How to Scare Your Readers: Writing Effective Horror

Writing horror is weird: you’re basically inviting strangers to listen as, for hours, you try to scare the hell out of them. And best case scenario, when you’re finished with them, they’ll anxiously await the next time they can pay for the privilege of being scared by you. Honestly, the whole thing sounds like some cultish mind-control . . . horror story. Or like people waiting in line for a roller coaster with “death” in its name.

In horror, storytelling’s golden rule—“if you get their attention, you better have something to say”—goes niche: if you get their attention, you better send chills down their spine. And let’s face it. We’ve all seen Silence of the Lambs. Pennywise has been revived. Hell, a new generation of kids is growing up on Goosebumps and, now, Five Nights at Freddy’s. And then there’s the news. Suffice it to say, your average modern consumer of American media is a little jaded to the same-ole, same-ole scare tactics.


To build an effective horror story—or a thriller, suspense, fantasy/sci-fi, or nongenre literary story with horror elements—it’s important to know how you want to scare your readers, what your main characters are supposed to evoke in one another, and how your basic approach to content should reflect those goals.

What Type of Fear?: Looking at the Hero-Villain Relationship

What exactly do you want your readers to feel? Should they be set on edge/nervous about the unknown? Terrified of how a known diabolical horror will be applied this time, to Character X? Afraid of time running out? Incrementally and subtly terrorized by a force that reveals its destruction in spread-out scenes and with stealth? Scared of a person, creature, or force that seems so completely unhinged that the worst of the worst is practically guaranteed?

If you don’t find the answers coming easily, it may help to refocus on two of the main pieces of any good pulse-pounder: the protagonist and antagonist. In horror, as in other genres, their relationship boils down to what they bring out in one another. In one of the most prominent classic examples of this relationship, the villain finds the hero to be a worthy opponent—a challenge—and escalates instances of violence and terror to “play with” the hero. The hero, in turn, has to manifest a heretofore untapped level of courage, often being cornered into moments of hellish introspection along the way. (As exemplified by one duo that, even as they have played Genre Twister over the years, dabbling in everything from slapstick comedy to slick action to dark thriller, have maintained that basic dynamic: Batman and the Joker.)

In horror, there’s one basic stipulation that goes with their dynamic, whatever precisely it is: the villain should want to scare the hero—and the hero should be scared. It’s very hard to make your reader feel any fear if the protagonist doesn’t. Literary Psychology 101: your protagonist is your reader’s proxy. So . . . well, if that dude isn’t worried, why should I be?

But what type of fear? And what kind of courage does the hero need to push through?

If the hero-villain dance is one of maleficent versus benevolent genius, the hero may be terrified that an equal-to-or-greater-than mind is working for the dark side. And may need to unearth a courageous self-trust and the ability to stay calm in the face of battlefield chaos. If the baddie is a repugnant fanged troop from the army of the undead, the hero’s courage doesn’t necessarily need subtle psychological flavor (though it can certainly be fun to inject unexpected intricacy into a zombie/werewolf/vampire/etc. story); these heroes need the basic courage to confront creatures that can kill them, quickly and nastily.

Should You Go for Gore?

It’s an age-old issue in horror and genres that incorporate horror elements: Do you need blood and guts to sell the fear? And for that matter, does going gore actually make readers’ fear spike, or does it just make them squeamish? For some, revulsion and fear may be sibling emotions; for others, gore is off-putting enough to be a deal-breaker.

When you’ve figured out what you want to make your readers feel, your overall approach to shiver-stirring content should unfold naturally:

If you intend a given nemesis to be repulsive, so that readers—and other characters—experience a distinctly visceral aversion, let your readers see him shed blood, hear him dragging his feet through puddles of it, feel him retrieving tools of the trade from the body remains tiling his basement. Engaging and offending the senses paves a steady path to repulsion.

If the horror vibe you’re going for is more psychological, gore isn’t necessary. Actually, not just “not necessary.” In these cases, gore is typically a distraction; use of it beyond the infrequent and well-thought-out variety can lead to an inconsistent tone that undermines your story.

Questions to Build a Bloodcurdling Bad Guy

What would positively ice one’s spine in real life won’t necessarily make a ripple in fiction; even if your villain is slaying strangers with a machete . . . well, the horror and oddball horror/comedy worlds have both seen plenty o’ machete killers. What makes this one different? What makes this one somebody you wouldn’t simply run from in the real world—where, let’s face it, we’d all run from threats of a much slighter scale than burly folk with big knives—but someone who stalks your peace of mind right through your suspended disbelief?

