Thursday, June 01, 2006

A Horror Writer? Me? No, I Write Dark Suspense! That Weird Guy Over There Writes Horror.

"Why is "Horror" such a bad word? What happened to that market to create such a bad stigma? It happens to be my favorite genre to read, and the one I write in most of the time.Regarding the article: What if you start just before the major changing event, so you can give the reader just a tiny glimpse of what the characters' lives were like in the "normal" status, before the change? This is what I have done on my first novel of my latest series, and I think it comes out well. What are your opinions?"

These are very interesting questions and I’ll do my best to answer them in turn. Please understand that my answers are shaped from my own experiences and education, so I am not speaking for all agents. As with all things in a complex world, and especially in publishing, things seen as truths today might become less true tomorrow. A wise person takes each assumed truth with a grain of salt, or sometimes even a block of it.

No writer wants to be thought a horror writer, because those who write great horror are sometimes wrongly viewed as possibly sick and demented like some of their characters. I would imagine some readers wonder how anyone can think up such stuff if they are not twisted just like the awful people and situations they write about. Writers want to be loved. How can you love someone who creates monsters that feed on dead flesh or serial killers who stalk their victims and seem to relish in slaughtering them like so many cattle? So to be politically correct in all things bad, we also pretty up what we love to read and call it dark suspense instead of horror. The reason it is in demand right now is because it is difficult to write it well and keep it dark and horrific. Many of the manuscripts we read end up turning perky after several chapters, and, in a horror novel, perky will not do. Actually, perky characters in a horror novel are usually the victims.

As for the next question: In your opening, something should be happening. If you go back too far, the reader doesn’t feel any tension or anticipation. The change might not take place in time to engage your reader. As the writer, you are the final judge as to whether you want to take that chance or not; however, your readers are the final judges as to whether or not it worked.

Why a satisfying opening? It has been said that you have about 60 seconds to interest an agent in your writing. The reason for this is that we, in turn, have about the same amount of time to interest editors in our client’s work, and, if your work is published, the bookstore owner has that same amount of time to interest a potential reader in your book. So, if you craft your opening and it gives any of those people listed above anything except the promise of a great read, you have missed a sale.

That said, you have less than a page to promise your reader that your book will be an effortless read and to give them a character that will become their guide to enjoy during their reading experience. Entertain, horrify, educate, thrill, stimulate, seduce, excite, amaze, baffle, and/or tempt your reader from your book’s opening page until its ending paragraph. This is a large order for anyone to fill, but something you must do unfailingly if you wish to be not only published, but to be respected as a novelist who writes great stories. Let’s face a truth here: You can shout it from the rooftops, write it hundreds of times to all those who will listen, but you are not a writer until your readers declare it to be so.

So, before doing it your way, remember that your readers control your output. This is a free country, so write whatever you choose to write. Write where your muse takes you, that’s also your right. But you can sell only what the reading public wants to buy. Why? Because they have more rights than you, as they pay for theirs with hard cash. :)

In the publishing biz, numbers of books sold—not to publishers, but to readers—calculates a writer’s success. And readers not only demand a solid opening, but a quality read throughout. Your reader grew up watching television. They demand that something be happening at the beginning of a program or they change channels. They demand the same in the books they buy. This doesn’t mean society is on the downward spiral because of TV and adapting your opening accordingly means it will lack quality. It only means that you promise a great read with a great writing right up front with no distractions.


NL Gassert said...

As a reader, I approach first chapters with caution. If the copy on the back cover or the inside jacket catches my attention, I turn to the middle of the book. I read a few pages here and there. I rarely glance at the first page or first chapter until after I bought the book. That’s because I bought books with great openings and attention-grabbing scenes that were nothing like the rest of the book. Worst example: a third-person POV in chapter one, first-person POV in the rest of the book.

I wonder if it wouldn’t make sense to ask for the first two chapters of a manuscript and two additional chapters from the later half of the same manuscript. Just to see if style, voice and pace are still the same farther into the story (since agents routinely discover that manuscripts don’t hold what they promise in the first three chapters).

gugon said...

The advice and information you give on this blog are superb. Thank you!

And thank you also for standing up for the "horror writer". As an aspiring author, I would be proud to wear the label. I've been consider "weird" most of my life, so it wouldn't hurt my feelings one bit.

I used to really struggle with first chapters because I felt the reader needed a certain amount of background information to get to know the character. At some point, I realized that the story must begin on page one and it was like setting myself free. The reader will get to know the characters within the context of the story.

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

Gugon and Nadja: Thanks for your comments. We, as writers on this blog, sometimes wonder if what we post here helps anyone. It's great to know that you all got something out of our scribbling.

Nadja, about sending chapters from the middle, we usually don't do that. If your query clicks, we ask for a sample of the three opening chapters of your novel (the submission for non-fiction is different) and if this sample of your writing holds up, we request the whole novel at that time.
I am not discounting your idea, however, as I'm sure some agents or editors do ask for some middle chapters also. I think if we did this, we would ask for two from the beginning, one from the middle, and the last chapter. This might give a better representation of the whole novel, but we would have to see the whole novel anyway, so we think asking for it after seeing three chapters speeds things up a little.
One of the most critical areas that many writers lose it is in the transition from the opening to middle novel. We can usually see this happen in the three chapter sample so, most of the time, if the author is able to transend this hurtle, they can make it to the end with little problem. If there is a problem with the ending, it usually fixable. Put it this way, we have never rejected a client's work for a bad ending.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great comment. I've just discovered your blog and find it very helpful.
I'm an author and an RN and let me tell you, I could turn a trip to Wal-Mart into a horror story! That's called imagination, not weird. Stephen King is laughing all the way to the bank. Could someone give me what he's got? I'd take it in spades.
Listening to the dark side of our personality in our writing keeps us from killing the really irritating people in our lives. I'd call that healthy.
Anyway, keep up the good work on the blog and I've passed it on to other writer friends.
Horror rocks!
wa Molly Evans and Delicia Diamond

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

Thanks for your post and your kind words, Brenda. As you can see by our Web site, we do take dark suspense (horror). Many writers haven't figured this out yet. Thannks also for telling your friends.

Anonymous said...

Gosh, I am so glad I found this blog posting. I also write horror. I have to admit, I was feeling pretty deflated after researching the horror genre. I found most who don't take it, but never understood wny. After reviewing the agents listed on the AAR web site, I felt a little more relief considering about 11 or so specifically mention the horror genre with several others that may or may not fit into that category. I am currently editing my novel at 139,000 words. After finding your website and blog, I have cut the first four paragraphs so I could get right into the meat of it. Thank you so very much and I hope you are still accepting horror genre when I finish editing it so that I may have the privilege of quering you and your fine agency. Thank you gugon for such and fine question indeed. Every one on her has helped me beyond my every expectation; gratitude abound.