Horror subgenres, Part Two

Welcome to our series of horror subgenres, part two. We’re taking a look at some of the many flavors that encompass our beloved genre of horror.

If you missed it, here’s part one

Ghost story

Ghost stories are my favorite. I mean, my absolute top-tier favorite. It’s not a hard subgenre to define. Any story that involves a ghost is, duh, a ghost story. 

These come in all sorts of varieties. Haunted house stories, haunted woods. Haunted highways, hospitals, insane asylums. Haunted objects like lockets and music boxes. Even haunted cars. Literally, anything can be haunted. 

Do I even need to give examples of this one? Well, there’s mine, of course, Quiet Apocalypse. House on Haunted Hill, American Horror Story Murder House. Some of the best are urban legends, like the vanishing hitchhiker. 

Then there are the real ghost stories that everyone seems to have. Most people haven’t seen a cryptid or run into a serial killer. But everyone’s got a ghost story.

Giallo

This is an Italian subgenre, named for the color that the covers generally came in. Which is, if you don’t speak Italian, yellow.

A lot of horror from America was translated and put on these yellow covers, including Agatha Christie novels.

These stories tended to be a blend of horror and thriller with a little bit of romance. The cornerstone of this subgenre is that the killer would never be revealed until the last act. 

Some examples of this subgenre are Eye in the Labyrinth and The Girl Who Knew Too Much.

Gothic bluebooks

Okay, this is a little funny and a little sad. And it’s got nothing to do with the comic ‘bluebooks’. Also called shilling shockers or sixpenny shockers, these were full-on plagiarized stories. A sleazy writer would condense a popular novel, telling the whole story in their own less talented words. Then they would sell the result for a fraction of the price. 

As much as I would love to say this is a product of a bygone time, we see the descendants of these works today. Go into any dollar store and you’ll find crates of DVDs that look similar to but aren’t popular films. We used to call them grandma bait because we figured the only people who bought them were grandmothers looking for gifts for their grandkids who didn’t get popular culture.

Grotesquerie 

I thought at first this subgenre was going to be about the goriest of the gory. But that’s not the case. 

This is a term used to describe a blend of sci-fi and horror. It’s dark stuff, that’s got one tentacle in the world of reality while the other seven are waving in the wild. 

Some authors who did well in this subgenre are Ambrose Bierce, Katherine Anne Porter, and H.P Lovecraft.

Dark Fantasy

This is a subgenre that I’ve gone over a lot, so I won’t spend a lot of time on it here. Dark fantasy is anything that takes the fantasy genre and the horror genre and blends them. As I discussed here, this is easily done. Because of course, if there are good and friendly fantasy creatures, then there are horrifying ones as well.

Honestly, how does anyone read old stories about the fai and think they’re our friends?

Witcher is a great example of a recent dark fantasy that was a lot of fun. 

Supernatural fiction

Finally, this is kind of a blanket subgenre that most of the others could easily fit into. It is any horror story that contains a supernatural element. Ghosts, vampires, demons, werewolves. Any cryptid you could imagine.

This subgenre is kind of silly when it can be broken down so much more. But next time we’re going to be digging into some much more complicated stuff. 

See you then.

My newest novel, Quiet Apocalypse, is available now for pre-order on Amazon and Smashwords! 

Paper Beats World is a labor of love. If you enjoyed this post, please consider buying me a cup of coffee on Ko-fi. 

Horror Subgenres, Part One

I once did a series about science fiction subgenres and it was pretty popular. So sometime later I decided to do a series about fantasy subgenres. It was also fun, and also still popular. 

Now that I’m getting ready to publish my first horror book, it seemed like a great time to dive into one more collection. So today we begin a six-part series about the many different subgenres that horror can fall into. Horror is as varied and complex as are those of us who love it. Sometimes it’s bright and shiny, blood and guts spilling out while a sexy blond lets out a braying, insane laugh. Sometimes it’s a man alone in a room with his memories. Sometimes it’s a whisper from under a bed, or in a closet. Sometimes it’s the sound of chewing, grinding teeth.