If you have created an engrossing world with believable characters and a setting that fascinates, you can rely on those very elements to convince your reader the bad guy is BAD.

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. How does the bartender react to your villain sitting down for a drink? (Rushing to get it even when the place is packed; dropping the ice scoop; responding with a halting stutter even when the villain’s own words seem, on the surface, pleasant, etc.)
  2. If the villain’s family and/or friends are part of the story, how do they react? Family breeds familiarity and motherhood tends to breed overlooking even heinous flaws. Is your villain so fearsome that his mother’s hand shakes when she cuts a slice of pie for him, their dialogue stilted from caution on her part and passive threats on his?
  3. How do strangers react to your villain? If you need to convey some grotesque deformity or scar, it can be effective—before you ever describe it—to show a stranger turning around to see the villain and gasping. Recoiling. But even if the villain wears no visible mark of evil, others could still sense something’s off and start toeing the line, breathing more deeply, checking around the room to make sure their loved ones and prized possessions are accounted for.
  4. Is there someone in the villain’s life who is not afraid? In Red Dragon, Francis Dolarhyde/The Tooth Fairy/The Great Red Dragon gives a variety of characters a variety of reasons to quiver before him, but his romantic interest, and blind coworker, Reba McClane never fears him. Is there a character who has good reason to miss what makes your villain fearsome? If so, it can serve as a powerful contrast, and deepen characterization by hinting at how things may have been different if it weren’t for a certain feature the world can’t look past but this one character can. Better still, this can allow you to gradually escalate circumstances to the point that even Character X becomes terrified of the villain—not only showing how vile the villain has become, and how hope for redemption has been lost, but also provoking in the villain an unprecedented degree of rage and vengeance.
  5. How do others act when the villain “does her thing”? Regardless of whether your villain uses a hook, sword, gun, or more everyday and subtle weapon to effect destruction, there’s a moment when the villain starts doing that thing via which she’s earned her reputation, and how people react is important. Think not so much in terms of standard movie-screen reactions (running, crying, pleading, etc.) but in sudden contrasts of character (grown-ups wetting their pants, the resident tough guy cowering, people who have just been fighting over a civil dispute suddenly helping each other take cover) and extreme self-protective measures in which the frightened character risks—even welcomes—lesser injury (getting splinters under one’s fingernails from scratching the wood floor while being dragged away; jumping from an absurd height and breaking one’s legs; rushing into a forest, a cave, the hideout of a vicious gang, etc., for comparative safety).

By asking yourself these questions, you’ll help establish your villain as a truly terrifying presence that rings in the memories of horror fans for years to come.

An experienced book editor can assist you in making your scary characters their most frightsome, your hero believably brave, and your surrounding characters and settings conducive to punching up the fear. Contact me at or via the web form on this site for a consultation and sample edit regarding your novel, nonfiction book, short story or poetry collection, or shorter work.


How to Teach an Old Genre New Tricks: Creativity and the Genre Writer

Remember all those pulse-pounding dystopias and dramas with animal characters you read as a tween? No? Yeah, me neither. For ’80s and ’90s kids, growing out of Little Golden Books and “early readers” into lengthy chapter books also basically meant growing out of stories in which animals were the main characters. It’s not that exceptions didn’t exist, but the beloved big-kid books of the day were mostly peopled by . . . people. At the more serious end of the spectrum? The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney. Character facing seemingly insurmountable odds and having to churn up steely resolve? Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet. Characters fighting for independence in a universe gone control-freaky? A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.

And you can’t leave out these classics.

Continue reading “How to Teach an Old Genre New Tricks: Creativity and the Genre Writer”

3 Steps to Editing Your Book Like a Publisher

Whether you’ve decided to go the power-of-one publishing route, and want yours to stand out amid a sea of Kindle e-books with glittering graphics, or you’re seeking traditional publication and hope your manuscript rises to the top of the dishearteningly named “slush pile,” you can set your work apart by treating it to all the benefits of a shiny NYC-publisher edit. Having edited, copyedited, and proofread for various major traditional publishing houses, I have consistently seen three focuses of a publisher-backed edit that you need to incorporate if you want to play alongside (or join) the majors.

Warning: this is not an ad. Do not attempt to look inside any of those books, no matter how often the bright orange and blue words tell you to. This is an illustration of your could-be competitors–and why you have to step up your game to thrive in the era of e-book abundance.

