A Horror Writer’s Approach to Writing by L. Bachman
Horror is visceral. It uncovers a piece of us that is primal, and because of that, it is a thriving genre in books and movies. I am one of those adding to the genre of horror in the realm of literature. I have written about a world without horror, the psychology of horror, and even my writing method on how I approach my books, but I have been asked how to write in horror and write it well. It is a loaded question as everyone approaches writing horror differently. I can only speak for myself, and I shall share.
Let’s be honest, I must, about how I began writing horror. The truth is I didn’t know I was writing in the genre. I knew for sure I wrote in dark fantasy, but how can a writer know one genre and not another? It is simple for me. I was writing on subject matters that once frightened me, but I had addressed them, so they no longer scared me. I just simply didn’t know I was, but with the kind words of another writer it was revealed to me that I was indeed creating horror. Whether it has been a short story or a novel, I had been doing it unawares, but I am a student of knowledge and fully accepted the truth that I was.
Like with any type of writing I pose a question to an idea. I dig deep into it. On my podcast, in web shows, and even in interviews I’ve talked about my ‘box of crap’ or ‘chest of trauma’. I have been open about the tragedies of my life. From abuse on every level in my formative years through to my teens, I gathered a trunk of damage I drug around day to day unaware that the trauma wasn’t normal. When you’re in a situation repeatedly it becomes ‘your normal,’ but it isn’t. It has taken me years of healing to chip away at this trunk, its contents, but I have also been able to make a mental scrapbook of how these things made me feel in the moment.
I was once told despite all that I had survived, I had managed to become ‘relatively normal.’ Initially, this made me cry. Not tears of pain but joy as it signaled to me all my healing had begun to show through to those I hold dear. The person that said that to me is still one of my most dear friends and one of the most helpful people in my education. I, being the person that I am, have been able to feel, but not allow it to tear me down. What I went through is simply something I had happen.
I use this trunk to help me in my writing to create a more realistic atmosphere and create relatable characters. Even if I’m writing about situations and horrors I've never dealt with, I’m able to create an emotion hand-in-hand with my style to bring to a reader realism in worlds that are fantastically over the top for entertainment purposes. It helps me add emotion because in our basic nature, we feel. Whether it’s love, sadness, or even fear, we feel. Breaking down my own feelings and writing them into what I do creates a chain that links characters in fiction to readers in a non-fiction world. This connection, emotive writing, is what immerses them into the story. They can believe in the world I am creating with the emotions I invoke in them, through them.
To begin writing in horror, there is something that must be understood, and that is understanding how one feels in order to create feeling. Thrillers and horrors borrow from these. Every genre does, but we’re going to focus on thrillers and horrors. Also know that asking questions creates development, whether character, atmosphere, or even situations. How would a character react? Why are they reacting that way? If they’re facing a monster they would react in fear, it’s stranger and it’s the unknown, but adding in a background reason to the character’s reaction adds depth.
Why would the character react this way or that to this monster, but not that person? Ask and answer, perhaps the person is more familiar, maybe they remind the character of someone they loved and lost, so the feelings will differ. As a human being, and as a writer, I can use my own familiar feelings to develop. Some may say I do too much development, but that is just how I operate. Relatability is how I understand my world best and it is how I write. If it doesn’t make sense to me, I can’t write a world that doesn’t make sense to another, a reader. So I discover their motivations and how the characters feel and start writing.
I struggle understanding others. I struggle to understand motives or if there even is any with others interacting with me. This is just how my real world is, but writing fiction, writing horror, is me creating a world I understand. When I was younger, I lived in chaos. I never knew what was going to happen day to day. Writing was a coping mechanism for me. I didn’t know it then, but I have understood that as an adult for some time now.
Horror is about setting up an entire environment for the reader to dive into. Use what you’ve experienced in your life, it may just help you write a more realistic world, a relatable one, and a beautifully horrific one. It has worked for me for a very long time. If you’re interested in seeing one of my methods or even another article on writing horror I have released, you can check them out here The Purging Method and here A World Without Horror. Both are on the website Horror Tree. You can also check out my own website, www.lbachman.com, listen to my podcast the Dark Jottercast/The Pajama People, which I cohost with Julia JK Allen, and read all about my work and myself.