Sometimes, it’s a scream.

I love horror, in almost any form. So let’s talk about what different flavors we can experience when partaking in the horror genre.

(Note: much of my research was done on Wikipedia. If you like this, consider donating to them.)

Art house Horror

Sometimes called elevated horror, art-house horror is a more sophisticated example of the genre. At least, that’s what it would like to be. It’s not about jump scares or a room full of blood. It’s more about subtle, psychological chills. It’s a horror that might not gross you out but instead upset you on a more basic level.

I’m not a huge fan of this subgenre. I think horror suffers when the artists start crawling up their own asses. But when it’s done well, it’s exemplary. Some notable examples of art-house horror are Get Out, The Babadook, A Quiet Place, and The Shining. Art house horror seems to be having a moment. And while I’m thrilled to see more artists exploring the genre, I wouldn’t mind a few more slasher flicks.

Body Horror

Body horror explores body mutilation. It’s the rotting zombies, the bloated corpses. This subgenre relies on the gross-out factor, but it can go beyond that. The way this horror subgenre works best is when it preys upon our sympathies. When we see a mutilated body, it’s awful. When we start wondering what it would be like to live through that sort of mutilation, that’s where it starts getting really scary.

House of A Thousand Corpses is the first film that comes to mind with this subgenre. But really, almost any slasher flick is going to have components of this. Everything from the Scream Franchise to Hannibal. And the reason is simple. As Stephen King says, we’re afraid of the bad death. Body horror explores bad death to the extreme. 

Cthulhu mythos

I used to have a virtual pet Cthulhu on my tablet. It’s not super relevant to this. It’s just an example of a creature that was once feared being turned into a cuddly cartoon. 

As the name would apply, Cthulhu mythos is stories that contain Cthulhu as a character. He is the original creepypasta when you think about it. One great writer, HP Lovecraft, made him up. Now everyone writes about him.

The character first appeared in the holy Weird Tales in 1928. And Cthulhu has continued to capture hearts, and unwary sea goers, ever since. Some fun examples of this subgenre are The Color of Outer Space and the 2005 movie, The Call of Cthulhu. 

(Note, this subgenre differs from Lovecraftian, which we’ll be talking about later in this series.)

Eighteenth-Century Gothic

This is a subgenre we can’t reproduce, as it only describes stories written in a specific time frame. From 1760 to 1820 to be specific. But we can copy the style, and that’s something.

Eighteenth-century gothic was all about taking medieval stories and giving them a ‘modern’ feel. I mean, modern for the eighteenth century, of course.

There were a lot of supernatural elements to these stories. It’s described as supernatural plots with emotionally realistic characters. Ghosts haunting castles. Dead loved ones returning with cryptic messages. All things dark and eerie, but also uptight and proper. Some examples of this subgenre would be The Castle of Otranto and The Old English Baron.

Erotic horror

Porn. This is porn. It’s Dracula shirtless spilling blood over his chest, then going down on the three vampire seductresses. It’s a woman being undressed and screwed silly by a ghost. It’s a wet dream that gets you pregnant for real. 

There’s almost always an element of sex in horror. Sex is both the best and most terrifying thing most of us can think of. Think how many horror movies have a sexy time scene right before someone gets slashed to bits. It’s even one of the three rules for surviving a horror film. Don’t have sex. Don’t drink or do drugs. And don’t say I’ll be right back. But the first, and most important, is don’t have sex.

Often sex is the lure that ends someone’s life. A hot blond girl or dark mysterious man sweet talks you into going somewhere more private with you. Erotic horror just goes ahead and shows you all the good bits before the gory ones.

And I swear, it’s like half of American Horror Story Hotel. There is just a lot of sex in that season.

Fantastique

Fantastique is fantasy horror, which I’ve discussed at length. But apparently, it’s a big thing in France.

