Thrills and Chills, Or Bloody As Hell?

n. an intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust.

n. an intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust.

What makes a good horror story? I often ask myself this. It seems everyone has different ideas on the answer. A great horror novel to me usually involves suspense, mystery, drama, and sometimes a little romance.

There are a ton of subgenres for horror: gothic, contemporary, supernatural, psychological, science-fiction, erotic, satanic/religious, and more. I’m a reader who loves suspense much more than gore. So contemporary dark fantasy horror is probably my favorite subgenre.

no imagination, no horrorIt seems many books I pick up that are categorized in the horror genre regardless of subgenre have bloody violence in them. Although I do think some scenes call for such graphic displays for impact, I don’t support adding abhorrence just for the sake of it. I love dark, creepy characters. I think they add more to a story than an isolated display of terror. Complex, eerie characters draw in my attention. I want to know what makes them tick. Strange situations and sinister plot twists are also delectable to me. I enjoy the startling feeling when something happens in a book I never expected.

I guess I just think it’s a mistake to add a gruesome scene to a story just because the writer assumes it must have that in order to be considered real horror. There have been many stories I’ve read that would benefit from deleting a blood-soaked display that seemed to be only added as unnecessary description. I think the story itself is much more important than the pageantry of a hideous monster devouring a bloodied, screaming girl. Of course, that’s only my opinion. Considering the popularity of the many Saw movies, I could be way off base here.

Overlook Hotel

“Sometimes human places, create inhuman monsters.” – Stephen King, The Shining

I believe a good story has many facets of the genres available out there. Real life covers many different domains. Why shouldn’t a written story as well? As a writer I think every story reflects reality. Even fantasy has realistic attributes that have readers believing fictional characters and places truly exist. I would love to some day crawl through the back of an old wardrobe and find myself in another world. Maybe Narnia, maybe some place more like the Overlook Hotel.

So why do we consider any story a representation of the horror genre? Well, a good horror story frightens and even shocks its readers. The story usually focuses on death, evil, or a demonic presence, or the after-life. All this seems like enough creepiness to keep me reading without adding causeless carnage.

Sometimes the woods are a dangerous place...

Sometimes the woods are a dangerous place…

A great story involving deep, dark characters keep me loyal to many authors of the horror genre. Kathryn Meyer Griffith’s Evil Stalks The Night is a great read that still causes me to shiver when darkness floods the woods around my home. Of course, Stephen King is a huge favorite of mine too. The suspense he builds is phenomenal when little Danny Torrance fears the fire hose mounted on the wall is going to strike at him. I felt like I was holding my breath for four pages. The short stories of Joe Hill and Edgar Allan Poe are also favorites I’ve reread many times.

Ultimately I just don’t believe gore equals good. It’s more like gore equals gross for me.

What do you think? Is an unholy bloodbath necessary in the horror novels you read? Or are you happier when the thrill and suspense are the more prominent characteristics?

How I Use Writing Prompts

I recently tried writing prompts for the first time within a writers’ group. I always thought writing prompts would have me starting a million different short stories and consequently prohibit me from ever finishing any of them or ever working on my novel again.

doh!I could not have been more wrong in my thinking.

Not only was creating with writing prompts fun, it really got my creativity flowing! It was enlightening for this newbie writer.

I’ve since been using writing prompts to get my mind back in the game after my daily lunch break from plugging away at my novel. In the past I’ve simply sat at my desk hoping inspiration would somehow pop into my mind for me to finish where I’d earlier left off in my novel. Now I have a concise plan using writing prompts!

I just sit down at my desk and let three or four writing prompts kick off the inspiration and creativity before picking up my manuscript and adding to it again. Not only is this new plan helping me get more done on my work-in-progress, but I’ve collected a few golden nuggets from the prompts I’ve used. These new story snippets go into my “Future Projects” folder where I keep a collection of partial stories, written scenes, and story ideas to delve into when my current project is finally finished.

If you’re more inspired by pictures, photos, or graphics (or simply addicted to Pinterest), then check out these other writing prompts I’ve found…

cook your brother promptaxe girl prompt







So I avoid any writing prompts that seem too serious. It’s just too difficult for me to create a few sentences on such subjects like this prompt seems to include…


I try to use prompts that don’t require a week’s worth of research or create the fear of God’s wrath upon me for my response. Of course, that’s just me. Every writer requires different inspiration I suppose. What’s yours?

