Category Archives: Horror

Writing Horror

It always seems to surprise people that I write horror stories – particularly my family. I am seen as having a ‘sunny’ personality with little in the way of darkness. This is because I save all my darkness for my horror stories.

As a child, I was haunted by my monster under the bed. (On a tangential note, why do so many people fear the things under their beds.) When I was eight, I convinced myself that the monster had gone to live under my sister’s bed. I never told her about the monster, and she slept in blissful ignorance of its presence. It was a brilliant move on behalf of my imagination, because I was able to sleep without worrying that some paw was going to grab me and drag me under the bed.

By the bye, ‘Poltergeist’ gave me nightmares for years.

Part of my problem is that I have no night vision … a side effect of having excellent colour vision. I can eat carrots until I turn orange, and I will still have very little ability to see my way around in the dark. What you can’t see is scarier when you have a vivid imagination that can fill the shadows with tentacles and teeth.

I’ve found that writing out my night terrors turns them into something I can cope with. It’s hard to be scared of a monster when you can edit out its teeth and slime and stuff. Instead, I can scare other people! Better to be the monster than be the victim…

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Filed under Horror, Horror genre, Short Story, The Writing Life

The Difference Between Surprise, Shock and Suspense

Surprise: to strike or occur to with a sudden feeling of wonder or astonishment, as through unexpectedness.

Shock: a sudden or violent disturbance of the mind, emotions, or sensibilities.

Suspense: a state or condition of mental uncertainty or excitement, as in awaiting a decision or outcome, usually accompanied by a degree of apprehension or anxiety.

All three definitions are from

Suspense and shock kitties

Shocked and surprised

I am currently writing a short story as a break from editing. It is a horror story, and so I want to evoke suspense, surprise and shock in my audience as the basic emotional responses. These three emotions are related, but shouldn’t be confused. They do have very different implications when used in the horror genre.



Dear me! A spider!

Surprise can be a positive emotion as well as a negative one. It results from something unexpected happening, be it a birthday present or a cockroach crawling out from under the bath. What flavours the surprise is its origin, and the response can vary from person to person, in that what surprises one person may be a terrible shock to another.


suspense cat 02.jpg

Just saw the new puppy… it is a Wolfhound!

Shock can be both an emotional or a psychological response. It is a stronger emotion than surprise, and generally has a more negative overtone. Hearing about the death of a beloved family member is a shock, not a surprise. Shock is not the same thing as ‘shocking’; a glimpse of stocking might be shocking, but it won’t create the same dramatic response as shock, with the sudden chills and dangerous change in blood pressure. It takes much longer to recover from a shock than it does from a surprise.



Did I hear a growl?

Suspense can be summed up with that old saying ‘waiting for the other shoe to drop’. Suspense is the backbone of the horror genre; it is created by the overwhelming tension when waiting for the knife to stab or the monster to move out of the shadows. Often, your audience can create worse scenarios in their minds than if you were to give them the full details of what is happening and what the villain looks like.

Of course, the horror genre is built around the actual events like gore and violence, and a good slashfest is horrific. But by building the tension first, the release is much stronger. Make your audience anticipate the worst, and then shock and surprise them with the unexpected monster. Horrible, ghastly, and scary …

surprise-cat 02




Filed under Characterization, Horror, Horror genre, Personal experience, The Writing Life, Uncategorized, writing, Writing Style

Heavens to Betsy

*Excerpt from a police transcript investigating an alleged hit-and-run death*

Interrogating Officer: Miss Carry, can you give me some idea of what happened?

Tori Carry: I was always a tinkerer when it came to my car. As cars became more and more sophisticated, I couldn’t resist adding all the newest gadgets to my little Betsy, you know …  proximity detectors, automatic global positioning sensors, speeding alarms and the rest. It appealed to my sense of humour that a PT Cruiser would be hiding all these super-brilliant devices, like a spy car. So when AI addies for cars became available, I bought the best brain I could afford.

Of course, it wasn’t the top of the range; I’m not a millionaire. The AI couldn’t talk like my satnav, but it communicated by running text through a screen above my CD player, and kept me informed on the engine, the car, and external conditions like road conditions and weather. It was all very shiny and clever and so up-to-the minute techno-geekiness. I gave my Betsy senses with which to see, hear, smell, touch and taste, and other senses to do with electricity and magnetism that I can only imagine. I thought I had given her a real personality.

