June 19, 2012

Tips on how to write a great horror scene by Connie Corcoran Wilson!

Tips on how to write a great horror scene and keeping the suspense going throughout a novel.

First, let me say that the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, always felt that the audience should be in possession of knowledge that the protagonist does not have. For example: the audience (reader) knows that someone is going to plant a bomb. The main characters do not know about the bomb. The suspense is created,(for the audience), in watching and anticipating and wondering when (or if) this bomb disaster will strike. If that technique was good enough for Alfred Hitchcock, it's good enough for me!

Second, I will share with you that this novel (The Color of Evil) was read through by no less an authority than William F. Nolan, a Living Legend in Dark Fantasy, who advised me to remove 3,000 words and make the ending more "stand alone." This is because it is the first book of a trilogy. He actually wrote on the paper copy to show me what to move where. So, I did. If it's good enough for William F. Nolan---who was so kind to do this for me----it's good enough for me!

Third, as a relatively self-taught writer who did read extensively as an English major (and had the advantage of sitting in on some Iowa Writers' Workshop classes taught by folks like Kurt Vonnegut and Nelson Algren), naturally, I am aware of things like "foreshadowing," "themes," the "denouement." I may not know as much as the person with the MFA from Columbia, but I'm a quick study and an avid reader, and I firmly believe I've read more great fiction than most people ever will in their lifetime, as a person who took graduate courses while an undergrad that spanned all decades of writing and writers, both British and American and never had a minor. (I went back to college to finish off a Journalism minor 5 years after I graduated).

Writing is like juggling. You have many balls in the air at once. You have to keep track of the time frame. You have to keep track of the characters. (I've gone so far as to re-read my own novel before I sit down to write more, if I've been away from it!). You have to remember what things you threw out there that might need to be "tied up" later on in the story or the trilogy..[.and writing trilogies is a special kind of writing that I am now learning by doing, with much advice sought and given about story arcs and trilogy "arcs"].

I don't remember that many trilogies striking it big in the marketplace before The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but it seems to be a trend. (The Hunger Games, anyone?) I can easily live with the characters in The Color of Evil for 3 novels. Beyond that, it's questionable.

Some writers establish a character and use him (or her) throughout an entire series, or an entire career, seemingly going on forever. I haven't wanted to do that---yet. I fear I might get bored with that hero or heroine and want to write about someone totally different, but be unable to do so because I'm committed to 20 books involving the first character I wrote about. It sounds confining for someone whose last book was Laughing through Life (nonfiction humorous essays) and whose book before that was The Christmas Cats in Silly Hats (children's illustrated book about cats). I like to shake things up too much to stay with the very same character(s) forever, I think.

But I am deciding that genre fiction, for me, as well as the nonfiction I have always written (It Came from the 70s: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now) is what I like writing best, so far. That doesn't mean that someone couldn't talk me into writing their life story, since I set out to prove I could write anything...or, at least, anything I wanted to write. (Some formats I'm not especially interested in attempting.) I shall soon have to devote myself to one genre or the other, according to several agents. This looks like the one. Literary fiction, of which I have read copious amounts, is just not what I enjoy the most, reading or writing. Ideally, the books will have elements of both. (John Irving comes to mind.)

So, here are some quick writing tips, not necessarily for suspense and maintaining it, but writing tips, in general. I hope they will suffice.

a) Within the last 50 pages, no new subplots that haven't been foreshadowed earlier.

b) Keep description to a minimum and action and conflict to a maximum. I have one short story in the forthcoming Hellfire & Damnation II that is nearly all dialogue...at least 95% of it. ("Oxymorons"). That's usually my goal, if I can pull it off.

c) If you can, take a detail that was planted earlier and use it to create a sense of surprise as the reader finds out that that little detail was, indeed, going to become important. You'll have your reader saying, "Yikes!" or "Zounds!" or "I WONDERED about that!" I'm reminded of the novel Presumed Innocent, which had a great twist ending. I love twists at the end(s) of my short stories; I'll keep trying for them in longer works I write.

d) Resolve the central conflict and, if this is one book in a trilogy, you can leave a few plot strands for the next book, but you should resolve the central conflict or the reader will go away feeling unsatisfied.

e) Let main characters have a moment of redemption...if they need it. But remember that some writers prefer to have a character who remains steadfast and true, "in character" throughout the novel; that protagonist's character does not change much. Others believe that the main character must undergo some momentous life-changing event that will forever alter their behavior.

f) Tie up loose ends of significance, [even if you fudge a bit and have the character speak to resolving the issue in some way after the book ends].

g) Try for a tie-in with the beginning of your novel. (The 70s movie "Obsession" with Genevieve Bujold and Cliff Robertson comes to mind). If you've planned your plot, it helps. I have planned out most---but not all----of the events in all three of the books I am now in the midst of writing. That doesn't mean that my characters might not take me slightly off course, but I do know where I'm going. I find it's easier to get there if you do have at least a slight idea of where your destination will take you.

Check out Connie's Website

About The Color of Evil...

Publisher: Quad City Press
Category: Thriller/Suspense/Horror/YA
Date: March 9, 2012
Available in Print, Kindle, and Nook: 252 pages


Winner of E-Lit award in the Horror category and the Silver Feather award from IWPA

Tad McGreevy has a power that he has never revealed, not even to his life-long best friend, Stevie Scranton. When Tad looks at others, he sees colors. These auras tell Tad whether a person is good or evil. At night, Tad dreams about the evil-doers, reliving their crimes in horrifyingly vivid detail.

But Tad doesn’t know if the evil acts he witnesses in his nightmares are happening now, are already over, or are going to occur in the future. He has no control over the horrifying visions. He has been told (by his parents) never to speak of his power. All Tad knows is that he wants to protect those he loves. And he wants the bad dreams to stop.

At Tad’s eighth birthday party (April 1, 1995) in Cedar Falls, Iowa, the clown his parents hire to entertain Tad’s third-grade classmates is one of the bad people. Pogo, the Killer Clown (aka Michael Clay) is a serial killer. So begins 53 nights of terror as Tad relives Pogo’s crime, awakens screaming, and recites the terrifying details to his disbelieving family. The situation becomes so dire that Tad is hospitalized in a private institution under the care of a psychiatrist–who also does not believe the small boy’s stories.

And then the police arrest Pogo, the Killer Clown.

Flash forward to the beginning of Tad’s junior year in high school, 8 years later. Tad is 16 and recovered from the spring of his third-grade year. When Michael Clay was caught and imprisoned, the crime spree ended and so did Tad’s bad dreams.

Until now, in the year of our Lord 2003, when evil once again stalks the land.

This is a terrifying, intense story of the dark people and places that lurk just beneath the surface of seemingly normal small-town America. As one reviewer says, “Wilson nails the darkness beneath the surface of small-town Midwestern life with an intense story based on fact.”

Tad must wage a silent war against those who would harm the ones he loves. A battle to the death.


  1. Great post. I plan to write a horror book next and I learned a lot of good tips from this!
    Janiera @ Books & Beauty

  2. Thanks for the tips. Those are always the hardest for me to put together for some reason.

  3. I'm going to print out the sub tips and put them up in my writing room! Thanks for the interview!

  4. Those are great tips! As a reader I completely agree with keeping descriptions down and amping up the action. If a book spends a great time describing unnecessarily, I end up doing a lot of skimming. :)


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