(1) Eliminate Common Grammatical Errors, Misspellings, and Typos

Nothing is more likely to get your book booted out of someone’s Kindle-for-PC library or rejected fast with a form letter than early mistakes in rudimentary grammar. If a reader opens your book and sees, within the first few pages, apostrophes used to make should-be-plural words possessive, inconsistent capitalization, misspellings, dangling modifiers, etc., chances are that you’re not getting a second one. End of story (literally).

Whether or not you agree with the logic, people assume that sloppiness or inattention in one area denotes a pattern; if you haven’t edited for grammar and proofread to catch the typos, many readers will assume you also have not properly attended to deeper structural matters of the story. And they will not waste their time.

(2) Weed Out the Offensive (Well, Where You Don’t Aim to Offend)

In the age of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, etc., etc., etc., wildfire spreads like Internet outrage. Never has it been so apparent that there’s truth in the statement “You can’t make all the people happy all the time.” Neither is it your job to. Sometimes casting a wide net becomes stretching that net so far that any fish you’ve already targeted just swim right through the loose mesh. This is not about pandering to the greatest number of readers imaginable, and it’s not about cowering in fear of the Internet being mean to you. Getting up in arms, after all, is some people’s favorite sport. Fahgettaboudem.

This is about catching phrases and idioms that are likely to come across with an unintended hostility or divisiveness and can easily be reworded in a way that preserves the integrity of your intended message without the risk of alienating (reasonable) readers.

Given that writing begins deep in the trenches of your personal experience, this is a remarkably easy issue to overlook, and it’s a critical aspect of professional/publishing-house editing. Catching and then gently rephrasing these instances makes the difference between a smoothly running read and your reader thinking, “Woah, buddy” or “That’s just uncalled for” or even “Yikes, I wonder if the author grasps just how bad this sounds.”

And if readers do land on that last reaction, their confidence in you as a writer is in danger of sinking quickly. Your readers are basically entrusting you to steer their attention for the period of time they’re reading; if you come across as unaware or needlessly insensitive, it’s doubtful they’ll continue to see you as a worthy captain.

(3) Clarify Those Opaque Passages (No Matter How Pretty They Are)

Truth is we all have ways of phrasing things that make sense to us and, at least after a little indoctrination, to our near-and-dear crowd along with frequent email/messenger/chat partners. Every once in a while, we all get wooed by the perfume of our own flowery poeticism. And we’ve all probably asked, “Does this make sense to you?” to a spouse or best friend or parent, who may have said, “Of course!” because that person loves us and, let’s be honest, probably knows how easy it is to poke the bear.

The upshot of that is that your book is likely to end up with at least a few instances of pretty (in an abstract-painting sort of way) phrasing that is nonetheless prone to make the average reader—who’s never met you and doesn’t understand that you consider idiom inversion a form of subtle genius—to think, “Whaaat?”

The abstract has its place: in certain paintings, Rorschach tests, and books by Mark Z. Danielewski. In most writing, though, clarity is queen.

Traditionally published books are often clearer than self-published ones because a professional editor has raked through every paragraph, every sentence, and every turn of phrase to ensure clarity. If your book contains too many descriptions that make readers think, “I bet that sounded good in so-and-so’s head but . . .” you will come across as unprofessional and, again, unaware.

An experienced book editor can ensure that your book is grammatically sound, free of unintentionally alienating phrases, and clear and coherent. I’m available to edit your book, whether you’re interested in a professional polish before you submit (or publish) or you’d prefer a structural edit or developmental edit in which I address underlying “big-picture” matters related to plot, characterization, overall structure, integration of theme, pacing, flow, narrative voice or tone, and more. If you are interested in having me edit your book, please contact me either via the web form on this site or by email at


Abstract painting credit: By Rurik Dmitrienko – Pierre Dmitrienkko (Dmitrienko-Archives) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Beyond Character Quizzes: Asking the Right Questions to Develop Distinct Characters

Think back to Creative Writing 101, the class where an actual Important Writer came to read—a guy with elbow patches and a college-press story collection with cover art that looked pretty pro in the days predating Fiverr artists and rampant Photoshop skills. The class where you and your classmates, green in the art of feedback, were kinda lost after underlining the word “suit” when the writer meant “suite” and comparing the smart-kid character to Scout Finch. The one with the character quizzes.

You know the type.

