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Stretching Your Horror-Writing Muscle with Short Stories

I would say that one of my earliest horror influences, besides Stephen King and RL Stine, would be a series by Alvin Schwartz entitled Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. The series is an awesomely horrific collection of short stories that have accompanying (and truly terrifying) illustrations by Stephen Gammell.

Illustration by Stephen Gammell
The stories were jam-packed with a special sort of creepy that had me re-checking them out from the library over and over again throughout the school year. I can't tell you how many times I read about Harold the scarecrow, trotting back and forth over the roof of the ranch house, stretching out bloody skins to dry in the sun. Even though I knew how the story ended, it never ever failed to send genuine chills up my spine.

When I first decided to make the jump from contemporary and try my hand at horror, I wasn't exactly interested in writing my own scary short stories. I felt like the couple of days it'd take to write one up and polish it was precious time wasted, time that could and should have gone toward adding some quality word count to my horror novel.

But here's the thing.

Writing at all, whatever it is, is never time wasted. People often state that writing is like a muscle, and the more you use it, the better it will work, and the stronger it will be. And while short stories most certainly exist outside of horror, I very much believe that scary short stories can add an especially powerful punch to your novel writing.

Scary short stories cut out most of the contemporary aspect that is so very important in your horror novel, leaving you with nothing but endless creative freedom of scary, scary, and more scary. And as a result from exploring all of these potential Creepies, you'll notice that your eye for inspiration from everyday life will be much more keen, allowing you to come up with fresh, new ideas much easier than before.

In my own experience, taking some extra time aside from the usual writing block to indulge in a scary short or two does absolute wonders for my novel writing, for reasons listed above. And if you aren't the kind of person who enjoys working on two things at once, use your in-between time wisely. (You know that in-between time I'm talking about--when your agent or beta reader is checking out your latest draft and you've got a couple of weeks to kill.)

Ever since I started writing my own scary short stories and gathering inspiration for future ones, brainstorming my way through some major road bumps in my current WIP has become not only easier, but more effective in the end as well.

Do you like reading scary short stories? Have any favorite anthologies?


Amy Lukavics

Amy lurks within the forested mountains of Arizona. When she isn't reading or writing creepy stories, she enjoys cooking, crafting, and playing games across many platforms. She is the author of Daughters Unto Devils (Harlequin Teen 2015) and The Women In The Walls (Harlequin Teen 2016).

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15 comments:

  1. I'm particular about horror. I like the slow, psychological stuff, and not too much splatter. But it also gives me nightmares, so I have to be careful.

    That said, Tales from the Macabre by Daphne DuMaurier is a delightful collection of shiver-inducing stories. Among other things, she wrote The Birds and Rebecca (and you can see that Alfred Hitchcock loved her). The Blue Lenses still creeps me out, the Old Man just makes me sad, but the Apple Tree horrified me the first time I read it. I can't remember the first story's title, about the guy and the ghost in Venice, but it's utterly creepy because it starts out so ordinary. It's that "pov character's descent into madness" that is such fun.

    And for giggles, have you ever heard Jonathan Coulton's song Creepy Doll, where he lampoons every horror trope ever? It's on Spotify, Youtube, and his website http://www.jonathancoulton.com . :-)

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    1. Eeep a new anthology! I will check that out ASAP, thanks so much for the rec.

      I checked out that song and HAHAHAHA! That was terrific. "It's got a ruined eye, that's always, OPEN!"

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    2. Here I thought everybody knew about Daphne DuMaurier! Maybe it's just my mom who's such a fan. Also Turn of the Screw, if you like old stuff. I like to describe it as the Sixth Sense with TWO kids instead of just one. Hee.

      Glad you liked Creepy Doll! He has a hilarious one about zombies called Re: Your Brains. It's framed like a business meeting. With the zombies.

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  2. I LOVE that series, the copy in my middle school library was so beat up it looked as old as the illustrations were supposed to... It was awesome. I would read them to my little brother until we discovered HE was better at reading them out loud.

    This series of posts is particularly fantastic because I've been thinking of trying my hand at horror recently... I think this is cosmic confirmation, on top of great advice.

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    1. I have a fabulous Lovecraft anthology, a lot of his isolated stories and less Cthulhu. I tend to like classic writers, so I'm excited to find some more contemporary authors in the suggestions.

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    2. Gaah dude, is there anything better or more classic than some good old Lovecraft?! That right there is a legit descent into madness, haha. And I'm so happy to hear that you're interested in starting your own horror adventure- we need more creepies in the world of YA!

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  3. That scarecrow story has stuck with me as one of the scariest things from when I was a kid, lol. It's so funny to see someone else thought it was as creepy as I did!

    I tend to be more into cheesy slashers than actual scary stuff now, but I'll go for the mega-obvious and say my favorite creepy stories are from Edgar Allan Poe.

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    1. Oh, slashers. I have so many feelings about them...I guess that could be a post on its own! And heck yeah to EAP!!!

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  4. I don't think it's exactly an anthology but I've had this book for years and it's never left my bookshelf. Terry Deary's True Stories: Monster, Horror, and Ghost. It has all these tales about spooky histories like Spring Heeled Jack and Lizzie Borden and myths such as vampires, Loch Ness, and werewolves. Fantastic read.

    And there's Trick 'r Treat which was an awesome anthology film. It has four different stories where the characters are all connected with each other. Must have for Halloween!

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    1. Robin, I will check out that book when I get the other one from above...love the Lizzie Borden story so much, and all sorts of stuff like that.

      And DUUUUUDE TRICK 'R TREAT IS SERIOUSLY ONE OF THE BEST HALLWOEEN MOVIES EVER. Sorry. That totally required all caps. No but really, I *have* to watch it at least once every Halloween.

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  5. I still have all the old Alfred Hitchcock anthologies from when I was a kid. He has some really scary short story compilations. My favorite one is "Spellbinders in Suspense" that has Daphne DuMaurier's "The Birds," along with Bloch's "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper," Dahl's "Man From the South," and Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game."

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    1. Oooh I love The Most Dangerous Game. And now I'm really curious about those others. I HAVE SO MUCH NEW HORROR TO READ AND THIS MAKES ME VERY VERY HAPPY.

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  6. I had the SAME experience with these books. I love love love them! Always checked them out from the library (until my lame elementary school banned them.) I saw that picture of Harold on my Blogfeed and I knew I had to pop over and read the article. Such an excellent blast from the past lol.

    Cheers!

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    1. Excellent! Cheers, GY! :) Also, I will never forget the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day that my religious private school banned Goosebumps forever. *shakes fist*

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  7. I remember when I was a child, I frequently ask my mother of what causes nightmares . Because that time, I have trouble in sleeping and I always dream of monsters and bad guys..

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Item Reviewed: Stretching Your Horror-Writing Muscle with Short Stories Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Amy Lukavics