One distinction of Fantastique is that there is little to no explanation regarding the supernatural elements. Things just are what they are. There is magic. There are dragons. There is a thousand armed monster who lives under that house and will rip you apart if you go in there. No, we don’t need to know where it comes from. It’s just there. 

And I kind of love that. I love that there’s just no explanation. There’s no explanation why this horrifying thing is. It just is. 

That’s it for this time. But I’ll be back soon with more horror subgenres to explore. 

And don’t forget to pre-order Quiet Apocalypse now on Amazon or Smashwords.

Paper Beats World is a labor of love. If you enjoyed this post, please consider buying me a cup of coffee on Ko-fi. 

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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My Horror Heroes, Stephen King

I’m starting a mini-series today, covering some of my heroes in the horror genre. I’ve been a horror fan all my life, ever since the first time I watched Nightmare on Elm Street. Horror has always been my favorite form of entertainment. Bad horror, good horror, it rarely matters. I love zombies, haunted houses, Poltergeist. Give it all to me.

So I thought it would be fun to talk about some of my favorite horror creators of all time. I want to talk about why they’re amazing writers, creators and people in general.

Anyone who’s read this blog for any amount of time knows I love Stephen King. Even if I don’t love many of his endings. I’ve learned so much from him as a working writer, as a storyteller, as a creative person who has to exist in the real world. And I’m far from the only one inspired by him. He is, after all the reigning king of horror and has been for basically my entire life. Who else has that long of a career, honestly?

Cover of Stephen King's Bag of Bones

King knew he wanted to be a writer as a kid, something I relate to. In his book, On Writing, he tells stories of nailing rejection letters on his wall with a railroad spike. But since writing rarely pays the bills, at least at first, he got a teaching degree. Jokes on him, teaching usually doesn’t pay the bills either. 

But the part of him that wanted to teach never went away. It fairly does with those passionate about helping others learn. And so King has written several books about writing and the horror genre. I talked about On Writing extensively here. I also talked about his amazing book, Danse Macabre on Haunted MTL. It’s a formative education on the horror genre, and everyone with even a passing interest in horror should read it. 

King has always been generous with his knowledge. He wants to help people be better writers. And he enjoys talking about his favorite topics. He’s also very good at talking about his favorite topics, which makes sense. After all, he’s made a fortune telling stories.

Most people are fully aware that King suffered from substance abuse. He’s never shied away from that. He’s critical of himself for it and honest about how his addictions hurt his family. This bravery is something to be admired. I’m sure it opened him up to armchair therapists who want to label people who create horror as sick individuals. People like that will be quick to say that something must be wrong with him. People like that will be quick to say that about almost anyone, though.

But his honesty should inspire all of us to talk more openly about substance abuse. If it was easier to find help without judgment, more people would.

King makes it clear that he never needed drugs or alcohol to create. There are a lot of jokes in the creative world that the real geniuses are always tortured. That artists and writers are always drunks or drug addicts. I hate that suggestion. It’s an excuse for bad behavior, and an invitation for young creatives to experiment with things they should be staying far the hell away from. And King didn’t need that shit to write horror that scares the hell out of us. Neither does anyone else.

Cover of The Stand by Stephen King

King was able to get himself clean and stay clean largely because of his family. When reading On Writing, it’s clear that King is devoted to his wife, Tabitha. She is his partner in every sense of the word. I admire that. He’s fully aware that he wouldn’t have been able to create what he did without her.

On a personal note, I read On Writing for the first time when I was sixteen. I dreamed of having that sort of partner then. I’m blessed to have found that sort of partner. The kind who will tell me clearly when my writing sucks, and then tell me how awesome I am in the next breath. I am always grateful for that.

The point I’m trying to make here isn’t to get married. It’s the same point King makes, again, in On Writing. I can’t say it better than him, so I’ll just go ahead and quote him.

Art is a support system for life, not the other way around. 