  1. What’s your character’s favorite food?
  2. What type of movies does he like?
  3. Describe her accent and list any often-used phrases.
  4. Is he religious? Political? Is his family? Do they fight so hard about it at dinner that a flying drumstick nearly takes someone’s eye out?

While completing a favorites list on behalf of your character may ignite your nostalgia for those days of filling out magazine quizzes alongside your best friend with goofy and/or profane answers, that’s essentially what it can feel like: playing around. Having some fun with your characters but not getting to know them on a make-or-break level. This doesn’t mean you need to forswear character quiz questions altogether, but save them for when you’ve answered the questions that matter more.

How Does Your Character Relate to the Theme?

I’ve written previously about how focusing on a not-too-broad, not-too-narrow theme can help you more clearly see individual characters. Once you have an unobstructed view of what kind of story you want to tell—what Big Questions you’ll answer, what enigmas you’ll crack open—it’s often much easier to see what essential roles your main players will need to serve along with the primary ways in which they’ll interact with one another.

What Part of Your Character Is You?

Returning to Creative Writing 101 for a moment, do you remember the central characters in any of your classmates’ short stories? Do you remember thinking that, outside of a few swapped-around superficial details, your classmates were absolutely writing about themselves? Do you remember explaining how your own main character wasn’t youish at all and your fellow writers-in-the-making looking at you like suuuure?

Since those days, through much three a.m. caffeinated practice, your once-shrimpy creativity has probably grown musclebound. Maybe your characters now live on different continents—or planets. Maybe they have to confront social issues you know only through a combination of research, imagination, and empathy. They might even hold core political beliefs different from your own. Maybe you’re so good you can now, with commiseration and a soft heart, write a vegetarian character in between whopping Cookout-burger bites. But listen. That vegetarian Martian who supports the communist uprising after being bullied for years because her scaly skin is purple to everyone else’s scaly green—there’s still some part of her that’s you.

Writers are not blank slates, even writers who work organically, who are short on outlining and long on going with the muse-ical flow. There’s a reason you, as opposed to John Irving or Ali Smith or Chuck Palahniuk or elbow-patched Important Writer, are writing this story, these characters.

For example, let’s say you decide the part of Purple Communist Vegetarian Martian Girl (let’s call her Matilda) that most clearly arises from your own character is her tendency to “overcorrect.” For instance, she goes from being a doormat to a violent pseudorevolutionary, no shades of gray between. Maybe you once went from a poorly protein-supplemented macrovegan existence to Super Atkins and landed yourself in a red-meat stupor for weeks. Or maybe it was something not meat-related and of slightly longer-term consequence.

Proper characterization will prevent Matilda from coming across as a run-of-the-mill, cartoonish alien.

Once you identify what part of your psychological or philosophical DNA a given character is manifesting . . .

  1. your own bond with and vision of that character should be brighter.
  2. you can more aptly oversee the remainder the character production process, namely making sure you’re not inadvertently demonizing or ennobling Matilda beyond what’s called for out of some need to chastise, justify, or praise that part of you now showing up in your literary offspring.
  3. you can better filter out (or in) other you-qualities based on what makes sense for Matilda’s own character and her role in the story.

How Does Your Character Sound?

Not so much when singing in the shower, but when speaking, when thinking, when narrating her own life. While this one can be every bit as fun as quiz questions, I consider it separate based on just how important it is. Because your medium is the written word, the ability to hear your character can lead to, and is usually therefore more immediately important than, your ability to see your character. Seeing may be believing, but in storytelling, hearing is seeing.

When you’ve answered these essential character questions, feel free to proceed to the fun stuff. Sketch Matilda’s favorite T-shirt. Determine what rock music sounds like on Mars and whether she’s a fan. Is ultrapricey earthling coffee her weakness?

When it comes to working through the finer issues of characterization or objectively seeing whether your characters have chemistry, whether they fulfill the needs of your theme and plot, whether they come across with believable internal consistency, etc., an experienced book editor can help. If you’re looking for a literary editor to handle your manuscript evaluation, developmental editing, copyediting, proofreading, or any combination thereof, contact me via the web form on this site or at

If They Give You Ruled Paper . . . *Should* You Write the Other Way? (How Atypical Style Choices Can Hurt Your Writing)

“If they give you ruled paper, write the other way.” The quote, attributable to Spanish writer Juan Ramón Jiménez Mantecón, has directly made its mark on modern publishing more than once; it inspired the title of Daniel Quinn’s If They Give You Lined Paper, Write Sideways and it was referenced by Susie Salmon in the opening pages of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. Beyond that it is sometimes, unfortunately, treated as the backbone of a stylistic approach in fiction writing.

