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No story makes your skin crawl more than the horror story. The horror story takes suspense to a higher, usually more explicit, level and generally contains more graphic material than the Thriller.

The overall story problem in this genre is a mortal threat to an individual or group. Therec can be a mystery at the heart of it, but it is separate from the mystery genre.

Antagonists include the abnormal and paranormal: ghosts, zombies, vampires, serial murderers, killer sharks, giant spiders, viruses, vampires, werewolves or clowns. The antagonist must be nearly impossible to beat and to fail means death. 

The reader expects to be not only thrilled and anxious, but horrified and you need to start from page one. You can start slow and build on the horror, but true fans won’t appreciate a slow, horror-free build-up to a final, horrible truth.

The point of the Horror story is to make the readers squirm, scream, and confront their fears either individually or as a group. The fears can be everyday things such as fear of being alone, of the dead, of the unknown, or of the dark. The horror genre magnifies our fears so we can examine them safely.

There must a sense of being trapped in a room, a house, a town, or on a planet that you can’t escape and therefore must turn and face the threat. 
It’s scariest if the reader doesn’t know where the threat is hiding or where it will strike next. It’s that feeling of “there’s something in the dark, I can’t see it, how can I protect myself from it?” that preys on our elemental fear of being defenseless.

It can also be the “who will die next” plot.

The reader asks: What brought the danger near and how will they get away from it?

There are several subgenres of horror from suspenseful to gruesome.

Alien Horror takes Science Fiction to a darker place. The source of the horror is either on another planet or something brought to Earth from outer space.

Creepy Kids Horror features children who turn out to be evil, possessed by demons or Satan himself.

Erotic Horror features explicit content: sadomasochism, torture, the dark side of sexuality and the sex trade.

Extreme Horror contains explicit violence and is often a “who dies first plot” with no real rhyme or reason other than to kill the victims off in horrendous fashion.

Holocaust Horror contains mass deaths, either in the past or future. They can be due to human slaughter, a rogue virus, monsters, zombies, etc. They are often dystopian or post-apocalyptic settings.

Humorous Horror combines the horror structure with the comedy structure. It is scary, but also funny.

Mind Control Horror plays on our fear of not being in control – especially of our own minds. The mind can be taken over via sorcery or via technology. Victims are forced to act against their will and nature and are horrifying aware of it – unlike a mindless zombie.

Noir Horror
uses a gritty, urban setting with cynical protagonists who must fight the horror facing himself or everyone.

Paranormal Horror
features a mortal protagonist who must fight off immortal or supernatural threats. These include exorcist tales, possession, ghosts or demons.

Psychological Horror keeps the verbal camera in tight focus on the protagonist. He and the audience are kept in the dark. They aren’t certain what they are fighting until the end. This subgenre can also follow the evil or insane protagonist such as a serial killer, where the protagonist actually turns out to be the antagonist.

Rampant Technology Horror examines our fears that man has gone too far in their technology or achievements. It can feature monster toasters or robots that kill. It can be the ghost in the machine or the machine that steals your soul.

Satanic Bargain Horror features a protagonist who strikes a deal with the devil, like Dorian Gray. They end up paying a horrible price for their decision.

What are your favorite horror subgenres? 
Can you think of others? 

You can learn more about the genre through Horror Writers Association at 

You can join their group on Facebook group at

For the month of October, we will examine story building block layers as they pertain to the horror genre.

For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.

Minding Your Manners

I give credit to an article in Parents magazine for inspiring this one. Are etiquette and chivalry truly dead? In your story world, you decide. 

Tweet: Mores and manners change with the times, but everyone has a set of rules. #writingtips

From knights in clanging armor, to Victorian parlors, to the craziness of Hollywood, every story world has a set of rules for how people are supposed to behave and whether or not your characters choose to.

How comfortable Dick is in terms of asking for something depends on his personality type and whether he likes the person he is asking. The polite way to ask is, "Please may I ...". If Dick says, "Please taking a running leap off a short pier," the game is on.

How comfortable Dick is in terms of receiving things also depends on his personality type and whether or not he wants the item received. 

Thank you's when used appropriately, are the oil that makes life run a little smoother. An insincere thank you can mask anger when Dick would really like to let those rude words fly and can't. "Why thank you! However did you come up with such a creative solution to our current predicament ...Sweetie." If he says, "Thank you for not breathing," the game is on.

When a character interrupts a conversation, even to tell Dick that Timmy is in the well, he is being rude.

How often do your characters interrupt each other? Is it well meant, deliberately intrusive or because the situation requires it? Is it timed to deflect an important or revealing conversation?

Cell phones are rampant. Forcing the people around him to listen to Dick's conversation is rude. Listening in on other people's conversations is considered rude. This can also have unforeseen consequences. People aren't careful when they talk on their phones in public. They aren't careful when dining with their friends in restaurants. Clues can be dropped, sensitive information revealed and a person's true colors exposed.

"It's better to ask permission than forgiveness" is a current favorite. But is it? Sometimes Dick should ask permission, like before he raids someone else's refrigerator. He'll pass on asking permission if he is raiding their safe. Taking something innocent without permission may seem harmless, but may push the wrong button. How does Dick feel about having something taken without permission? Is he amused or furious?

