Sunday, November 15, 2015

3 Ideas From Creature Con That Can Enhance your Horror fiction

A reptilian monster's eye.
Photo Credit:

I said several weeks ago that I would talk about some writing techniques I learned of when I attended Sinister Creature Con back in October. Even though this con emphasised special cinematic and make-up effects in the horror genre, I picked up on three good tips there that can be useful in any media of horror fiction including books, movies, TV and games. In fact, these tips can be used in other genres besides horror. So doing the following can enhance your fiction writing:

1     1) Determine an end point to your piece. Fon Davis of Industrial Light and Magic, the special effects company for the Star Wars films, talked in his panel about doing this when he discussed his work on model building and sculpting. He said that many special effects artists like to make their work perfect by making it appear real to the last detail. That’s always been my case when it comes to writing fiction (and so now you know why I run so behind on my stories). But he said that, like painting, model building and sculpting for special effects is a never-ending job because a piece can always be improved. So the artist has to determine where to stop and basically say when the piece is “complete”. This is especially the case in the film industry where the producers want the work done by a deadline so they can release the movie.

The same goes for writing fiction. Some authors are pressured by contract with a publisher to determine their piece as “complete”. Other authors, myself included, have to pressure ourselves to make such a determination if we’re self-publishing our work. This is probably more important for self-publishing authors than for traditional ones because no one is around to tell us when we have to have the book done by. If we don’t determine an end point to our work, we’ll never publish it and publishing for us will always be a “someday it will happen”. So a great way to determine completion is by getting a select group of people to read your work before submitting it for publication. These readers can be your friends, a random audience (also known as beta readers) or a critique group. Then after the readers give you their comments, make the suggested revisions and then, as long as it sounds like it might be acceptable enough to your audience, submit it for publication.

I have a critique group I attend regularly and once they’ve critiqued my story, I’ll make the suggested revisions that were most common among the group, and then I’ll go back and consider the lesser common ones. After I make all revisions, I’ll do an additional reading or two to myself, and keep my readers in mind while doing so. If the story looks like it will convince my readers, and by that time in the final revision process it normally does, I’ll declare the story complete. However, for my collection of short stories, The Hidden, that’s coming up (hopefully by the end of the year) I’m going to add one more additional step and that’s releasing a beta version to certain readers. If anybody out there is interested in being a beta reader then let me know in the box below.

2    2) Write a story based on an illustration. Most people think that the script to a movie comes before the promo poster and they’re almost always right in thinking that. But interestingly enough, the director/screenwriter of 1986’s sci fi horror-comedy flick, Terror Vision, did it the other way around. He wrote the screenplay based on a poster that depicted a monster crawling out of a television set. A lot of authors of fiction will do this, especially ones who are visual artists too and make their own illustrations.

I myself have never written any of my fiction that way, although I wouldn’t mind trying it sometime. Normally I start with a plot idea: a “what if” situation such as “what if people played VR games via technological drugs?” That’s how I came up with my story, “Orbitville” which I included in The Fool’s Illusion. Then I find some starting point for that situation, which can be pretty tough. However, once I find it, I write according to what I think my protagonist will do in response to that situation and that’s when the story writing process becomes a journey for me.

But because it can be tough starting a concrete scene from a premise or an idea that is more abstract, writing based on an illustration may help. Just make sure you have the artist’s permission to use the subject matter of the picture in your story if you decide to publish it. If you develop the story from a movie’s promo poster or another author’s book cover or such, double check the synopsis of the movie or book to make sure your story doesn’t come too close in likeness to the plot and that it reflects your own work so you don’t risk committing plagiarism.

     3) Reference real life events. I found out about this one from horror author Josh Hancock who wrote the novel, The Girls ofOctober. The book is about a young woman so obsessed with John Carpenter’s Halloween that the events in her own life begin to resemble those of the movie, including murder. As far as references to real life go, the story’s overall theme already refers to an actual movie. But the author also includes passages from documents connected with the making of the film which in doing so makes the novel even more believable.

Edgar Allen Poe did something similar with his work by referencing both current events of his time and real life philosophers. But similarly to developing a story from an artist’s illustration, a person making reference to a real story, movie, TV series, etc., in his/her own fiction should make sure they have permission from the creator of the work they’re referencing, unless that work is in the public domain.

Have you tried any of the above tips for your own fiction? If so, did they improve your stories? Leave your answers in the box below. 

Until next time. . .


  1. Those were good tips for writers.
    An artist is perfecting constantly. It's never finished. So we do have to stop and declare it done or we'll work on it forever. (I know I'm done working on a story when I start changing sentences back to the way they were in the firs draft. Then I know I've gone too far.)
    I had an image in my head, based on a song, that inspired me to come up with my last release.
    Congratulations on your upcoming short story collection!

    1. Thanks, Alex. Speaking about "changing sentences back to the way they were in the first draft": I think I'm getting to that point in the short story I've been working on for a bit too long. lol I'm glad you brought that point up. Thanks.