How I Started Writing Horror

One of the very first story ideas I had was something I originally called, “Love in a Time of Zombies.” The idea was to write a comical love story that was set during a zombie apocalypse.  So I started thinking about who my characters were, what their motivations were, and how everything would come together.

Being the sort of mind that mushes several ideas together and then sees what comes out of that, I determined that I needed a Zombie Zero (Z0). So to that end I decided that my Z0 was a pizza delivery driver that snooped where he shouldn’t have been snooping, namely a military base in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t really care that the idea felt kinda already done, but the story wasn’t intended to be serious or taken seriously.

Then I started writing about this pizza delivery driver. All I knew when I was writing about him was that he was going to die and become the first zombie, so I didn’t want him to be likable. Having been a pizza delivery driver before, I had some character traits that I knew existed in some people that I didn’t like, and so I slathered all these traits in to a single character, Eric.

Eric was supposed to be unlikable and then die, but after I finished writing, I had a ten thousand word prologue with a character that I no longer wanted to die. I had a new hero. Additionally, while there is a trace of dark wit running throughout the piece, it isn’t really funny so much as it is just dark and creepy.

My comic piece was substantially smaller and had character with names like General Whoremonger and Corporal Red Schertz. I had a budding love affair with an oblivious scientist and religious military detective. Parts of what I had written were delightful while others were forced and flat, but it was a first draft. I expected issues.

Eric’s addition the the story however didn’t give me a nice starting point, instead it suddenly twisted my earlier work to become dark creepy something that I can only assume is horror. The thing is, I don’t really read horror. I’ve read The Shining and Heart Shaped Box and that’s about it.

So I started rethinking everything because I loved Eric a LOT more than I loved where my feeble comedy was going, and that’s when I started running into problems. I rethought all of my characters. I wanted to leave them more or less who they were, but now I needed/wanted to make their roles a bit more serious. The oblivious scientist would still be a little oblivious to the romantic advances of our heroine, but he would no longer be a bungling baffoon who would spontaneously have massive nose bleeds whenever General Whoremonger approached withing a certain distance. My heroine now became more conflicted. She became the daughter of immigrant parents. Her father was a Muslim and her mother a Catholic. Her mother died in the 9/11 terror attacks which propelled this young lady to work for the government.

The problem with those characters and the resulting story is that I have no idea how to write that story yet. I have some ideas, but there’s a lot going on there. I really don’t want to mess that up. So I shelved that idea, for now.

After shelving Love in a Time of Zombies, I started writing a traditional fantasy story. I liked where it was going, but I paused writing it to write a short story for a read & critique event at Gen Con 2014. The story I wrote was called Charlotte, a story about a young girl that is lead to her doom in the catacombs of Paris in 1814. The end result was MUCH better than I would have given myself credit for being able to write which was in part due to some awesome friends and family who were there to read my work while it was in process. What I had when I finished was … something.

The read and critique went pretty well, and I got some professional advice on the first half of the story that I was able to share. I took what they said and rewrote the story and submitted it for the SAWG 2014 writing contest. I got some pretty good feedback and went on to the final judging. I didn’t place, but I didn’t expect to. I did get an analysis of my work from a professional writer who wrote horror. He had some excellent things to say both favorable and critical. I was delighted, but I now saw a need to extend my short story to something else, something more.

In my head I had a future for Charlotte after her death. There was a story that needed to come out, and while I’m not sure about my first two attempts, I know I can write this one. I’m still not certain what to call the genre. My heroine is an undead that can pass as being alive. She just wants to live her life. It’s a coming of age story in which a victim finds her place in the world by embracing the monster that she had no say in becoming. I don’t know. I assume it’s horror, but I guess we’ll see.

© 2015, Joseph K Little. All rights reserved.

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