It's guest post day. Please welcome Sorchia Dubois!
Between the years of 1995 and 2017, around 500 horror movies graced the silver screen. They grossed a cumulative 10 billion bucks. Add in the untold millions people shelled out on roller coaster rides and haunted house tours and it looks like a significant segment of the population are more than willing to pay to be scared.
With those numbers in mind, it might seem that making money would be as easy as jumping from a dark corner, shouting “Boo,” and holding out your hand for the $5 fee. Turns out, that kind of thing will get you banned from the Mall. People can be so fickle.
No, people want their thrills packaged in a variety of ways, but wearing a clown costume and stalking them in the parking garage is not one of those ways. A safer method of profiting from people’s desire for terror (and one with a lower percentage of getting you fitted for an ankle monitor) is to write scary stories.
Writing a scary story is much more difficult than wielding a bloody knife outside a public rest room while shouting “Here’s Johnny”. For future reference, that will also get you banned from the Mall.
The masters in the field of horror fiction have been offering advice on exactly how to scare readers for a long time.
Edgar Allan Poe talked about the “unity of effect” saying a writer must decide early on what emotional reaction he or she wants to induce in the reader. Then every element and every word must be chosen with that effect in mind. In order for this to work, you have to know where you’re going—not only what effect you want, but how the story ends. Once you know the ending, you can revise and edit to produce the desired effect.
Choosing a setting, conflict, tone, and voice are essential, but the real art of horror or of any genre is in the word choice. Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter — it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
Easy peasy. Right?
No less than Stephen King divides scary stories into three categories:
Gross out—Fun, but shallow. Blood and gore, severed heads, oozing guts, splattered brains.
Horror––According to King, horror is the appearance of something abnormal. Mutants floating in jars in the lab; rodents of unusual size; a mysterious disappearance; the clown standing at the bus stop. With a red balloon. In the pouring rain. But I digress.
Terror—Fear for your life. The creeper is in the house; a giant squid wraps a clammy tentacle around your leg; something breathes on your neck in the dark. You aren’t so sure your will survive the moment.
Psychologists tell us there are two kinds of reactions to fear: biochemical and emotional.
Biochemical response is the same for everyone. It’s the body’s reaction to fear—fight or flight. Trembling, sweating, dry mouth—if you’ve ever spoken in front of a large group, you may be familiar with these things.
Emotional response is highly personalized. Some things are universal triggers—a crying baby, a lost puppy, a pile of maggoty intestines. It’s the deeper stuff, though, that tends to leave lasting impressions on readers. For these intense emotional triggers, the best sources are one’s self and observation of others.
While Gothic romance isn’t necessarily aiming at terror, we do enjoy causing that jolt of adrenaline. We love the intense atmosphere and the hauntingly mysterious. It’s our bread and butter, our carrots and peas, our caviar and crème fraiche (that last one is just a dream. I don’t really know what either of those things taste like nor if I want to taste them together or not.)
I know what scares me—knives, speeding trains, precipitous cliffs, kindergartners––but I’m intensely curious about what scares others. (And with the ankle monitor, it’s hard to do the research these days. )
So tell me. What gives you the heebie jeebies? What makes you sit up in bed in the wee hours of the night? What is your favorite way to be scared?
My latest release, Zoraida Grey and the Family Stones, is a Gothic Romance/fantasy with plenty of atmosphere plus a love story and many, many questionable jokes. The second book in the trilogy, Zoraida Grey and the Voodoo Queen, will be released Winter 2018.
Zoraida Grey and the Family Stones Blurb
Granny’s dying, but Zoraida can save her with a magic crystal of smoky quartz. Too bad the crystal is in Scotland––in a haunted castle––guarded by mind-reading, psychopathic sorcerers.
Getting inside Castle Logan is easy. Getting out––not so much. Before she can snatch the stone, Zoraida stumbles into a family feud, uncovers a wicked ancient curse, and finds herself ensorcelled by not one but two handsome Scottish witches. Up to their necks in family intrigue and smack-dab in the middle of a simmering clan war, Zoraida and her best friend Zhu discover Granny hasn’t told them everything.
Not by a long shot.
For a taste of Zoraida Grey and the Family Stones, here’s a little excerpt.
We are in a land of green hillsides and bubbling brooks. Jagged ridges drop sharply to murky lochs and craggy mountains. The highway winds up the side of a hill and whips ninety degrees around, heading down the other side.
“You don’t suppose that’s it, do you.” Zhu sticks her head out the window like a puppy. The wind lashes her long hair around her head. She points across a wide valley.
I suck in a sharp breath, and it’s all I can do not to stomp the brakes. On the very tiptop of a rocky crag, a castle overlooks the steel blue waters of a narrow loch. Gray walls and turrets cast long, dark shadows across the clustered houses of a village huddled beneath the curve of the hill. Flickers of green and blue shimmer around the castle walls, subtle but steady. The entire place glows with magic.
“Sweet Mother Merryweather!” I cast quick glances from the twisting road to the castle. A green roadside sign reads Black Bridge with the Gaelic name Loch an Drochaiddubh below.
As we approach the village, the castle looms against the darkening sky, and the buzzards in my stomach do stunt dives. A tall black tower juts far above the rest of the castle walls. I squint, trying to focus on the tiny figure behind the crenellated fortifications at its very top. The back of my neck prickles as if unfriendly eyes are on me.
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Award-winning author Sorchia Dubois lives in the piney forest of the Missouri Ozarks with seven cats, two fish, one dog, and one husband. She enjoys a wee splash of single-malt Scotch from time to time and she spends a number of hours each day tapping out paranormal romance, Gothic murder, and Scottish thrillers.
A proud member of the Ross clan, Sorchia incorporates all things Celtic (especially Scottish) into her works. She can often be found at Scottish festivals watching kilted men toss large objects for no apparent reason.
Her stories blend legends, magic, mystery, romance, and adventure into enchanted Celtic knots. Halloween is her favorite time of year (she starts decorating in August and doesn’t take it down until February) and her characters tend to be mouthy, stubborn, and a bit foolhardy. Nothing makes her happier than long conversations in the evening, trips to interesting places, and writing until the wee hours of the morning. Well, chocolate cake makes her pretty happy, too.