I try to keep this in mind. When it feels like the words want to suck up my whole day. When I want nothing but the page staring back at me. When I feel like I’m behind on all my projects, and I want to start even more, and who needs to sleep anyway, I remember that good advice from my teacher. And I put the work away for a little while. I walk Oliver. I play chase the pen with Harper. I watch tv with the darling husband. I sing along with the music while I wash the dishes and I remember that I am more than the words I put on the page. I am a writer, but I am more.

The great thing about this lesson, putting your life before your art, is that it doesn’t mean you don’t create. King has published 64 novels, plus his short story collections, nonfiction works, and all the work he does adapting his books into tv shows and movies. The man is a creative machine. And it’s for one simple reason. He treats the writing as work. This is to say that he shows up every day at the blank page and writes. He does not wait for the muse to come to him. He sits down and starts writing. And eventually, the muse shows up.

King does not believe, and I do not believe, in writer’s block. If you’re a writer, you write. If you’re not writing, you need to figure out why you’re not. Or, you can do what King does and what I do. You sit down and write anyway, even if it’s shit writing. Even if it’s the worst thing you’ve ever written. Because the only way to get past writer’s block is to write.

Honestly, I don’t know that I’ll ever hit the 64 novel number. I have four, and four novellas, and one radio drama podcast. And I’m pretty sure you could stack all my work together and it wouldn’t match the page count of the extended version of The Stand. But I’m young, and I still have a full-time job. I’ll get there.

Turning now to the quality of King’s stories, I don’t think anyone can argue that they’re popular. And if you ask him, he’ll tell you that this comes from two things. Reading a lot and writing a lot. 

I think it’s a little more than that, of course. King has been a horror fan his whole life. He has lived the genre. He knows the classics. He knows what scares the hell out of people. And he uses it. This takes time, years really. But it’s the only way to get good at something.

TLDR, here are the lessons that any writer can learn from Stephen King

– Put your life before the work

-You don’t need drugs to create

-Writing is work, treat it as such

-Know your genre inside and out

Paper Beats World is a labor of love. You can support this website on Ko-fi.

How to write a truly creepy Creepypasta

Let me tell you a story.

I used to live in a part of town called The Island. It wasn’t great. It was run down, there was some drug activity. Not a bit of this stopped me and the other kids around there from playing outside, though. We often hung out next to the train tracks, in this long patch of dirty grass. It was actually pretty great. There were the tracks, then a creek on the other side. Not the cleanest of creeks, but any running water is going to attract kids.

I was playing there with my friend Emily one day when we were both around twelve. We were doing all the normal things. Balancing on the tracks, throwing rocks into the water. Basic broke kid shit. 

We saw a guy walking towards us near the tracks. He was kind of between us and the row of houses, or we might have taken off right away. 

The guy was getting closer. He was wearing a dirty pair of jeans and a windbreaker zipped all the way up to his chin. He wasn’t walking in a straight line. It was almost like he was drunk. As he moved closer I could start to smell him. He smelled awful like he hadn’t had a shower in years.

Emily was balancing on the tracks. She was giving the guy a worried look. I wasn’t thrilled about him either. But I figured he’d just walk past us without even noticing. 

Instead, he stopped. “Isn’t it a little cold for you girls to be playing out here?” he asked.

No,” Emily said. It was only about sixty, so this was a strange thing for him to suggest. 

The guy seemed to lean a little closer to us. There was something wrong with his skin. It looked almost like it was hanging off him. Not just old people wrinkles, but like it might actually drip off any second. 

When he spoke again, it didn’t sound like his words were coming from his mouth. More like it was from under his coat.

Not a safe place for kids to be playing alone.”

He leaned closer to Emily. “Does your mom know you’re here?”

“Get away from me!” Emily said. She jumped away from the man but fell. I guess her shoelace must have gotten caught on the track. The man reached down and grabbed her jacket sleeve. She screamed. I shoved him away from her and almost screamed too.