Um. You know how some people anthropomorphise their car, sort of like I did, by giving it a name and stuff? I had taken that to a whole new level.

Some people saw the AIs as another driver distraction, but the AI was able to collate and coordinate all the other devices in the car, and so cut down on the number of data inputs. I had Betsy rigged up so that she would write, “Hiya, Tori” and update me on the weather and any road works as soon as I turned the ignition on. It felt like Betsy was communicating with me.

She could respond to my spoken commands. The AI was well designed, so that it slowly learnt all my preferences and could read my moods. She would put on happy tunes when I was down, or refuse to turn on her motor when I was tipsy. She acted like she was my friend, and I started thinking of her as a person, but just car-shaped, you know what I mean?

I think she liked me back. I do. After all, I spend more time and money on her than I did on any relationships I had. Cars are easier to trust than people. Well, maybe not. But they are more honest with their feelings.

Interrogating Officer: Please, Miss Carry. Could you focus on what occurred on the night in question? We can return to this part of your statement later, if you like.

Tori Carry: Oh. Okay.

Well, I’m a student, studying music at the Conservatorium. I’ve managed to pay my way through uni by playing gigs at pubs and stuff. I play covers of what’s in the Top Forty, old standards, a bit of folk music and country rock. I don’t get too much upfront from the managers of these places, you see? So I depend on raking in extra by getting tips.

The thing is – is that sexy sells. So I always dress up when I play these gigs. Nothing too slutty, but I make sure I look nice. I might wear something slinkier than I would normally. Put on too much make-up, as the lights tend to wash you out.

And you flirt with the customers. Well, it is kind of like flirting. I don’t actually want to go out with any of the drunks and goons; I have a perfectly good boyfriend.

(Carry pauses here. She starts to cry.)

What’s Neil going to think about all this? Oh god. He isn’t going to want to touch me after this.

*Interview is suspended while suspect regains control of her emotions*

Interrogating Officer: Are you sure you are ready to continue, Tori? I know you’ve been through a lot, but we need your account of the events.

Tori Carry: Yes. I know. But this is hard, you know?  I never thought something like this would happen to me.

I never noticed him the crowd. You think that a creep like that would give off a vibe, or something, but he didn’t stand out at all. I’ve had my fair share of weirdos staring at me, and idiots shouting inappropriate comments to me. Usually, the bouncer or one of the bar staff walks me to Betsy when we think one of those jokers might get nasty or stupid. Last night, they seemed like a pretty normal crowd; in fact, I was a little irritated that they seemed more interested in their drinks than my singing.

Unlike some places, the car park is well lit. There isn’t any place to lurk and jump out at anyone. I saw there was a guy near my Betsy, but I didn’t think anything about it. After all, he could have been a patron heading home.

He just looked so ordinary.

He grabbed the second I had opened the car door. He had a knife in his hand.

“Get in,” he hissed.

He got into the seat behind me, and kept the knife close to my gut.

“Drive,” he said, “I’ll tell you were to go.”

I was so scared! So many scenarios went through my mind. My parents never knowing what happened to me. Maybe people would think I had run away. Was he going to hurt me? Was he going to kill me?

It was a good thing Betsy is nearly able to drive herself. I wasn’t concentrating on the road. Though maybe, if I had tried, we could have had an accident. Then all this wouldn’t have happened.

Interrogating Officer: Don’t dwell on the might-have-beens. All we need are the facts. What happened next?

Tori Carry: Well, he made me drive up to the old quarry. It is miles away from any houses, so that no one could hear me call for help.

He made me get into the back seat with him. Then he pushed me flat on my stomach, pushed up my dress, and used his knife to cut off my underpants. Then he raped me. He raped me twice. In my own car. (Carry falls silent for a minute or so.)

Interrogating Officer: If you are able, can you give us more detail than that? Anything at all might help us discover the truth.