This is not to say nonconformity doesn’t have its place—from politics to architecture to storytelling, it certainly does. But across these contexts and others the same question applies: What is the purpose of your unconventional choice?

Charlie Huston’s Dashes-to-Quotes Transition

In his early books (Caught Stealing, Already Dead, etc.), Charlie Huston used dashes instead of quotation marks to differentiate dialogue. For readers fresh off a lineage of books that follow the standard stylistic protocol, the dashes are likely to prove a distraction—at least in the beginning. Our big, curious brains call out to know why. What do these dashes mean?

By the second page of atypical dialogue, we’ve launched five or six theories, and, for a little while, it’s likely those suppositions will shift restlessly in our heads. We’ll filter information from the book hoping to disprove or substantiate various theories. Sooner or later, if no clear purpose steps forward but the stylistic deviation powers on, it will become part of the background, something our minds more or less shrug off and file under “the way things are.”

Here’s the interesting part: as Charlie Huston fans know, he eventually made the transition to quotation marks, explaining in a post on his website that he used dashes in the beginning primarily because (. . . it was a good way to convey the character Joe Pitt’s gruff simplicity? since Huston writes of the vampiric, zombified underbelly of humanity, he wanted a page-by-page method of showing that you can’t assume anything?) he was a poor typist. Dashes, it seems, were easier to type.

He goes on to explain that he was certain he’d be asked to swap them for quotation marks prior to publication, but the dashes were allowed to stand. When he later wrote a novel (Sleepless) meant to represent a document composed by one of the characters, he concluded that “it seemed odd . . . that this fictional person would use dashes instead of quotation marks.” With that novel complete, and with Huston having improved leaps and bounds as a typist, the decision to go back to using dashes would have been based on style instead of what it was based on at the start: convenience. In other words, by willfully employing a stylistic technique outside the norm, he would have been making a statement, and as he puts it, “I didn’t really have a statement to make.”

Symbolic Candy

Readers are a code-cracking people by nature. We like directing our own mental movies from a stranger’s words, and we are groomed to tear into literary symbols as though they’re candy wrappers. And if you’ll stay with me on that metaphor for a moment, imagine placing a shiny candy-sized wrapper in front of someone who is serious about sweets. Let’s call this person Sam. Imagine watching Sam open the wrapper to discover you’ve pulled some pillows-in-a-body-shape-under-the-blankets trick and, even though this was shaped like candy, there is no candy. Imagine Sam looking at you with eyes that plainly ask: Just what the &$@$!*% is this?

Now. Imagine yourself telling Sam, “It’s a wrapper. Just a . . . plain wrapper. I thought you’d like it.”

Sam doesn’t like it. C’mon. Sam also, you should be forewarned, may no longer like you. Sam is likely calm-breathing Sam’s self down from taking you to court for duress while cursing whoever introduced the two of you.

If it shines like a candy wrapper, make sure there’s candy inside.

And if it seems by juxtaposition that I’m calling Charlie Huston the sort of monster who pretends to have candy when he doesn’t, rest assured that’s not the case. Me? I like Charlie. Dashes, or quotation marks, and all. He had a practical reason for doing what he did, but take from his case and the case of Sam and the Candy that Wasn’t Candy this message: when you distract your readers with a shiny stylistic technique, it’s natural for them to assume you have a reason. So whether you have it in mind to write in all lowercase, use letters of the Arabic alphabet in place of chapter numbers, present your dialogue as bullet points, or anything else that turns tail to the norm, ask yourself what the purpose of your technique is—it will catch readers’ attention, and they will have questions.

Most widely practiced conventions of style have developed and been adopted as they have for a reason: they make things clear. They keep your writing organized and tidy without intruding into the reader’s attention, meaning the reader’s attention stays on the content: the plot, the characters, the setting, your heart-wrenching use of sunset colors in a love scene, etc.

In summary, unless you’re experimenting with post-modern literature that asks readers to examine their own expectations, when someone gives you lined paper . . . write in those lines. If you don’t, those lines will intersect with your letters at strange angles. Sheesh.

Are you unsure whether your manuscript’s style synchronizes with its intended purpose? Curious about whether your writing approach leaves the reader with any unanswered questions? An experienced literary editor can provide high-level feedback on how your written words will appeal to readers—along with agents and acquisition editors.

