locomotive_poe (locomotive_poe) wrote,

Fundamentals of writing a good horror story (part 1)

OK, Cherished Reader, this is a writing blog let's talk about writing. My genre of choice is horror / thriller / dark fantasy so that is what we will blog about. First things first -- why write a story? Jonathan Swift says: "The end of all scribblement is to entertain." I will not dispute Mr. Swift in this, but remember fiction is "the lie that tells the truth." The events in your story may never have happened, but they illustrate a Truth that the writer needs to express. So let's explore this. You will need:

1. A story to tell, that should both enlighten (truth) and entertain (Swift).
2. The English language (or whatever language you write in; I was born in Brooklyn, so like Corbin Dallas in The Fifth Element, I speak two languages fluently: English and Bad English).
3. The discipline to sit your ass in a chair and write until a story is completed.
4. Perseverence; your first efforts will be poor until you learn your craft.
5. A thick leathery skin and a horned carapace in order to withstand the rejection and criticism that comes with writing.

In Part 1, let's start with the story itself:

Q. First, where do your ideas come from? A. Do not worry about ideas, truly, they come from anywhere like moths to a streetlight. Also, no idea is truly original. Every story ever told can be broken down into about seven or eight basic plotlines. Put your energy into the *execution*. Great stories have been written about mediocre or recycled ieas. Look at the basic storylines from your favorite authors; look at Shakespeare, his plots were recycled from a number of classical (as in Greek / Roman) stories. All that being said, I do have a fascination with the process of how an idea germinates and grows into a full-blown story. We'll make that a separate blog entry in the future.

Q. What is the basic structure of a story? A. This:
1. I have a character (protagonist)
2. My character wants something (desire line)
3. Why doesn't he/she have it already? What inherent flaw in my character prevents him/her? (need line)
4. What does my character do to get what he/she wants? (plot)
5. Who tries to thwart my character from getting what he wants? (antagonist)
6. Who tries to help my character? (allies)
7. What complications does my character face in getting what he/she wants? (complications)
8. How does my character resolve getting what he/she wants in the face of his/her antagonist(s) and complication(s) (climax)
9. Does my character succeed (comedy) or fail (tragedy)?
10. What is the end result of all this? What have we learned? (theme)

Most stories follow this structure. It's not a formula so much as an armature or set of guidelines. If your story is missing one or more of these elements it may fail in the telling. That's it for now, next part will be how to structure a story as per Western Mythic structure, as told in Chris Vogler's excellent book, "The Writer's Journey." See you later.
Tags: writing
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