My horror heroes, Wes Craven

When I think of Wes Craven’s films, I’m struck with a flood of memories. Nightmare on Elm Street is the first horror movie I remember watching, with a babysitter who probably shouldn’t have let me watch it. I was little, curled up on our old couch in our trailer in the dark, eyes big as the moon and glued to the gore. 

Nightmare on Elm Street

I remember watching Scream at a sleepover, complete with pizza and sodas and a gaggle of girls. Everyone else was a little off the pizza after the first scene. 

I was not.

Wes Craven created some of my favorite slasher movies of all time. Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream, The Last House on The Left. All of them leave people sick to their stomachs in the very best way possible. 

And can I also just mention that this guy won the name lottery? His actual birth name is Wesley Craven. I always thought that was a stage name. How lucky do you get?

Craven always allows the main characters to be the heroes. And his main characters are very often teenage girls. There’s no boyfriend, father, or parent jumping in to save them. It’s Nancy or Sydney saving everyone else’s ass, even after no one wanted to listen to them. They never once came across as scream queens. They also didn’t suffer from what I call the Alice Problem. By that, I mean Alice from Resident Evil. She had no personality, could have been anyone. I can’t think of a single thing about her that would distinguish her from Jill Valentine.

Scream poster

There’s none of that with Craven’s leading characters. They are their own people. 

I’ve never watched a Wes Craven film and not had a good time. In addition to being wonderfully bloody, they’re often funny. Especially the Scream movies. I love a good laugh to go along with the gore. I love that his movies aren’t afraid of being silly. They’re never taking themselves too seriously. 

I have no problem with fiction that has a message. Some of my favorite books and movies are all about that. Pleasantville, Dogma, Jacob the Liar. These are great films. But not everything has to have a message. Sometimes a piece of art can just be there to be enjoyed. And I love that Craven does that.

Finally, Craven figured out how to avoid one of the biggest issues with the horror genre. Almost everything has been done. Most viewers are genre-savvy. So, to surprise an audience, you’ve got to embrace the meta.

And Craven has made a habit of doing just that. The Scream series is a great example, giving us film after film full of in-jokes designed for horror fans. Even better is my favorite horror film, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.

In this film, the actors from Nightmare on Elm Street are attacked by Freddy. Even Robert Englund, the actor who played Freddy himself. This was a ton of fun for a super fan like me. 

So, what have I learned from Wes Craven? And what can you, as a writer learn from him?

-Understand that your fans are probably genre-savvy, and have fun with that

-Have fun with your art in general. Don’t be afraid to go big.

-Give your main character a real personality. 

Don’t miss the other posts in this series, where we talked about Stephen King, George Romero, and R. L. Stine

My Horror Heroes, RL Stine

Can I be honest with you? For someone as devoted to stories as I am, I learned to read very, very late. I was in third grade before I learned. In a year, though, I went from illiterate to college level.

The secret? I fell in love with Goosebumps. 

Goosebumps, The Barking Ghost

It turns out all I needed was a story about a monster librarian to inspire me.

R.L Stine is a monster in the children’s literature field. He’s published over a thousand books so far. So far! Can you imagine the work ethic and dedication it takes to create that many stories? This is not a man who knows what it feels like to be tapped out. This is not a man who lacks inspiration. This is a man who sits down at his desk every day and puts the words on the page.

I loved Goosebumps and Fear Street, his series for older kids. I loved how scary some were, and how silly others were. I loved that the characters felt like kids I might know. And I loved the twist endings. Even if you could usually see them coming from a mile away.

I loved that it never felt like Stine was talking down to me. The stories didn’t pull any punches. Kids died, or got turned into squirrels, or were already dead to start with. There were real consequences to the actions they took or the situations they found themselves in.