To find out more about having your novel evaluated, deeply edited, or polished as the last stage before submission, contact me via the web form on this site or at

Almost Outlined: Working Past Mental Bottlenecking to Create a Killer Book Outline

Say your novel-to-be is about rock and roll—that much is clear—and you’re ready to outline. Or rather, ready or not, you need to outline. You sit down to your spreadsheet, blank Word doc, legal pad, or multicolored sticky notes, your head abuzz with story impressions: the thudding loudness and in-your-faceness of rock’s heyday; the rock modernists; some patchy character profiles; a main plot, three subplots, and fifteen mini plots; this idea you have to score some original rock tuneage and include it in the book—your music actually telling part of the story (not sure how—will figure out as you outline); this other idea you have to represent the dissent that frequently breaks up bands by telling your story not just in alternating narrative voices but alternating POVs; and . . . and . . . and . . .

By the time you’ve wrangled all your potential storytelling elements into focus, you’ll likely have not only scared yourself out of writing word one of your outline but also decided that you and three to four of your friends are the rightful heirs to Deep Purple and what the hell are you doing trying to make a book when you could be making music. And, hey, if that’s your route, go for it. The kids these day need good music.

“Hush” is not a personal instruction. It doesn’t pertain to your writing. Outline on.

They also need good books. And if you intend to actually write, rather than think endlessly and vaguely about, one, you need to free yourself from the trap of trying to all-at-once decide how to handle characterization, plot, structure, POV, voice, style, and whether or not to include an original score.

Continue reading “Almost Outlined: Working Past Mental Bottlenecking to Create a Killer Book Outline”

Trusting Your Readers to “Get It”: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Too Much Description

Reading is a participation pastime, which is sometimes difficult for writers to remember. Rather than witnessing a visually inflexible world—as with movies, TV, etc.—readers are called on to use their own imagination and understanding of the world to fill in the gaps. This means that, in a sense, releasing your finished book represents an act of confidence in readers as a general institution, thinking, “I’ve done my part; the rest is up to them.” Easier thought than done.

One of the more challenging things for writers to keep in mind is that readers are capable of understanding the point of an exchange, scene, or sequence with just a few well-placed clues. Particularly when a scene is loaded with action or some your loveliest description, it’s hard to admit that readers can get the point with less—and that whether or not less is always more, more is definitely less when your reader got it several details ago and is now getting irked at your verbosity.

But if your job isn’t to lead readers by the hand through all the technicalities, what is important to say? How do you determine when to say when with your own description?

Continue reading “Trusting Your Readers to “Get It”: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Too Much Description”

Metaphors, Memoirs, and Manuals (oh my!): Bringing Your Nonfiction to Life with Fiction Writing Techniques

People love their stories—a phenomenon that writers may understand and count on to a greater extent than the average joe. Well, fiction writers anyway. But are you, as a nonfiction author, giving your reader enough story? Typically the art of spinning a good yarn is deemed the domain of fiction writers, but storytelling can brighten up and bring together your work of nonfiction as well. This applies not only to memoirs, historical accounts, tales of true crime, etc., but also to self-help manuals, dissertations, and even instructional manuals and textbooks.

Whether you’ve come up with a dynamic system for organizing toys in a multi-child home or a complex philosophical theory told over seven volumes, you can use storytelling techniques to bring your material out of the abstract and ground it in the sort of concrete detail that will make it seem personally applicable to your reader.

Continue reading “Metaphors, Memoirs, and Manuals (oh my!): Bringing Your Nonfiction to Life with Fiction Writing Techniques”

This Is Not for You: A Defense of Second-Person Narration

My name is Hannah, and although I didn’t begin this post writing “your name is Hannah,” I freely admit to (at least sometimes) liking second-person narration. While it may be a little too dramatic to call second person the dark alley of literary writing, it is a place where most modern-day writers of good repute don’t want to be found wandering—and not just for fear of running into whatever sketchy patrons may be lingering there.

Second person has many detractors for many legitimate reasons. Some acquisition editors of literary magazines mention receiving such an onslaught of present-tense second-person short stories that it becomes a “one more and my head is gonna blow” sort of scenario. I’ve heard the argument that use of this POV comes across as trying to strong-arm the reader into the action of the story instead of relying on subtler fundamental storytelling tactics to accomplish the same thing.

Continue reading “This Is Not for You: A Defense of Second-Person Narration”