Tori Carry: Um. He didn’t want me to turn Betsy off. He wanted the heater on, and the music playing. He kept telling me that I should consider myself lucky. That women like me were dirty, flaunting ourselves in public, that we should expect this kind of treatment. That I must have wanted it. Asked for it. Deserved it.

After a while, my mind seemed to take me away from what was happening. First of all, I started thinking how it was going to be impossible to get the smell of this pervert out of Betsy’s seat covers. I was going to have to replace them. I can remember thinking about the amazing seafood place my family had gone to on our last holiday overseas. I can remember thinking about how I wanted to study in Paris.

I had to survive. I had to survive if I wanted to see my parents. Neil. Paris. I think I was whispering that to myself over and over again. “I have to survive. Hold on.”

Interrogating Officer: Would your car have been able to hear you?

Tori Carry: Of course. Betsy was on. All her sensors were engaged. She would have heard everything. But I don’t think an AI has any legal status in a court of law, does it? Can a car give evidence?

Interrogating Officer: That’s something we can consider in the future. Right now, would you be able to continue with your statement?

Tori Carry: After a while, Betsy developed a growling noise in her motor. You’d think I wouldn’t notice something like that. But, like I said, my mind kept trying to run away from what was happening to my body. It was easier to worry about the noise in the engine than what was going to happen after he had finished with me.

I thought he was going to kill me.

No. I knew he was going to kill me.

And I wasn’t ready to die. Not without seeing and studying in Paris.

What seemed days later, he was finally finished. He pulled up the zipper on his fly, and made me turn over. I started to come back into myself, and suddenly I could feel how badly he had torn me, and all my bruises, and I was scared again.

All the light in the car seemed to be reflected in the blade of his knife. He told me what he was going to do with the knife. I felt sick and weak.

Betsy’s motor began to growl so loud that even he noticed. The lights flickered on her dash.

“What’s wrong with the car?” he said.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe she is overheating? Something might be caught in her belts?” I had only just refuelled before the gig, so I didn’t think she was running low.

He must have thought that he needed to kill me quickly, as Betsy was his only transportation out of the quarry. He pulled me out of the car.

That’s when things got strange.

Interrogating Officer: Strange?

Tori Carry: Betsy suddenly started revving her motor. She fell out of park, and started to roll forward, down the hill. He yelled at the car, and ran after it.

I tried to get to my feet and run away. But the pain was too much. Everything started spinning, and I fell down. I think I blacked out.

When I came to, Betsy was back beside me. Her motor wasn’t roaring and growling, it was a quiet purr. I managed to drag myself into the back seat … the door was still open. Then I must have blacked out again, because the next thing I remember was waking up as people dragged me out of Betsy and into the hospital.

And here we are.

(Upon consultation with her doctors, it would appear the suspect was probably not lying about the periods of blacking out, as convenient as the blanks in her memory may seem. She has suffered internal injuries; the extent of these injuries means it is unlikely she will ever be able to bear children. There was copious blood loss that would have caused her loss of consciousness.)

Interrogating Officer: So what happened? Can you tell me where your rapist is now?

Tori Carry: No. I wish I did.  I hope you catch the bastard.

Interrogating Officer: Did you know that we have found blood and human tissue on your tires and plastering the underside of the car? And we will be checking the quarry to collaborate your confession.

Tori Carry: Confession. What do you mean?

Interrogating Officer: Your alleged rapist is very dead, Tori. We knew that from the amount of blood and the types of tissues found under the car. Brain tissue. Spleen. Heart. He hasn’t survived you running him down. Still, there are extenuating circumstances. You might even be able to plea self-defence.

Tori Carry: Look. He’s dead? Really?  (A few seconds of silence. It must be noted here that the suspect did appear to be genuinely surprised by the news.) I suppose it is going to make me sound as guilty as hell, but I’m glad he is dead. I wish I had done it. But I can’t see how. I don’t remember doing it.

Last time I saw him, he was chasing after Betsy as she rolled downhill. Could he have run under her in the dark, by mistake?

Interrogating Officer: Okay. Say that was the case. There are a lot of inconsistencies in your story.

After rolling away, the car returned to where you were lying. And you must have driven to the hospital. You didn’t call for an ambulance or police, which looks suspicious, because it took you away from the crime scene. Unless there was a third person at the scene, that leaves just you or your attacker to drive the car.