Goosebumps, The Ghost Next Door

A happy ending isn’t always assured. Which I kind of love, because it’s honest. It’s also honest that sometimes bad things happen when you didn’t do anything to cause them. Some of these characters did things to incite the horrors that befell them. They went places they shouldn’t go. They were mean to their friends. They didn’t listen to their parents. All the usual stuff. But some of these kids didn’t do anything wrong. 

They went to summer camp.

Their family bought a new house. 

They went to the library.

These are innocent things that people do, yet the kids still suffered. 

Again, that’s honest. It’s real. Maybe you won’t be attacked by a ghost dog if you move into a new house. But maybe the roof is bad and you didn’t know before. That’s not on you. 

Aside from the clear lesson that anything horrible can happen to you at any time, there weren’t a lot of morals in these books.

And I kind of love that they were for entertainment purposes only. I get that we want kids to learn, and learn a lot. Their brains are so mushy at that age, we can just shove a ton of facts in there and they’ll stick. Anything that is just for fun seems like a waste of that precious prime learning time.

Goosebumps The Haunted Mask

But that’s exhausting for kids! And it can be a big reason why kids don’t want to read. Everything is educational, everything takes effort. Nothing can just be fun for fun’s sake. 

Fun is something we’re missing out on in our lives. As adults, and as kids. Reading should be fun. Stories should be fun. And sometimes, they can just be fun, without trying to sneak learning or morals in there too. Sometimes we can just have macaroni and cheese, without sneaking broccoli into the recipe. 

Here then are the lessons that I learned from R.L Stine.

-Don’t talk down to your audience. They’re probably tougher than you think.

-There is a never-ending well of stories. You have as many books in you as you have the time to write. 

-There doesn’t have to be a moral to every story. Even if it’s a story for kids. 

-Stories should be fun first, before anything else. 

Don’t miss the rest of this series, where I talked about Stephen King and George Romero

My first horror novel is ready to debut! You can preorder Quiet Apocalypse now on Smashwords or Amazon

Paper Beats World is a labor of love. If you got something from this post, please consider donating on Ko-fi. 

Announcing my latest book, Quiet Apocalypse

I’ve always called myself a speculative fiction writer because I write science fiction, fantasy, and horror. To that end, I’ve published a fantasy series and a science fiction series.

Now, it’s time for my horror debut.

On Friday, May 13th, I’ll be launching my first horror book, Quiet Apocalypse. 

The end of the world began with a winter storm.

Sadie’s quiet life is interrupted when a tree crushes the roof of her attic apartment. She’s forced to move to a smaller apartment in the building. Then, her aunt guilts her into clearing an ouija board of a particularly irritating spirit. 

But it wasn’t just the roof that was broken by the tree. There was something trapped within the building, waiting. Waiting to wake and bring about the end of the world. 

Not with screams, but with silence. 

This book is about demons, witchcraft, and a small community coming together to survive. It’s about the end of the world. 

You can preorder Quiet Apocalypse now on Smashwords or Amazon

I hope you all love Quiet Apocalypse. I know I say this every time, but I think this might be the best book I’ve written so far. And I’m sure it’ll scare the hell out of you.

My Horror Heroes, George Romero

Don’t miss the first episode of this series, about Stephen King.

Long-time readers of PBW will know that I am in love with Pittsburgh. I wasn’t born here, but I’ve lived most of my life in Butler, which is close enough to consider Pittsburgh my hometown. So it’s no surprise that I have a little-sister-like admiration for George Romero.

Night of The Living Dead poster

Romero spent most of his life in Pittsburgh. He got his start in the field on a small show, maybe you haven’t heard of it. 

Mr. Rodger’s Neighborhood. 

If you know anything about Pittsburgh, you know what a big deal that is. Mr. Rodgers, being the supportive saint that he was, was a lifelong cheerleader for Romero. He even went to the premiere of Romero’s iconic film, Night of The Living Dead. 

