Monday, April 28, 2008

Addressing the Challenges of Writing Horror and Paranormal Suspense

© Ron Scala 2008 all rights reserved
Ronald Joseph Scala grew up in western Pennsylvania on “Poe” Drive, hence a lifelong interest in horror fiction.

The pivotal event that transformed him from an avid reader to an aspiring writer occurred in College. Ron came upon an abandoned barn littered with the remains of slaughtered animals and this became the focal point of his latest novel “Beckoned” now available from Wild Child Publishing.

Ron also has a collection of short horror stories called “The Long Hour Before Light,” available at

Ron makes ends meet with a day job as a Radiation Physicist in eastern Ohio where he lives with his wife and children. Like the Yin and Yang, Ron balances the rigorous logic of physics with the abstract, imaginary world of horror fiction

Sidebar: The fictional demon in “Beckoned,” Ouintan Mantua, has nothing to do with Ron’s current hometown of Mantua, Ohio. This is but a strange convergence.


When it comes to my writing career I like to draw inspiration from Michael Faraday. Mr. Faraday was a bookbinder in the nineteenth century. He began to read the physics and chemistry books that he was binding and learned the fields. Without formal scientific or rigorous mathematical education he nonetheless became one of the preeminent contributors to the fields of chemistry and electricity. When I confront my own lack of understanding in some aspect of writing, I remember this lesson from Mr. Faraday. The human spirit is bounded only by our own self-imposed barriers and any person can achieve anything if they persevere.

To specifics. In parallel with Michael Faraday, I am not classically trained in composition or literature and have had to adapt to my lack of certain fundamentals. Exasperating as this has been, in the long run, it has given me a perspective on writing that is somewhat different from many other authors. Below are my thoughts on the challenges writing horror and paranormal suspense, drawn from that point of view.

First, like almost any area in writing, the horror genre is highly competitive and populated by countless great and talented writers. Don’t be discouraged by this. Each had their beginning wrought with frustration, highlighted by disappointment and usually peppered with a measure of poverty. Stay in there.

Next, I want to emphasize the importance of writing. What I mean is this. Spend as much time as you can devoted to writing horror. Very soon you will find that, by necessity, you will be rationing that time, sharing it with the seemingly endless processes of researching markets and submitting queries and manuscripts. Once published, you will further dip into that well, expending precious time marketing your works, composing and commenting in blogs and fostering relationships with your prospective buyers. You’ll find that you have even less time to actually write. So, while you have the luxury of devoting most of your time to the pure art of the word, do it. Write!

To the mechanics of writing I want to say this. It is how I compartmentalize two very important elements of successful horror, namely “writing a good story” and “writing well”. There’s a difference. In an interview given at the end of his highly successful audio book, Bag of Bones, the penultimate horror author Stephan King related that faced with a choice between a poorly written book with a great story line and a poor story written very well, he preferred the great story written poorly. In agreement with King, I always concentrate on the story. I am in no way minimizing the need to present a professional work to your prospective publisher. For an aspiring author, this cannot be understated. If you submit a tale filled with poor grammar, and violations of language rules and literary prescription, you’ll do nothing more than add to your growing collection of rejection letters. The same holds true if your story is just no good. The difference is that a poorly written, but otherwise great story can be cleaned up. A bad story will always be a bad story. Write with abandon and worry about reworking the language rules later. Your writing will evolve so that with each work, you will get better at presenting and crafting proper and appealing word structure. Within their rejection letter many conscientious publishers will point out the areas to be worked on. And once you have an agreement to publish your editor will help as well. So let all that come on its own, and concentrate on the story.

Now to the heart of the matter, the horror story itself. So where do you get the idea for that next great story? If you are a horror writer, the ideas come from everywhere, all the time. Each of us has a vision of what good horror is, so ideas pop up all the time. The trick is not to let the vision smolder, spark and burst into flame only to be lost, forgotten. The goal is to capture them for a later harvest. What I do is always keep a mini notepad with me similar to what a police detective carries. If I am at a restaurant and an idea comes to mind, I pull out the notebook. If I am driving through a particularly dark and foreboding town and I imagine a good yarn, I stop and write down the idea. And I take time to write as much of the whole story, the plot, theme, and climax envisioned right then, as the story rushes through my mind. I write the words that I’ll need to rekindle the passion about that particular idea, what made it so exciting at the time, when I revisit the notebook a day, a week, or a month later. You might be in the middle of another writing project when the ideas come. When you have time and want to revive that idea, with all the enthusiasm of that first visit, your notebook will allow it to reawaken.

Lastly, take time to enjoy what you do, take delight in creating your works. If you think that goes without saying you are wrong. I know too many talented writers who, for want of success or sales or recognition, concentrate a disproportionate amount of time on the business of writing instead of the pleasure, the art. I am talking about allowing the selling and the marketing displace the creating. If you allow that to happen I think your writing, your creativity will suffer. As in human endeavor, if you don’t enjoy what you do, it will fall from its lofty station as a profession to one a chore, and you from an artist to a day laborer.


You'll find more of Ron Scala at:


Marta Stephens said...

Ron, it seems regardless of the genre, the process is the same. You have to keep writing and allow the ideas to flow. I see a story in most every situation I encounter. I too keep a log of ideas. It’s a great way to spark the creative juices when I’m running low. I especially like this line, "... take time to enjoy what you do, take delight in creating your works."

Thanks for posting in MB4!

Kim Smith said...

Ron, good to have you with us on MB4. I keep telling myself I need a little notebook. Now you have inspired me to get one and keep it on me for those "times" when a story idea happens along.


Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Ron, your article is chock full of excellent advice. Thank you! I'm particularly sensitive to the balance needed between promotion and networking versus per creating. I think I was the happiest when I spent the first five years of my writing career just... writing. I didn't think about genre or audience or agents or publishing houses. I just wrote, let those stories roll out of me, and man... was it fun! Your article reminds me that perhaps it's time to get back to that mode, and reduce the promotion stuff. After all - you can never promote enough, and it just spirals and spirals until it seems like all you're doing is trolling for new readers/buyers. So much effort! And to share what only we writers know - there's only a buck or two profit in every sale we make. So - that's lots of sales time for rather little profit. Gheesh. Good thing I love it!! Come back soon and write us another article. ;o)

Pat Bertram said...

Good advice for all authors: concentrate on writing a good story. The good writing can come in the rewriting.