Of course, as we haven’t yet identified your rapist, it might not be his blood and tissue under your car. However, preliminary tests have proven the semen and other cellular contaminants collected as evidence from your body matches the blood type found under the car. (At this point, it must be noted that the suspect commenced dry retching and the interview had to be suspended until the next day.)

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Horror and the Steampunk Genre

Pumpkin from Flickr

The Steampunk literary genre and the Horror genre are a match made in heaven. All the great monsters had their origins in the Victorian era. Frankenstein’s monster was created by Mary Shelley in 1818. In 1827, English author Jane C. Webb Loudon published The Mummy! Or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century – a science fiction novel I would recommend for its originality of vision. I might suggest Mrs Loudon and Mary Shelly were the first Steampunk novelists, as Jules Verne wasn’t even born until the next year. Another woman writer, Clemence Houseman, wrote about a female lycanthrope in her 1896 novel, The Were-Wolf. A year later, Bram Stoker had success with Dracula, though there had been popular vampire fiction published all through the 19th century, like John Poldori’s short story in 1819, The Vampyre. There were even robots and other mad inventions. About the only classic monster not introduced into popular culture in the Victorian era is the zombie, which didn’t make its appearance in popular horror fiction until the 20th century.

The 1868  'The Steam Man of the Prairies' by Edward S. Ellis

The 1868 ‘The Steam Man of the Prairies’ by Edward S. Ellis

We all know the horror-genre influences in the works of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. For example, there were the prehistoric monsters in the Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and the Martains from The War of the Worlds. There is a great deal of historical precedence for horror to mash-up with the Steampunk genre.

My favourite is the mad scientist, who doom himself with his own creation, which is – of course – the main plot of Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. This gives equal balance between the science and the horror, to create a Steampunk genre narrative. You can either go the ‘bucket of guts’ route with the horror, or run with lots of atmosphere and psychological horror. And there is no rule that says you can’t use both.

This article was inspired by Halloween. So tap into your dark side, and write a spooky Steampunk story!

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Filed under Genre, Genre Markers, Horror, Mash-ups, Pop Culture, Steampunk

For Halloween: The First Draft of a Horror Story


The Predator had to hunt and kill today.  Its need was overwhelming it.  It just had to find someone to assuage its desires, but the right sort of prey was always difficult to find.  Still, if you looked the part and was patient, the right one would usually turn up.


Little Paula looked so scared and lost. Sure, it was the second week of school, and she had been shown which bus to catch last week – but that was last week.  Over the weekend, she had forgotten; after all, she was only in first grade.

So, feeling small and cold in her pretty pink dress and lacy white cardigan, she tried to understand what she should do next.

Her mummy had always told her that when you are worried, you should look for a teacher or a policeman. It was good advice, except Paula couldn’t see anyone who looked like that.  All the adults she could see looked harassed or grumpy, not cool and calm like a teacher should.  Nor was anyone wearing a police uniform.  And, as an obedient and serious little girl, she was careful not to speak to strangers.

She could feel tears beginning to well in her eyes. The other children were cheerfully climbing onto their various buses, or trailing off to walk home.  Soon, she would be left all alone.

What should she do? Should she go back into the school, and try to find someone to help?  Maybe there would be someone still left in the office, and she could ask them for assistance.

But what if everyone goes home when the bell went?  While her school was fun when it was full of chattering students, it looked kind of spooky and deserted when they had all left for the day.  The shadows were big and gloomy, and the hallways echoed.  It just seemed too big and too imposing and way too frightening for a little girl not yet six years old.

Still, maybe if she hurried, the shadows wouldn’t catch her.

Just then, a warm hand clasped her shoulder. “What’s wrong, honey?”

Paula turned her pale, tense face to this new threat. Smiling down at her was a big man, wearing smart navy blue and white clothes, and a crisp hat.  He didn’t look exactly like a policeman, but he did look very official in his own way.

“I can’t remember my bus. I think I’ve missed it,” whispered Paula.

“Well, then, we’d best see how we can get you home. Do you know where you live?  Do you know your address?”

Paula brightened up considerably at the word ‘home’. The threat of tears subsided to a shiny gloss on her eyes.  “Oh, I have my address.  It’s written down on the inside of all my books.”

