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.