This week: Setting: Part 1Edited by: LJPC - the tortoise
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This newsletter is about how to pick settings for your Horror stories. It's the first of two parts, and the second part will be about creating Atmosphere within your settings.
Setting: Part 1
A Realistic Setting is Important
Modern Horror stories are the descendents of Gothic writing of the 1700-1800s (see my last NL "Love and Horror" ). This is where the settings of a dark tower with lightning blazing through the sky or a large, fog-shrouded manor on the moors come from, including the ultimate in cliched opening lines: "It was a dark and stormy night." The easiest way to make your story creepy is to set it in a haunted castle or a cemetery. But, let's face it, not only have those settings been done to death (pun intended ), but modern characters don't really frequent them too often. When's the last time you were in a graveyard or a European castle?
In the Horror writing of today, the setting should be realistic and representative of our modern world, such as: a school, hospital, shopping mall, restaurant, office building, airplane, or campground.
In the words of professionals, here's why realistic settings are important to writing Horror:
"A story must be anchored solidly in a believable setting. Modern readers expect the horror story to take place in familiar surroundings that provide a mating ground for the natural and the supernatural. Today's readers have internalized this expectation: a context of normality, a true-to-life backdrop that accentuates the grotesque."
~ David Taylor, author and professor
"(Before bringing the supernatural on stage, the writer must first) establish, so thoroughly that we can believe in it, the reality of the world."
~ T.E.D. Klein, Twilight Zone Magazine's first editor
"An effective horror writer embraces the ordinary so that the extraordinary will be heightened."
~ Douglas E. Winter, author and editor
In other words, if your reader believes in the setting, they're more likely to believe in the monster/killer/antagonist you introduce. They'll be scared, and that's the point, isn't it?
Choosing the Best Setting
The reader's boredom is your main obstacle to getting your story across. You already know the setting must be realistic, but it also must be interesting enough to keep a reader's attention. Characters who sit in a mundane room, talking to each other, aren't interesting. If you have a scene where the characters have a lot of dialog, or the MC is thinking a lot, find an exciting place to put them.
Here are examples of how to change up a boring setting for an exciting one that affords lots of things to describe.
The MC and her best friend sit in a classroom, whispering about vampires at the school dance, while a teacher drones on in the background.
The MC and her best friend walk into the packed cafeteria, smell fried chicken and overcooked lasagna, and whisper about vampires as rowdy students in football jerseys push past them.
The MC and his brother sit in the motel room, talking about where they think the monster is and how they plan to kill it.
The MC and his brother roar down the highway in their super-cool '67 Chevy Impala, talking about how to find the monster's lair and how to kill it, while ominous forest flashes past the windows.
The MC stares at herself in her bathroom mirror and worries about the werewolf bite on her shoulder.
The MC meets her friends in a bar, but has trouble concentrating on their conversation (or the male stripper! ) because she's thinking about the werewolf bite on her shoulder.
The MC calls his girlfriend to convince her to stay at home while he goes after the serial killer by himself.
The MC rushes to his girlfriend's apartment to make sure she's safe and convinces her to stay home while he goes after the serial killer by himself. But before he leaves, their discussion moves to the bedroom ... and they close the door.
Keep your readers interested by changing the setting often and keeping the characters moving!
If for some reason, the characters have to be in a boring place (like an office) because it's where you plan to set the next attack, then you can still change it up a bit. You can describe some unusual points in the place, like an embarrassing stash of Playboys/feminine products that come spilling out of a drawer. Or you can have them visit areas nearby, like an atrium in the office building or a boiler room.
What Details to Include in Setting Description
The best way to find details to put in your setting is to do research. Either go to the same type of place, or if it's something you don't have access to, you can google info, find pictures, and watch YouTube videos of comparable ones.
You need details pertaining to the five senses: Sight, Sound, Smell, Touch, and Taste.
Finding things that excite the senses in your setting location is very important. Readers need to experience the place as if they're really there. By letting your character feel things with all the senses, the reader feels them, too, and will find it much easier to immerse themselves in the realism of the setting -- and into your story. And that's what you want! You want the reader to believe in your creation and lose themselves inside your world.
Try to pick modern and realistic settings for your story, preferably ones with options for description (as opposed to a bare elevator -- although there have been some good stories even in those).
Choose the most interesting setting for each scene -- keep your characters moving around so the reader doesn't get bored.
Think about your character using his/her senses in the setting. Make sure to include as many sensory descriptions as you can so that the reader feels they are living the scene with the character.
Until next time: Let the horror bleed onto the pages with every word!
*** Read Part Two of this Newsletter: "Setting Pt 2: Atmosphere" ***
Here's a link to a great article about writing style. It was one of the first things I read when I got to WDC, and it helped me learn how to write.
And here are some spooky stories with good setting descriptions for your reading pleasure!
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To my delight, some writers took the time to comment on my last newsletter!
leah : Thank you for this. I will look forward to reading these! LOVE IT!!!!!! :D
You're welcome, Leah. Always happy to help.
Michael Thomas-Knight : Great subject, almost every 1950's sci-fi/horror movie had that love interest embedded in the story. I copied and pasted your steps in the story I am currently working on to keep me from wandering too far from the idea.
Oh! I'm 'copied and pasted'? That's high prase indeed! Thanks so much, and good luck on your story.
billwilcox: Romance is horror. How many great horror stories have we read where the innocent lady is duped by what can only be described as a monster? I've even read the opposite: the lady is the monster . The idea is to put the innocent at risk. THAT, always makes a good story, even when the innocents are children. Just ask Stephen King. He loves innocent kids. Eats 'em for breakfast everyday.
Bill, you crack me up! I hope Stephen King doesn't get heartburn from eating all those kids...
Angus : Great Newsletter. Whodathunk that it was romance that kicked 'horror' into high gear? Makes a lot of sense to me now. Thanks for the info!
You're welcome, Angus. And thank you for reading and commenting. I love when people do that!
BIG BAD WOLF is Feeling Lucky submitted "Triple Danger" and comments: Sometimes you read something and laugh, but the rest of your body screams in pain.
Well, I hope you did more laughing than screaming when you read my newsletter.
Taniuska : I'm enjoying your newsletters a lot...I can relate to the topics, and in particular this one. Love and horror is like chocolate and ice cream. They're meant for each other. :)
Ah, Tania, you're such a romantic -- it's just hidden underneath those wicked claws you use to write your awesome Horror stories.
Danger Mouse submitted: "A Perfect Lover" and writes: Love is all around. How a character finds it can be scary. Good newsletter, thanks for the advice.
I've read enough of your stories to know there are lots of scary ways to find love. Thanks for the comment!
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