It didn’t feel like touching a person. It was like under that windbreaker there were just pounds and pounds of cold hamburger.

The guy had to pull away. I helped Emily pull her shoe free from the tracks and we ran back to her house. 

We ran inside and slammed the door shut behind us. Her dad was home that day. When we told him what happened, he grabbed his shotgun and went outside. Of course, the guy was long gone.

There was no reason to call the cops. Emily’s dad was sure the guy was just a homeless man and they wouldn’t be able to find him. I would have thought so too, except for one thing.

We never told her dad, because we didn’t think he would believe us. But on Emily’s jacket, where the man had grabbed her, there was a handprint. It looked like the skin from the guy’s hand had come off, and stuck itself to her sleeve. 

The internet is awash with horror stories referred to as Creepypastas. Microfiction and flash fiction stories that almost seem like they could be real. 

Kind of like the one I just told you.

They’re creepy, they’re upsetting. Some are incredibly gory and some are just uncomfortable. Some of them are mistaken for true stories. Some have become beloved characters, like Jeff the Killer or Slenderman. They are today’s modern urban legends, and we love them. I even wrote a Slenderman inspired story once

You can find these sorts of stories all over. There are a few subreddits, including one called R/nosleep. Youtube is littered with videos titled like ‘3 scary Snapchat stories’ or ‘4 home alone stories to make you scream. I even just downloaded an app called Chilling that’s full of them.

Honestly, I cannot get enough of them. And some of them have freaked me out. I especially love Rap Rat.

If you’re interested in writing one of these Creepypasta stories, here’s the advice I have for you. These are tips not only from me as a writer, but from me as someone who has consumed far too many of these things to be healthy.

Keep it just this side of true

In case you haven’t already guessed, my story at the beginning wasn’t a true story. I was never attacked by a rotting man while playing outside as a child. 

I was, however, a broke kid who lived in a bad part of town called the Island. I did play near the train tracks and in the creek with my friends. I did once get my shoelace caught in the tracks. Thankfully, there was no train coming. And once I was approached by a stranger who stood too close to me. Then, talked too long to a preteen girl outside by herself.

It’s this sort of thing that makes these stories so relatable. And relatability is something that you need if you want to scare the hell out of someone. 

Good horror is honest, especially in Creepypastas. So much so that some people don’t quite get the joke. Stories on R/nosleep are often laughed at because they ‘can’t possibly be true. Well of course they aren’t true. No one ever said they were. They’re just written in such a way that they feel like they might be true.

And of course, there’s always a chance that some of them are. We don’t know, do we?

Grammar can fall away a bit

Many of these Creepypasta stories appear to be written by amateurs. The grammar is off. 

Well, that might be on purpose. Generally, the best stories are written in the first person, like you’re telling someone a story. So, since you’re the whole story is narrated from your MC’s pov, you can get away with bad grammar the same way you do while writing dialog. I’m betting you don’t use perfect grammar while talking in the best of circumstances. Neither do I. So why would we when we’re telling someone about a creepy thing that happened one night?

A really scary thing. Something you don’t usually talk about. 

Good storytelling cannot

While often the grammar in a Creepypasta isn’t the greatest, the writing mechanics are still there. Some great examples can be seen on the Youtube Show, Are You Scared? 

All of the other parts of telling a good story are still in play. Foreshadowing, word usage, descriptions, dialog. None of these can be forgotten in any story. No matter how informal the type of story. 

KISS (keep it short, sweetie.)

Finally, Creepypasta stories work best when they’re short. There are some exceptions, like the aforementioned Rap Rat. But most of these stories can be read in under fifteen minutes. 

First off, this is nice because most of us don’t have time for a long story all the time. And while I do love an epic fantasy story, sometimes I need a bit of short-form entertainment during my break. 

