“Dark Promptings” is a special series of guest-written creative writing prompts, aimed at sparking the imagination’s gasoline for writers from any genre…but with a dark or devious discoloration, just like the Instigation department at Gorelets.com. The guest contributors are folks who wrote articles appearing in my fat new non-fiction book for fiction writers of all kinds, Many Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction, making a stop here at gorelets.com as part of their Virtual Book Tour across the web. (You can find my own VBT essays elsewhere).
Our next “Dark Promptings” come from writing teacher and reputable dark author, Tim Waggoner. If you haven’t read Tim’s surreal and bizarro brand of horror, you’ve been missing out on some of the most talented weirdness that’s out there.
I saved his generous prompts for last, as Halloween (and also Nanowrimo) has arrived. Tim’s prompts are those which remind us to “write what you know” and to draw the best ideas from your own fears. He describes these prompts this way:
“In order to write effective — and original — horror, you have to dig into your own psyche and find out what scares you. Worried that no one will be frightened by the same things you are? Don’t be. As Aristotle said, the only way to get to the universal is through the particular. By focusing on your own personal fears and giving them shivery life on the page, you’ll be connecting to your audience — guaranteed…If you want to write truly effective horror, don’t merely recycle the imaginings of others. Write the stories only you can tell.”
Follow along with these guided steps, weirdos…
Begin with your childhood. Regardless of whether your wonder years were TV movie of the week fodder or (seemingly) uneventful, anyone who’s survived childhood has a wealth of story material waiting to be mined.What were you afraid of as a child? The dark; thunder and lightning; the barking German shepherd next door; Mommy and Daddy yelling at each other? Make a list of your childhood bogeymen, and write at least a paragraph about each item. Don’t think in terms of story, just write whatever comes to mind. Try to focus on your feelings and what sparked those feelings — remember, horror is an emotion.
Next — and this might be difficult — make a list of any disturbing events in your childhood. Encounters with schoolyard bullies, severe illnesses, deaths of friends and family members. Again, write at least a paragraph on each item. Digging into your childhood traumas might not easy, might even be disturbing for you. But if you want to write horror — real horror, not Freddy vs. Jason stuff — then you need to have at least a nodding acquaintance with your dark side. Besides, writing is cheaper than therapy.
Pay attention to the events in the news which upset and anger you. Clip newspaper and magazine articles and keep them in a folder. Don’t merely collect every article on murder you find. Look for stories which arouse an emotional reaction in you, stories which fascinate you.
Another area you can explore for ideas is the realm of dreams. Every morning, as soon as you get up, record your dreams in a journal. A friend of mine in college had been keeping dream journals for years. When he first started, he only remembered having two or three dreams a night. But after a couple years of faithfully writing in his journal, he routinely recalled fifteen or sixteen. And while many of them weren’t more than snatches of everyday life replayed on the mind’s dream-screen, he always had at least a couple that were quite surreal and disturbing. Added up over the course of a year, that’s a lot of potential story ideas.
Another technique (one I’ve stolen from Stephen King), is to take a look around you and let your imagination run paranoid. Choose a minor aspect of your life or an ordinary event and tell yourself that something is wrong with it. Seriously wrong.
Lastly, ask yourself what’s most important, most dear to you. What do you treasure? Who do you love? Now ask yourself what if these things were threatened, removed, altered, turned against me? How would you feel? And most importantly, what would you do about it? Your answers to these questions will provide some of your best and most personal story ideas.
Tim Waggoner’s latest books include Ghost Trackers (written in collaboration with Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson of the Ghost Hunters television show) and the “Matt Richter” Nekropolis series put out by Angry Robot Books. He teaches writing at Sinclair Community College, as well as the Writing Popular Fiction at SHU. He also now keeps a blog on the craft worth revisiting regularly: Writing in the Dark.
Tim’s contribution to Many Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction is called “Pick Up the Pace” and gives some great guided advice on building atmospheric and suspenseful prose style.
Read more “Dark Promptings”…