What Today's Readers Don't Want (2023)

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How to Write Today's Horror, Part III: What Today's Readers Don't Want
by david taylor
he came back tospeculative fiction · Printable/Mobile Friendly Version
An important part of writing successfully in any genre is learning what not to do. Unfortunately, the path to publication is neither straight nor narrow, nor is it without dead ends and swamps of despair. To avoid the pitfalls, you need to figure out not only what makes a good horror story, but also what doesn't.

Just as these students were unanimous about what they wanted most from a horror story (fast-paced suspense), they were equally adamant about what ruins their fun: anything that smacks of a "literary" treatment and slows the pace down. Eighty-one percent made comments like:

  • "I can't stand long, drawn-out stories that go overboard with background and details about characters and life; it makes for boring reading."
  • "I don't like stories that go into so much detail about everything that I lose the plot and my head spins when I finish reading."
  • "Detail upon detail, description upon description, hole upon hole!"

One student simply opined: "Literary horror - yuck!"

On the surface, such comments seem to contradict the need for carefully drawn characters and settings. But these students actually exhibit a strong understanding of this genre and its uniqueness:

As horror readers, they expect to be entertained by a suspenseful story of dark fantasy. Their comments indicate that while realistic theme, characters, and settings are important props in entertainment,these elements should be kept in the background.

Much of the good stuff blurs the line between horror history (a literature of fear and the fantastic) and the conventional literary history (a literature of characters and themes) that they have come to associate with school. As one student pleaded when we were about to talk about Stephen King for the first time: "Please don't tell me he's a good writer; I like him too much."

Unfortunately, "literature" for many young readers has been associated only with the mainstream, realistic stories chosen by authority figures for textbooks. For years, students have had to analyze, listen to, and regurgitate teachers' interpretations of these stories, a futile and humiliating experience at best. For these students, terror -with an emphasis on plot, suspense and extremes- returns to literature what the schools knew how to extract: pleasure, entertainment, fun.

the guessing game

Much of the fun in this genre comes from the important game that takes place between the writer and the reader, in which the writer tries to stay one step ahead at all times, doling out just enough information to keep the story intriguing and cohesive. but the reader keeps guessing and suspense. The horror writer must walk a tightrope, balancing between predictability and darkness, counting neither too much nor too little.

Not avoiding these extremes was the most cited pitfall by these students.Eighty-eight percent complained about predictability,repeatedly saying, "I don't like authors who reveal too much too soon."

Your comments here also reaffirm the importance of the ending in this genre. Several students wrote:

  • "An obvious ending spoils the whole story."
  • One student made an impassioned plea to the writers: "To all horror writers: please don't turn in the ending before I get there. That makes me want my money back!"

These students also became impatient with authors who withheld too much information and left readers baffled as to what was really going on. Sixty-nine percent opposed "stories where everything is a confusing jumble of events." His typical reaction didn't bode well for repeat sales: "Too much mess on one story and I just give up."

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Some of these comments arose from our reading of various experimental stories in which the authors challenged the reader by violating one or more traditional storytelling rules and trying to let the story form reflect a character's confused state of mind or be a commentary on the elusive nature of reality history.

The fact that only the English students in the class liked these stories further reinforces the expectations of the majority: an entertaining story does not make unusual "literary" demands on its readers. Experimentation can be important to the growth of an artist and a genre, but it won't necessarily do well in the bookstore. The student who wrote, "A horror story that loses me is boring. If I can't understand it, I can't enjoy it," was also warning against his tolerance for literary innovation.

the flesh of a man

These students were traditional in another way. The majority categorically rejected acts of violence and gratuitous sex. They would agree with Ramsey Campbell, author ofThe influence, who once said: "In the worst horror fiction, violence is a substitute for imagination and for almost everything one can look for in fiction." Campbell was making the same distinction between sensationalism and the legitimate use of violence that my students did:

  • "Stories that have no justification for their violence bore me."
  • "Blood and guts are not to be used unnecessarily, some writers don't understand that."
  • "What ruins a story for me? Lots of pointless blood and gore."

I should add that Moravian College is affiliated with the church in name only; these are typical students from a variety of religious and non-religious backgrounds. His reaction is typical and helps answer a question many social critics and parents ask about how far explicit media can go: where does it end? What is the stopping point? These 18 to 20 year olds, product of the sexual revolution, suggest that the explicit has its own antidote: boredom.

be a believer

These readers also vehemently objected to what they called "incredible" writing: setting, characters, style, or story logic that failed to keep them immersed in the story, with their contained skepticism. They wrote:

  • "Horror has to be believable. If not, then there's nothing to the story for me."
  • "I have to be able to believe in the setting, the characters, and especially the monsters, etc."

His comments address one of the paradoxes and challenges of dark fantasy: an author must write so convincingly, so realistically that the reader achieves a "willing suspension of disbelief" in the face of the patently unreal. Most English teachers, whose main focus is the "slices of life" moral tale, would have a hard time understanding the trap these students are pointing out.

Horror fans know that believable writing in this genre means more than just capturing everyday reality. It means using the same prose qualities found in the best conventional writing to establish an everyday reality, and then taking the reader further into the realm of the fantastic, while maintaining their belief in something that simply isn't so. To quote another great father of modern horror history:

"Pound for pound, fantasy becomes a tougher opponent for the creative person."