More than that, though, a short story doesn’t have as much time to show the zipper on the back of the monster. I wrote a post long ago about brevity being the soul of horror. I don’t want to rehash all of this. Suffice to say that shorter stories have more of a gut punch. And the best Creepypastas are the ones that keep it short. 

Have you tried your hand at a Creepypasta? Let us know in the comments, or leave a link to your story. 

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.

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How to start writing dark fantasy

Dark fantasy is certainly having a moment. Shows like Witcher and Wheel of Time, both of which I talked about on Haunted MTL, have gotten more fantasy fans interested in the creepier, more sinister side of the genre. And I love it. Not that I don’t enjoy the lighter side of fantasy. I wrote a whole series that could hardly be considered dark. Honestly, that’s just because I haven’t gotten to it yet. 

Yes, fantasy that is all about magic and adventure and dragon friends is awesome! But there is so much more that we can do with the genre if we’re willing to explore the shadowy side. 

Just in case you’re not sure what I mean by dark fantasy, another great example is the Spiderwick Chronicles. In here we see much of what I’d consider dark fantasy. We see the fai acting with malicious intent. We see dark magic slipping a young woman into a coma. We see characters who are menaced, rather than enchanted, by the fantasy world. There’s a lot more monster-slaying than finding fairy rings, is what I’m saying.

If you want to write some dark fantasy, here are some suggestions.

Details and world-building

A cornerstone of good fantasy is good world-building. And a dark fantasy is no different. But of course, the details of a dark fantasy world are going to be a bit different. We’ll see more danger, of course. More places our characters fear to tread. More people you don’t want to come across. Think of Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children. Yes, at the start the children are in a magical place frozen in time. But soon enough they find themselves mucking through dark allies, filled with monsters and men who want nothing more than to crush their heads against the pavement.

Don’t shy away from the gore

Speaking of pavement head crushing, any good horror story is going to have some moments of gore. That’s just a hallmark of the genre. 

I don’t love stories that rely on it. If there’s not an underlying terror, then all the blood and broken bones in the world aren’t going to do more than turn my stomach. But I do expect to see a little bloodshed. 

The best horror is based on reality

Horror that revolves around otherworldly creatures is great. I love a haunted house story, and I love a sentient demonic house even more. But the best horror story is the one that has a basis in real life.

Carrie was about more than a killer prom queen. It was about a young woman bullied at school and suffering abuse at home. Amityville Horror is about a house set on killing its inhabitants. It’s also about a family with money worries. These are things we can relate to, which makes the horror that much more satisfying. 

This can be a little trickier with dark fantasy, which is by definition not based on reality. But remember that characters are people. And people are generally scared by the same things. As Stephen King put it, we’re scared of the Bad Death. That’s pretty well universal, even if you are an elf. 

Anything that can befriend you can also kill you

I’d like to take this moment to point out something in fantasy that has always bothered me. Fairies are often seen as whimsical little friends, who might play a little prank on us from time to time but have our best interests at heart.

If you know anything about fai lore, you know that’s bullshit. They might be befriended, but they’re more likely to steal you away, take your babies, poison you, or otherwise mess up your day. 

The same can be said for mermaids. 

Any creature has a dark side. Any creature can be seen as either benevolent or malevolent. Think of fantasy creatures as dogs. Most of the time they’re our great little companions who sleep at our feet and keep us company while we type blog posts. But under the right circumstances, they’ll take a hand. 

If the good creatures exist, so do the dangerous ones

Finally, there is this. Fantasy creatures we like tend to get a lot of attention. But if they exist in your fantasy world, so do their darker counterparts. So do the banshees, the evil magic users, the werewolves, wendigos and vampires. Light casts a shadow, and you don’t get one without the other. So when creating your fantasy world, remember to write in the shadows as well. 

Fantasy and horror complement each other in many ways. A touch of one can make the other stronger, and often is unavoidable. How much you decide to let the darkness in is, of course, depended on how gruesome you want your fantasy story to be. 

What is your favorite dark fantasy? Let us know in the comments. 

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