Maggie vs Mr. Stalker

Eleven-year-old Maggie skipped into the alley. Her braids bounced against her bubblegum-pink hoodie as she hopped over the puddles from last night’s rain. She opened the ugly paint-chipped metal door that stood against the large brick wall on her right. It swung out easily and she disappeared inside.

man with glassesThe balding middle-aged man stalked behind her. He opened the door slowly and peered into darkness. He stepped inside and wrinkled his nose to the cool, musty scent. He heard the girl’s humming echoing from the corner of the room. He slinked toward his prey in the cobweb-covered basement. She was standing in the far corner with her back to him. As he walked closer he could see she was brushing a dirty, worn doll’s hair with a small plastic brush. She was still humming. A grin danced across his stubbly face as sweat collected on his forehead and temples. He pushed up his thick glasses and licked his lips. He clutched one of her braids and softly stroked it down to the tip.


Maggie turned calmly and smiled back at her stalker.

“You shouldn’t touch little girls.”

Her mouth contorted into something larger as her teeth began to point in all directions. Her body elongated and turned to an inky black. Her stalker was now looking up at a dark towering figure with large yellow eyes. Its mouth was filled with extremely white, sharp teeth. Its grin widened as it looked down at the pitiful human in front of it. It struck out with leathery claws and snapped the man in half. The creature stepped over the bloody mess in front of it and walked toward the brick column in the middle of the room.

alleyway-581109__180Each time its foot hit the floor it looked more and more like Maggie again. Once again her braids hung against her pink hoodie as she stood in front of the pillar. She brought her little forefinger up to the brick. The black ooze on her fingertip added another tally mark to the dark streaks in front of her. Nine. She got rid of nine now.

Maggie glanced back at her dead stalker and smiled. She skipped out the big metal door back into the alley.

Books vs. Movies

Books and movies are both stories produced for our entertainment, but is one truly better than the other? It seems every time I watch a book-turned-movie I’m disappointed. Inevitably the book is always better and I curse Hollywood with dark magic for destroying a favorite story of mine. Well, maybe that’s my own imagination talking too much.

I do believe a great story can be told through both books and movies. (So don’t start posting comments calling me a movie-Nazi.) But I can’t think of a single movie I’ve watched and thought to myself, Wow! That was so much better than the book. Of course, that’s not to say I don’t enjoy watching a good flick while munching on some butter soaked popcorn. I am human after all.

Jack ReacherHollywood loves to reinvent popular books on the silver screen. I’m just not convinced their interpretation is always correct (or even close). Consider the actors chosen for some of the books turned into films. The recent movie, Jack Reacher, is a perfect example. However you feel about Tom Cruise is moot when considering the character described in Lee Child’s book series. Jack Reacher is supposedly 6’5″ tall with a broad 50-inch chest and weighs about 250 pounds. Seriously? Maybe I’m thinking of a different Tom Cruise.

Hunger Games is another good example of character differences. In the story, the blonde curly-haired Peeta Mellark is a baker’s son. Consequently he never goes hungry and his family is considered part of the privileged merchant class in District 12. Readers in my book club pictured him as a sweet boy with a little extra dough around his middle. Whereas the movie avoids portraying Peeta as a chunky teen and opts for a hunky muscular adolescent instead (I guess the teen/tween market for ticket sales is too big for Hollywood to ignore).

world war zMany movies are successful at drawing the crowds, but that doesn’t mean they represent the original story the author created. The film World War Z has little more than its title in common with Max Brooks’ novel of the same title. I enjoyed watching Brad Pitt’s action-packed movie version on the massive theater screen, but it’s not a good representation of the book. The movie focuses on a resourceful main character and his fight to keep his family safe while helping save the world. (Um, typical action movie plot here.) In the book, Pitt’s character is only one of many who give their accounts of the Zombie War throughout the globe. The novel falls into the horror genre and explores the global human fear of the end of the world.

Movies are in fact an interpretation of the combined efforts of a director, producer, screen writer and cinematographer. These few people decide what’s important enough for me and the rest of their audience to see on the big screen. It’s a carefully constructed experience – no imagination required for the viewer.

