YA 101: The “Horror” genre

A lot of people love a good fright now and then.  There’s something liberating about confronting the fears that scare us the most and living through the terrifying ordeal to tell the tale.

The master horror story-teller to me is Stephen King. The movies have a lot to be desired in most cases, but his books are spine tinglers.  My husband, to this day, cannot watch or read, MISERY.  THE SHINING terrified my oldest son.  I thought CHRISTINE was pure genius, and let’s not forget THE STAND (even if it was a collaborative piece).

But what makes for a great horror story?  Does there have to blood and guts and gore?  The answer is simple:  No.  In fact, some of the best horror stories aren’t bloody at all; they simply take your mind to that place you don’t want to go.  They tap into your ultimate fear and drag you through it, kicking and screaming, forcing you to face the absolute terror from the safety of your own home.

So, what are the key elements to writing horror?

  • Leave as much to the reader’s imagination as possible.
  • provide lots and lots of suspense
  • wind up the story with a satisfying conclusion
  • create believable characters
  • keep even pacing, and
  • provide suggestiveness in descriptions verses giving a blunt, full force gross out.

Finding adult horror can sometimes be a challenge when trying to find suitable books in this genre for teens to read, so what are some good YA horror novels?  Try these if you’re looking for amazing chills:


Save the Cat!

M. L. Swift is hosting this monthly book club event. To learn more about it, click here. This month we’re discussing, Save The Cat! by Blake Snyder.

I heard about this book ages ago.  Someone in a long ago writer’s workshop recommended this book, but when I found out it was a book on screenwriting, I said “Eh” and didn’t pick up again.  I wish I had.

This book is not just for screenwriters.  It’s for every writer who wants to tell a story, whether it be fiction or non-fiction, novel or screenplay or memoir.  Throughout the book, Blake gives astounding information on how to create the pictures you want your audience to see, and how to do it in such a way to get attention from those with the power to get it in front of your audience.  He introduces the writer to loglines and how VERY important they are in the beginning of the writing process.  From there he leads you into test-pitching and give you five games to jump-start your idea-creating skills.

Next he discusses the 10 genres that every movie ever made can be categorized by.  Then it’s off to hero land where he gives you all the how-to’s and why’s of great heroes – what makes them, what breaks them.

One of the great tips he offers up is how to make a storyboard and how to utilize index cards – only 40 of them .  Great way to troubleshoot plots, characters, anything that doesn’t work in your story.  This is an idea I actually started using in the past couple of weeks and I have to tell you, it works!!!

He then takes us on the journey of how to decipher what is wrong with your manuscript, novel, non-fiction piece, whatever it is you’re working on, and he gives you the tried and true, proven methods on how to repair what you’ve written so it will sell.

Last but not least, he gives you the why’s and how’s of the dreaded M word – marketing.

What I liked about Save the Cat! is Blake’s enthusiasm, his love for what he does.  It comes through in every word.  I thought this was going to be a boring book.  Far from it!  He uses humor and his ‘voice’ is down to earth.  He IS the guy next door who has tons of answers, is personable and never treats you like you’re a dummy.  More than anything, he teaches authors how to write the best they can, with the best tools they have, and keep swinging.  To quote:

“They can buy your script and fire you, or rewrite it into oblivion, but they can’t take away your ability to get up off the mat and come back swinging – better and smarter than you were before.”

This book will definitely make you smarter than you were before.  I wish I’d been smarter long ago in that writer’s workshop and purchased this book then.  Oh well.  I have it now.  Trust me, it’s not just for screenwriters.  You can apply it to every aspect of whatever it is you write.  Stephen King’s On Writing is fantastic…Save the Cat! is phenomenal and a must-have.  Get out your sticky tabs and highlighters.  You’re going to need them.  It’s the best book you’ll ever read on how to write material that is enjoyable, marketable, and uniquely yours.