So last week I had another nightmare. I don’t have them often, but when I do, they’re much more memorable than my usual dreams, which fizzle away as soon as I wake up. Taking book ideas from nightmares seems to be becoming a bit of a habit now, and I’ve already got a big backlog of waiting ideas, but I just can’t seem to help myself…
As far as I know, there was no specific reason why I had this strange nightmare, I didn’t eat any cheese before bed, and I hadn’t been particularly anxious or stressed, it was just chance. It was a dream of a woman (not me, for once) being surrounded by her old schoolmates, then seeing some rather unfortunate circumstances happen, which I won’t detail, since it would be a spoiler for the future story!
I woke up, and just like the last time, I remembered the nightmare, and the intense feeling of it lingered around me all morning. Although I’m already busy with 10 book ideas that desperately need finished and I’m not actively looking for more, I can’t seem to ignore new ideas; I know that I would seriously regret letting one go. Even if it’s just an atmosphere, or one single scene, the thought that it could grow into a proper, fulfilling story if I give it the chance means I just have to write it down.
So I did, and as I should’ve expected, I immediately got carried away, created a main cast of characters, loosely planned out the whole plot, and (most importantly), created a soundtrack playlist to capture the mood of the story. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLc6DWexPdIA2uZf3HSgM2VpnPankFNnDY
As the story was coming together, something became very clear; this was a horror story. That makes sense I suppose, since it came from a horrible nightmare, rather than a nice pleasant dream, but it’s definitely new to me. The last idea I took from a scary nightmare definitely has some horror parts too, but it’s mostly an adventure/fantasy idea. This one is just a full on horror story, which is not something I’ve ever attempted before.
I’ve written a lot about suffering from impostor syndrome, which I do, constantly. I feel completely unqualified to do anything, but at least with the other genres I’m writing (fantasy, adventure, drama, etc.) I can say I’ve played enough games and seen enough movies to know what works for me in those stories.
But with horror it’s a bit different, there’s something about the genre that makes me feel even more of an impostor than usual.
I can’t look at gore. Like, at all. And not just gore. Violence, broken bones, and any intense injuries are all off the table.
I’m not scared of it exactly, but it makes me agitated, sad, and overall unhappy to see, to the point that I’m unable to watch a pretty huge amount of movies, particularly of the horror genre. (As a side note, I’m immune to video game violence, though I have no idea why it’s any different!)
It’s so bad that there’s even some 12 rated films that I have to look away from, which is rather embarrassing. I often feel like a huge baby, since I have to carefully scour age rating information before watching anything to make sure it’ll be ok for me!
I know there are some very skilled people that can make scary movies without the need for violence, which I am very grateful for, and thankfully I’ve been able to see some horror movies which were pretty non-gory. Despite this, more than usual, I feel like a massive fraud for wanting to write a horror story when I can’t even watch most of the classic movies of the genre.
With all that anxiety and impostor stuff out of the way, I’m still very excited to try out a new genre. Perhaps I just like to torture myself, but I really love to do things that I’m completely unqualified and unprepared for. Creatively, that is, I’m not about to attempt to rewire my house or go cave diving!
For example, yesterday I was doing some stuff in the garden, trying to neaten up the front area. I filled a border with white stones, and raked some soil, then I looked over at one of the grass patches. I say grass, but really it’s just 3×2 metres of moss, dead grass and weeds. Anyway, the plan had been to weed it, then add some more grass seed to make it look healthier. So I started to take the weeds out, and about 1/4 of the way through I just thought, nah, let’s take it all out. I know absolutely nothing about grass, or lawns, or how to easily complete this task. So instead of sensibly researching it, I tore it all out with my bare hands and a mini fork. It took 5 hours, and I’m sure I made it much more work for myself than it needed to be, but that just made it all the more appealing.
So with that in mind, I know that I can kick the impostor syndrome and enjoy the challenge if I keep my spirits up!
Finally, from the small amount of non-violent horror movies that I have been able to see, about 30-40, and horror games that I’ve played, I’ve been able to understand a little bit at least about what I enjoy or find scary in the genre.
Personally, I’ve found that I’m not scared of anything to do with ghosts, or demons. That’s not to say I don’t like those movies, I actually love plenty of stories with those things in them, I just don’t find them frightening.
I don’t particularly have a preference for realism over supernatural horror either, I think both of those could be equally as scary, although the thought that the scary thing could really happen to me is definitely effective.
In terms of movies, the scariest one I’ve ever seen, was Sinister. When I watched that last year I was genuinely terrified, in a good way. I realised that the thing that made it so scary to me was the atmosphere of the tape scenes. There was just something so uncomfortable about the vibe it gave off, which taught me that ‘uncanny atmosphere’ was my favourite style for this genre. It seems really obvious that you would want a scary movie to have an unsettling feeling, but I was surprised by how many of the horror films I watched last year that really didn’t achieve that, at all.
As for video games, it’s really hard to find one that is scary for me. The most famous scary titles like Resident Evil for example, don’t even raise my heart rate, though I still really enjoyed them. However, the only game that has ever given me the same sense of uncomfortable energy as Sinister isn’t technically thought of as a horror game, it’s The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. I love this game so much that I could write for hours about it, but I’ll try and be brief!
The game is full of inescapable tragedies, which you repeat over and over in a cycle, powerless to stop them each time. But most importantly, the characters involved are so sympathetic and their stories are so well executed that I couldn’t help but feel a horrific sense of dread and heartbreak every time the cycle reset and I was forced to watch each character innocently go back to the start of their story, while I knew of all the pain that was about to happen to them again!
So those are the two most important aspects of a successful horror story for me: an uncanny atmosphere, and characters that you care about with your whole heart.
Hopefully when I write my own story, I’ll be able to achieve either of those two things, even a little bit. Despite my squeamishness, I’ve actually been fascinated with horror, and with trying to make something scary for a while now, so I’m more than excited to take on a new, out of my league challenge!
Also, I’ve got no excuse not to get lots of writing done over the next few days, because I sprained my foot yesterday, (while I was messing about with the lawn) so I’m pretty much stuck sitting down!
This week’s photo prompt is of something I found in the garden when I was tearing up the grass. At first I thought it was some kind of dead leaf or bit of wood, but I picked it up, and it MOVED! I nearly keeled over out of shock. I have no idea what it is, but I’m assuming it must be something alive…
Harder than it needs to be,
Or something new and scary.
Rarely do I feel,
Ready for anything.
Only ideas appeal to me,
Really out of my depth.
Thanks for reading!