Speaking of Night of The Living Dead, you may not know that the film was done on a shoestring budget. And I mean a thin shoestring. Like, this shoestring would have probably broken if someone else had been handling it. $114,00, to be specific. I know that sounds like a shit ton of money. It’s more than I make in a year, that’s for damned sure. So to put that in context, Rosemary’s Baby came out the same year. Another horror classic, by the way. That movie cost 3.2 million. And I’d argue that both movies are equally scary.

Creepshow poster

Romero committed himself to the horror genre. He found what worked for him, and he went with it. And it worked! Romero went on to create 26 films, most of which were about zombies. He revolutionized the zombie genre and is a large reason why it’s so well-loved today. And, he put Steel City on the map for zombie lovers. There are still massive zombie events held here every year.

All of this Romero was able to do because his work is fun. I have never seen a Romero film that I didn’t love from start to finish. Even as time goes on, they hold up. 

I think this is largely because everyone working on these movies was just having a blast. The actors are having fun. The special effects crews had fun. The makeup people might have had a little too much fun. Romero’s movies were a great time, from start to finish.

To sum everything up, here’s what any creator can learn from George Romero

– Money doesn’t matter as much as a good story told well.

-Find a place in the world where you’re happy. 

-Having supporting mentors is priceless. 

-When you find something you’re good at, do it! 

-Have fun with your work, and other people will have fun with it too. 

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Writing Dark Scifi

Horror and science fiction go together so well that it’s often hard to write one without at least some elements of the other. Unless you’re writing something more akin to dark fantasy, which we talked about last week. 

Dark Scifi is a fun subgenre, and a popular one, too. I’ve always been a fan. One of my favorite shows of all time, X-Files, falls right into this category. Another great example is the Alien franchise. My science fiction tends to sway heavily into Dark Scifi territory. You Can’t Trust The AI in particular.

The trick to getting Dark Scifi right is balancing the expectations of each genre. Scifi readers expect to see technology that is beyond what we have today. Beyond even what we might fantasize about having. Horror fans expect a body count. I’m sure you can see how these two expectations can work together. 

What exact expectations you’ll be juggling will vary. Within each genre, there are a million subgenres. I’ve talked about Scifi genres here. So if you’re starting on a Dark Scifi story, it’s not a bad idea, to begin with, the expectations your readers might have. From there, consider how these lists might complement each other. Or, how you might use these expectations to surprise your reader and create a more original story.

When you’re considering the genre expectations of Scifi and Horror, your mind will likely also wander to the weaknesses of each genre. We are hardest on the things we love most, of course. And I really, really love horror.

It can be callous with human life, though. It’s not always great with character development. It often throws science right out the window. And I don’t mean advanced science most people don’t know. I mean some pretty simple shit. 

Scifi has its own set of issues. It can talk over people’s heads with the science. Worse, some authors are worried that they’re going to do that. So they spend way too much time making damned sure they explain every detail, derailing the story and boring the reader. Asimov, to my dismay, had that problem.

The great thing about writing Dark Scifi, though, is that the problems of one genre can be solved with elements of the second. Your horror story with a baseline of scientific understanding is going to feel more real, therefore scarier. 

Scifi tends not to be as character-driven as some other genres, but it’s often more so than Horror. This means that your characters will tend to be richer, more fleshed out. So, when one of them dies it’s worse. This means that there’s more worry and anxiety over their deaths, upping the tension of every page. 

Dark Scifi is a beautiful marriage between two genres. Where one is strong, the other is weak. And when done right, it’s a genre that is rich, thrilling, and scary as hell.

Paper Beats World is a labor of love. If you want to support this site, you can check us out on Ko-fi. 

Markets- Pseudo Pod

Awhile ago I posted about a site called Escape Pod. This is a sister website, Pseudo Pod, that’s all about horror. I am a huge fan of scary, macabre, and anything creepy and crawly. So, I love this one.

Genre- Horror.

Word count- they want either flash fiction of around 500 to 1,000, or longer pieces from 2,000 to 6,000 words.

Sub Date- Any time.

Wait time- two months

Payout- $100.00 a story, either length.

A Website.

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