Jane should keep negative opinions to herself. Or between her and her friends and out of earshot of other people. In which case, they can discuss freely and at length over their favorite beverage. Refer to the previous "there's no privacy while dining" scenario. This is especially true when commenting on other people's physical characteristics, clothing, possessions and children. It isn't considered acceptable to offer an insult as a compliment: "My, those tattoos are so colorful." Or "It must have taken hours to do that to your hair." Southern women are queens of the insult/compliment smashup. "Well, bless her heart, isn't she precious? It must have taken a month of Sundays to come up with that outfit."

Jane should take a hostess gift to someone's house when invited for dinner and thank them for having her over and for the good time she had. If Jane is lying through her teeth, you have conflict. If she takes them a present intended to insult, the game is on. Is she thanks them for the most riveting evening she's ever had, the insult might fly right over her host's head.

Sally was taught to knock before entering. This could avert a potential disaster if her husband is in bed with someone else. If she is doing something she doesn't want anyone to know about, locking the door would be a great idea. If Sally never locks a door and suddenly decides to lock the door, there is conflict. Locking the bathroom door could mean the child/person knocking better be bleeding, the house on fire or someone dying. If not, the game is on.

When making a phone call, Dick should introduce himself and ask for whoever he wishes to speak to. With the advent of caller ID this is going out of fashion. The conflict occurs when Dick doesn't bother to ascertain who he is talking to before he speaks. It also occurs when Dick answers someone else's phone, particularly if he pretends to be that person. Wrong numbers and misunderstandings are rife in these situations.

What are your story world rules about profanity? It is considered bad manners to use foul language in public, particularly if sensitive little ears are around to hear them. There are still factions of society insulted by words that other factions of society use as versatile adjective/noun/verbs. Profanity is generally considered crass in business and social functions. If Dick does so, how much trouble will he be in? Is Jane offended by profanity or does she swear like a sailor?

Dick should never call other people names or make fun of them. Until they are out of earshot and can't hear him or retaliate. Unless he intentionally wants to start a fight. Even good natured teasing can be taken the wrong way.

Jane should sit through a play, assembly, lecture or business meeting quietly and pretend she is interested even if she is bored silly. What happens if she doesn't? We've all been in boring business meetings, school music programs or dance programs that - other than our little darling's five seconds of fame - bore us to tears. You may be at a lecture or a workshop. This is where the cell phone issue comes in. The light from the screen is distracting. Jane may be bored, but the parent/participant sitting next to her might not. What happens if Jane is forced to sit there? What happens if she breaks free? What happens if she breaks out her Blackberry?

Sally should cover her mouth when she coughs or sneezes. These days it's an act of terror to spread germs in a public place or airplane.

If he sees someone struggling, Dick should offer to help. This is lovely if an elderly person is struggling with their groceries, a mom with a stroller, or someone drops something and doesn't notice. These situations can be hilarious or deadly. What could a little act of kindness lead to? What could Dick gain by pretending to be helpful? There's the old joke about the boy scout who helped the old lady across the street only to find she was headed the opposite direction. Good intentions rarely go unpunished.

When someone asks a favor, Jane should do it without grumbling, unless the favor is inappropriate. Favors can be dangerous. If Jane asks a favor, she should preface it with, "Would you mind." If she follows that up with "Would you mind sodding off?" the game is on.

For more on crafting conflict to create tension, pick up a copy of Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict available in paperback and E-book.

The Importance of Reputation

Tweet: There was a time and place when a man was only as good as his word and integrity was paramount. #writingtips

A clansman's oath was to the death. Tribesmen the world over made verbal contracts often involving an exchange of blood.

If you lived in merry old Europe during most of the regent-named eras, a reputation was considered more important than currency. A man might be poor, but he could still have his good name. Lots of citizens indulged in lascivious shenanigans, though most turned a blind eye while they did so. As long as the shenanigans took place in private and the “public” remained ignorant, all was well and good. Shift the curtains and allow a passerby to see inside the facade and the person in question was ruined.

Are honesty and integrity important in your story world? Is it more valuable than currency? 

Is it important for Dick to have a “good name?”  What will Dick have to do to maintain or regain his reputation? Many a tale hinges on someone trying to repair a damaged reputation. Dick’s integrity might be one of his hot buttons. Others will challenge it at their own risk.

Dick might be proud of his reputation as a womanizer and guy’s guy. Jane might look down her patrician nose at him for being so superficial. In many a love story, she finds out her initial prejudice was unfounded.

Jane might have a reputation as a loose woman with a sharp tongue. When forced to work with Jane, Dick might realize Jane has been unfairly demonized. She is really quite lovely.

How important are honesty and integrity to the characters that move about your story world? 

Not all of them will value the same things. To some, virtues will be of the highest importance. To others, vices might be of higher importance.

Is it better to give than receive? Depends on who is giving and who is receiving, doesn’t it? If Dick is giving money to a charity, it’s a good thing. If Jane is giving crucial intelligence to Iran, not such a good thing. Both might have a reputation as a “giving” sort of person.

What if Dick has earned a reputation he does not deserve? What if he is held aloft and admired by millions for something he didn’t really do, or for doing something that appeared benign when it was secretly malignant?

It might be Jane’s story goal to strip him of his “good name.”

A business’s reputation is worth its weight in stocks. A single incident can trash a business’s reputation. The business may never recover. The stakes are high when a company is fighting to keep, change, or restore its reputation. Those at the top of the corporate pyramid may turn lethal if their reputation is challenged. If Dick orchestrates a coup with the sole purpose of destroying a corporation, the game is on.


To learn more about the mannequins and how personality types create conflict for your characters, pick up a copy of Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, available in paperback and E-book, and Story Building Blocks: Build A Cast Workbook available in paperback and E-book.