Writing Horror – How Do You Start? How Do You End?

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I read all sorts of genres but really love getting my head into dark fiction, horror and ghost stories. That stuff fires me up and I’ve been working it for over two years now, with six stories accepted for publication so far.

I submitted a short story called Bloody Christmas to Grinning Skull Press recently, and the Associate Editor of Grinning Skull replied;

“While the story is well written, we are afraid it isn’t dark enough for the collection. There are no happy endings in Deathlehem — unless it’s for the monster.”

Taking the comments on board, I re-wrote the ending. In my rejected first version, everyone lived to see another day and it was too ‘feel good.’ My second version was accepted by Grinning Skull and is due out at Christmas in their short story collection ‘Return to Deathlehem’

This made me take a hard look at the other stuff I’d written, one story in particular that I’d struggled with called Tiny Claws. Some of my fellows in the Writers Group had read this earlier but generally found the ending too negative, feeling it needed a more positive, hopeful outcome for the main character, Yulia, who’d I’d left stranded as a ghost in an empty house.

I dithered about this, taking the point, but eventually decided to leave the ending as it was after seeing Grinning Skull’s response to Bloody Christmas. Tiny Claws is due to be published later this year in a short story collection by Dark Tales, after winning their March competition.

I guess I’ve learned there isn’t an exact science in any genre of fiction writing and what one person likes, another may not. But horror especially builds a certain expectation in the reader, who wants to be shocked and creeped out. A bleak, chilling ending is acceptable, even if it means the demise of a sympathetic lead character. After all, that’s why it’s called horror, not fluffy feel-good chic lit.

A good point to remember though, especially if you’re approaching many of the magazine and short story horror publishers, is many of them state in their submission guidelines they are not interested in purely slasher/gore style writing. They still want good plots, interesting characters and no cliché done-to-death zombies and vampires, unless you’re able to give the subject a fresh and interesting twist. Some of the most successful creepy tales don’t involve mayhem and gore at all, one example being M.R. James classic British ghost stories.

I’ve included a few horror/dark fiction publishers who run short story competitions and often open up for submissions on the resources section for anyone keen to follow up.

Useful Links For Horror & Dark Fiction

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