as fast-paced or gripping as you’d expect a typical horror/thriller novel opening to be.

So, don’t be afraid to start your sequel quite a bit of time after your first novel. Remember, just because a novel is a sequel, it doesn’t mean that the opening scene should be less dramatic than one from a stand-alone novel.

3) Cliffhangers: Cliffhanger endings should be used very, very carefully. Yes, traditional large-scale cliffhangers will make readers want to read the next book – but they can often feel like a very cheap or manipulative way of doing this. There is nothing worse than reading hundreds of pages, only to be told “Nope. You’ll have to buy the next book for your effort to be worthwhile” or to get near the end of a novel and suddenly realise “there’s no way this story can be resolved in the ten pages that are left“. It isn’t good! Don’t do it!

Your reader should have some emotional, dramatic or narrative payoff for reading each novel in your series. So, the classic way to handle this is to either restrict your cliffhangers to background sub-plots (and resolve your novel’s main plot) or vice versa. Whatever you do, your reader should feel some sense of resolution when your novel ends. If you have two plot threads in your novel, then only one of them should have a cliffhanger.

And, in some types of book series (eg: those designed to be read in any order), cliffhangers shouldn’t be used at all. I can’t remember the exact title, but I remember reading one of Lee Child’s “Jack Reacher” novels that ended with a very suspenseful cliffhanger. So, I tracked down the next book in the series and was promptly disappointed. Because this series is designed to be read in any order, the next book starts out with a totally different storyline – with the resolution of the suspenseful cliffhanger just being a small and underwhelming background detail part of the way through the book. So, if your series isn’t explicitly designed to be read in order, then don’t use cliffhangers!


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