A book is much more personal to its audience than a movie. Every reader brings their own experiences to the interpretation of a book. Every book needs its reader’s imagination to be involved in its story and create a world unique to their own mind. There is no cinematographer to decide details on the setting for us. We, as readers, get to picture what it will all look like as we digest word after word. This gives us endless possibilities within our own imaginations. Interpretation is everything. Readers make their own perfect movie version of every novel they read because they visualize it in their minds.

So which is better: books or movies? Because two things are different doesn’t make one better than the other. I enjoy the entertainment and inspiration they both bring me. But because they are indeed different, I need to judge them as such. Otherwise, a comparison to the book usually leaves the film in the dust.
What do you think: books or movies? Do you prefer one over the other? Are there any books-turned-movies you’ve enjoyed?

Almost Home

When Emily rose from the icy depths the tents were gone. Smoldering remnants of her beloved camp surrounded her. Disorderly black ash replaced her once pristine lab and temporary home. The pungent odor of fuel burned her nose and throat.

“Mike! Susan! Roberto!”

Her eyes watered as she scanned for her friends past wafts of smoke. After spending almost a year together in this frozen wasteland she hadn’t considered them just co-workers for a long time.

She lifted a thin piece of sheet metal on the edge of the blackened devastation. Her eyes swelled and her stomach churned. Susan’s bright red boots were the only recognizable feature on the charred body in front of her. She fell to her knees and sat back on her heels trying to swallow the hard knot in her throat.

There was nothing left of her camp. Remembering her supplies were just delivered two days ago, she knew there would be no help coming to her for another month. She was on her own.

Emily stood up. Her eyes examined the rubble for anything that might be of use to her. She managed to find the remnants of the camp radio. Unlike its owner Mike’s coat was untouched so she zipped it shut over her scuba suit. She needed something other than flippers on her feet though. Acid bubbled up to the back of her mouth as she recalled Susan’s singed red boots.

She never visited any of the other camps. She only knew they existed from speaking with the pilot, James, who brought her supplies. He was supposed to take her home next month. She remembered him telling her of another camp less than fifty miles east. If she could make it there, she’d find help.

She had no food or water, but somehow having her knife on her hip gave her comfort. As she trudged along through the thick snow her thoughts raced. She tried to shirk off the panic by calculating in her head the last ice measurements she took. All the numbers in the world couldn’t seem to keep the fear inducing questions from springing back to her mind though.

The sunshine was constant and she found it difficult to know what time of day it was. How long had she been walking? While time escaped her the cold lashed against her face, splitting her pursed lips.

snowy footprintsHer body begged for rest. She sat down on the arctic powder shivering. She pulled her knees to her chest resting her head on them. Burning relief washed over her eyes when she closed them. When she finally raised her head again, the fur trim on Mike’s hood danced throwing dusty flakes on her lap. Ice painted her lashes silver making it difficult to see anything but the dazzling white converging on her. But she rose up and stumbled on.

Ducking against the brisk air’s punishment, she looked down as she trudged on. She stopped abruptly at the sight of footprints partially erased by the ravenous wind. She turned full circle squinting in search of another human being.


The wind mocked her with a response. She followed the prints convinced they would lead her to the savior she couldn’t see.

Emily surrendered to disbelief at the second set of fading footprints. She stared at them looking toward the direction they were leading her. One set mimicked another appearing to be the same in size and shape. Her breath halted and her heart sank as she placed Susan’s boot on top of one of the impressions. Hysteria enveloped her entirety as she matched the boots to the other set of prints as well. Tears would burn her cheeks if the wind hadn’t already stolen them.

Blue ice stretched to the horizon, fading into the blinding rays of another waning winter sun. Her defeat gave way to euphoria as she glanced down. Her body tensed and her violent shivers forced her to her knees. Crawling on the ice, she peered forward into the vastness. She thought she saw smoke swirling from a chimney surrounded by bright yellow and orange tents. Her mind continued with tricks when she heard feet crunching against the snow that lay ahead. She was ready for her rescuers. With warm thoughts of home her heavy eyelids closed as she laid face-down on the snow-covered ice beneath her.