A big warm welcome to all of my fellow horror enthusiasts out there. I hope you are ready for this because the time has come for my third tutorial. This is proving to be a successful series of blogs and I’m really happy with the two-way discussions which are going on between myself and my readers. I thought today I would split my blog up into two distinct parts. I will start off with a look at the five senses which are such an important feature of any story worth its salt. This is the case in any genre of fiction writing but especially in horror. Then in the second part of the blog I am going to dip into the important use of phrases used and actions taken part in by characters which are personal to them and them alone. I hope you will find this blog informative. But before I go any further I would just like to point out that I am going to add a new menu selection in the imminent future to deal with the demand for my tutorials. This will either be a main menu or a sub menu. It will be called My In-Depth Tutorials where I will go deeper than ever before into what makes up a horror writer of note. I will be sharing even more tools of the trade in these tutorials. I am enjoying writing them and it is good to know that visitors to my site are enjoying reading them. So it would seem we will be entering into a new exciting adventure in the coming weeks and months.
So, let’s get right into it. Now for a look at those five senses which can add so much to a storyline. As I am sure you all know the five senses are as follows: Touch, sight, sound, smell and taste.
Touch in horror is a great tool. Unlike in other genres when you touch something that is all there is to it, unless it sparks a memory, touching an item in horror can induce a character to have a vision. The character sees something which isn’t really there, maybe transporting him to a forgotten time in the past. For an example of this feature please check out the sub menu The Cornwall Ghost Story under the main menu My Books. Here you will find the character of Fiona Noble who sees things from the long past after finding an old journal hidden away in a dressing table drawer in the Cornwall cottage she and her family have just arrived at for a two-week holiday.
Horror again is a terrific genre for bringing in the sense of sound. Or, in this case it would probably be better to term it hearing as taken from a character’s viewpoint. The power of suggestion can be a wonderful tool in a horror writer’s bag of tricks. If a character starts hearing unusual or unsettling sounds he will become unnerved. This is even more the case if the circumstances surrounding him create a degree of tension in the reader. It could be the character finds himself in a strange place. It could be dark and unprepossessing which again will help to lift the tension residing in the reader’s heart.
I believe it is important to make it plain that good use of the senses enhances any storyline but that this should be used sparingly. A writer does not want to saturate his narrative with excessive use of the senses as that will work against the story in the end, slowing the action down and making the reader think more about the senses than the flow of the story. This is a definite no-no when writing fiction of any kind.
Sight is clearly a pretty obvious sense and should really come naturally as part of the storyline. However, this is once again where horror fiction steals a march on all of its rivals. When we talk about sight in horror fiction it can mean many things. One of these is a lurch into the unknown. This is especially true of supernatural fiction and specifically ghostly fiction which is the market I specialise in, although I think you might have worked that out by now! A character in this sort of tale will see things which are in no way part of normal, every day living. After all, it is not a usual occurrence to meet up with ghosts or to look into the past and exist in a different time dimension. All of these intriguing possibilities open up to a horror writer and his characters when the imagination is really working overtime.
Horror fiction is made for the sense of smell. When used well it can provide the reader with a truly unpleasant experience as he imagines a nasty odour wafting up his nose. I brought this into my published novel ‘The Lady in Red’ right at the start of the book where two bodysnatchers are discussing their line of work. They are in a tavern which I termed ‘smoke-filled’ with ‘an acrid smell in the air.’ This, I believe, created a nice atmosphere to the storyline right from the start. Or maybe that should be a dark and unseemly atmosphere!
Taste is not a sense I have used much in my books but again it is another useful tool at the writer’s disposal. However, where horror fiction is concerned I believe it works best when it adds to the dark and frightening situations the characters of the story are experiencing.
Now onto the second part of this blog as promised at the start. This is all about character development and how to make your characters jump out of the page at the reader. They must have minds of their own, be true to themselves and act in ways which are personal to them. How does a writer do this? Well, one way is to have these characters owning turns of phrase which only they use. I can once again go back to my novel ‘The Lady in Red’ to give an example of what I mean. I have a child character in that book named Alan Johns who when he gets excited over anything says ‘Jeeper’s Creepers!’ Originally I had him sharing this phrase with his two good friends but when I thought about it I felt it would work much better if only he said it. In this way it can be looked upon as a sort of calling card for this character. It becomes part and parcel of who Alan is. It is part of his character.
Okay, so there is one way a character can be seen as an individual person, separate from the other characters in the story. But it is not all about what characters say, it is also about what they do. I am talking about the actions they take part in. A character must be driven to do things. There must be a reason for why they conduct themselves in a certain manner. A writer has to know his characters back to front. They must become like his friends. He must know them inside and out. He has to know if an action on their behalf is true to them or if it is not. If he thinks ‘there’s no way he would act like that, no matter the situation he finds himself in’ then he must back track and make his character act in a different way which is more in tune with his personality.
Ah, yes: personality! That is it in a nutshell, in one secure little bundle neatly packaged and made to order. Without a believable personality any character in a story is nothing but an empty vessel, living in a vacuum. A writer should not want this for his characters. They have done so much for him, after all, so they deserve to be treated well by their creator not to be left fighting for an existence as a real person. Because any self-respecting author should know that his readers want the characters in his story to be memorable. They want to care about them and be interested in what happens to them. It is unlikely they will feel this way if the characters in question are lifeless mannequins.
So there it is. I hope you enjoyed this blog and that you have been able to take something from it. Don’t forget to look out for my new home for these tutorials at My In-Depth Tutorials coming your way soon.