--Richard Matheson

Horror fans know this, even if their teachers don't.

getting fresh

Robert Bloch, whosePsychopathmarked new territory for the psychological horror story, he noted in his introduction toHow to Write Horror, Fantasy, and Sci-Fi StoriesEs:

"...for a writer to be at his best, he must embody originality, a main ingredient for success. If the subject is old, the twist or payoff must be new."

My students couldn't agree more. They made fun of "stories that seem to be copied from other people." These readers demanded that "a plot shouldn't feel remotely familiar" and that "if the supernatural is used, it should have a new twist."

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Like Bloch, the students seemed to recognize that each genre values ​​different writing talents: the powers of extrapolation of the science fiction author, the observational skills of the conventional realist, the plot subtlety of the mystery writer.

The students issued an important warning to aspiring horror writers: In a genre that attempts to entertain with suspense and dark fantasy, there is a strong demand for raw imaginative power and an unorthodox audacity that can take the writer and reader where others fear. by the way

It's the end

Young readers have a genuine enthusiasm for this literature. Contemporary horror fiction awakens in them a zest for reading that is often lacking in a classroom dominated by classics and modern favorites in English departments. Anne Tyler, Saul Bellow, and John Fowles are good writers, but what really excites these students' desire for stories is horror.Silas MarnerDo not do. His response to horror fiction reaffirms the power that literature can have in the lives of young people when teachers allow it.

These readers also have a clear set of their own standards. While they may appreciate the graphic details and daring attacks of extreme horror, they still insist that certain limits be observed. They demand quality writing, especially in characterization. One of the most discussed questions among critics, whether horror should be based on psychology or the supernatural, seems not to matter to them. An equal number of students wrote, "A good horror story combines reality, fantasy, and the supernatural," as did those who said, "I like stories that can actually happen because they scare me more."

In the end, though the surface features of the horror story have changed to reflect the times, today's readers still want genuine characters within a vividly written story based on a terrifying new premise, held together by a suspenseful plot that keeps them going. guessing. pages - - quickly. While no formula can guarantee writing success, this is a good place to start.

Horror Romance Checklist

Like any literary form, the horror novel has its conventions: those learned by the apprentice, the professional masters, and the greats fly further by breaking the boundaries of the genre, be it Elizabethan revenge tragedy (Pueblo), tales of pact with the devil (Fausto), or the romance of the end of the day (The support).

At Moravian College, as part of a workshop on writing horror novels, we reviewed 30 mass-market paperbacks among the latest releases. Not surprisingly, we found that the basic elements of fiction—an opening that grips readers, exposition of characters and their situation, complications, climaxes, and resolution—still provided the underlying structure for horror novels, but these elements were modified to adapt them to the special context. . conventions of a literature of fear and the bizarre. Here is the checklist we came up with for writing our horror novels:

  • The grabber.
  • Did you start with a brief prologue or chapter that provides a brief but enticing (and often violent) glimpse of the secret horror that will drive the story forward?

  • Fill in.
  • In chapters 1-5, did you introduce the main characters and their problems and isolate them in one place (a city, a resort, a swamp, etc.) along with the horror?

  • Turn up the heat.
  • Do your middle chapters show increasingly strange/violent events that threaten the protagonists and force them to investigate and eventually confront the (usually ancient or hidden) horror that has been unleashed?

  • lightning bar
  • 🇧🇷 If the pace slows down, have you ever seen a violent scene to show the horror in your horrible job?

  • ultimate danger.
  • Does its final climactic scene contain enough reward for the reader? When things get as bad as they can get for the seemingly dead end protagonists, just as they are about to be overwhelmed by the horrible force above, something enables them to succeed: courage, resourcefulness, imagination, a previously planted tool or piece of information. .
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  • He lives!
  • A brief final chapter or epilogue shows the main characters at peace, resuming their normal lives but forever changed by their encounter with evil. But did he also hint that the victory is temporary and that the horror just went back into hiding and might resurface one day, possibly in a sequel?

Other conventions to keep in mind:

  • Cupid Attacks
  • refers to the romantic subplot in horror novels in which the hero and heroine meet and come together (spiritually and physically) to fight the evil around them.

  • bang for the buck
  • it means that readers expect the horror novelist to provide well-informed information about a legend or myth, an occult or psychic phenomenon, an exotic geographic location, a sport, a profession, etc.

  • body count
  • and general levels of violence vary greatly from publisher to publisher; be sure to check out recent releases for a given house before submitting. Doing so can save you a lot of shipping costs, waiting, and headaches. More importantly, this study and preparation is the real "secret" to writing a horror novel.

Know more...

How to write today's terror, Part I: The seeds of terror-David Taylor
How to Write Today's Horror Part II: What Today's Readers Want-David Taylor
Do werewolves wear shoes? Building successful horror characters-Shaunna Privratsky
What does a horror writer do?-Elizabeth Peake
Copyright © 2003 David Taylor
This article may not be reprinted without the written permission of the author.
david taylorhorror fiction and dark suspense has been featured in anthologies such asmasks,pulpmiscare🇧🇷 and in magazines likegraveyard dance,Sci-Fi Channel Magazinemigorezone🇧🇷 His 1990 short story "Wildlife Lessons" won an honorable mention in that year's "Best Horror, Sci-Fi & Fantasy" awards. Author and co-author of five horror novels, David's latest works are a collection of short stories,hell is for childrenand a guide to writing nonfiction,The freelance success book.

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