Friday, October 17, 2014

Why I like How To Write Horror Fiction

Why I like How To Write Horror Fiction

1) In marathoning through 31 days of blog posts, it's amazed me how often I've gone back to my childhood. I live in a near-24/7 horror bubble, but I don't think too much past assuming that it's where my natural aesthetics lie. This little experiment in strip-mining my interests has helped me to find my origin story.  No other book has shaped me more than How To Write Horror Fiction.

2) I was by all accounts a pretty easy kid. I didn't cause a lot of trouble, never really acted out, and was easy for my parents to get a handle on. They taught me how to read at a young age, which I'll always be grateful for. The library quickly became my favorite place, and they used to drop me off there if they needed me out their way for awhile. I'd spend hours wander the stacks, following my interests. One day, I happened to come across HtWHF

3) Written by the legendary William F. Nolan, HtWHF is a nuts-and-bones explanation of how a horror story works: how to build tension, how to create monsters, how a plot is supposed to naturally flow, and how to use violence to maximum effect. I've read a lot of books on writing over the years and a lot of them read like New Age self-improvement books. HtWHF taught the nuts and bolts of story construction. It made storytelling seem like something I could do

4) Nolan comes from a different era of storytelling. There were more markets back in the day because more people read short fiction. The stories guys like Nolan and Ray Bradbury wrote defined horror fiction. While the sensibilities have changed significantly, the core lessons remain valuable.

5) I've been holding off on rereading HtWHF until after I finished my MFA in writing horror fiction. I wanted to see if what I learned or if anything I tried to do felt different from what Nolan laid down in the text. The reputation that MFAs homogenize their students has some truth, especially one geared towards commercial fiction, but I learned a lot in the program. Two books and a couple dozen short stories later, I've approached HtWHF with new appreciation. The lessons remain useful, and it's a good refresher course on the basics. 
Conclusion: Writing is such a crapshoot. It's hard to succeed, it's often not taken seriously, and you have to find your rewards within the process itself, but it has proven to be one of the best things in my life. It's been a way to synthesize my love of reading, my love of stories, and my observations on life into an art form. It's made me happy, if "happiness" means something more complex than simple self-indulgent euphoria. Sometimes that happiness can come with the weight of obligation, but the sense of purpose it gives in exchange is worth it. Nolan's book had a massive impact on my development. He made me want to be a writer.

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