The kind man looked pleased. “That’s excellent.  Here, give us a look then.”

Paula handed him one of the books from her Power Puff Girls knapsack, her handwriting book. In the front cover was her name and address and phone number.

“Well, Paula,” said the man, “My name is Ronnie. I live just a few blocks from your house.  How about I give you a lift home?”

The little girl looked hopeful. The man knew her name, so he couldn’t be a stranger; he must be a friend of her parents that she just couldn’t place.  And he wanted to get her home, to her Mummy.

“Yes, please,” she said politely.


The predator couldn’t believe its luck.  It had located a potential victim who seemed just perfect.  If it played its cards right, and didn’t seem too eager, the little fish should be well and truly hooked.


Ronnie led Paula over to his vehicle, and made sure she was secure in her seatbelt before pulling out from the curbing.  The little girl was too small to see out of the car window, and so couldn’t see where they were headed.  Still, it didn’t really matter, as Paula was not familiar with the streets surrounding the school to know any different.

So, she didn’t really know that they were headed away from her home address.


The predator’s luck was holding.  No one had noticed it and the victim getting into the car.  Even if anyone had looked in their direction, they would have seen a happy little girl getting tucked in by her attentive Daddy.  It would be too late before anyone noticed Paula missing.


Ronnie’s car was a big, butch four-wheel-drive.  A criminal psychologist would have had a field day with such a car.  It had all the equipment for a hunting trip, even though any permitted seasonal hunting was well and truly over.  The macho vehicle helped compensate for his feelings of inadequacy.

The only time that Ronnie felt strong and in charge was when he was raping a minor.  He was too much of a coward to attack a full-grown woman.  He needed to completely dominate his target.

Paula was beginning to get restless in his backseat.  It was beginning to dawn on her that the trip was taking much too long.

“Are you lost, Mister Ronnie?”

“No, sweetheart.  We are nearly there,” he lied.

A couple of minutes later, Paula started to cry.  Ronnie hadn’t really done anything to give himself away, so he was a little confused.

“Why are you crying?” he asked.

“You aren’t taking me home.  You are one of those bad men that steal little girls.”

Ronnie was surprised that she had figured it out so soon.  Usually, the children were quite happy and cooperative right up until he started to hurt them.  Most kids, even when constantly warned about ‘Stranger Danger’, still couldn’t really believe that anyone would be mean to them on purpose.

In a way, he was doing them a favour; he was teaching them what went on in the real world.

The little girl continued to cry.  It gave Ronnie a bit of a rush; this girl was exactly the type of victim he was looking for, weak and passive.  Another girl might have started screaming, or trying to struggle out of her seat restraint.

They reached the abandoned store that Ronnie had sussed out previously.  The shop had been untenanted for months, and no one ever bothered to check it out once in a while.  It had been the work of moments to break in, and over the last week Ronnie had set it up for his power games.

He quickly bundled Paula inside.

Paula looked around at her surroundings.  The place was dusty and grimy, with cockroach droppings dotting the floor.  Against one wall was an unrolled sleeping bag, and it was here that she had been dumped.  The place seemed completely deserted, with no chance of anyone hearing screams for help.

Ronnie was pulling down his jeans.  He was feeling just great.  In a few minutes, he would be getting his rocks off.  He was large and in charge.

Except, the girl child had stopped crying.  In fact, she had stood up and was smiling, a creepy smile that held no real humour.

“Well, it’s time for little girls to get what they deserve.  Take your knickers off, Paula.”

“You are a bad man, a really bad man,” stated the little girl.  She just stood there, staring at him.

Paula didn’t seem to be frightened anymore.  She wasn’t following Ronnie’s mental script.  By now, she was supposed by be crying or begging to go home.

“Look, it you shut up and do what your told, it won’t hurt so much,” snarled Ronnie.  He had his pants around his ankles, and he hopped over to the child.  Grabbing her roughly, he tried to get her to lie down.

Paula seemed to ripple.  Her mouth was suddenly larger, her teeth looked sharper, and her fingers curled into claws.  “I like bad men.  No one misses them when they are gone.”


The predator ate well that day.


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