Peter Turley is Back!!!
Learn to edit your setting into one filled with terror that will keep your reader up all night. Choose powerful words that conjure images. Grab secrets from the silver screen to use on the page.
Make the most of the new year with our 30 day challenge!
Here is a quick list of words to pump up and create horror:
Clark: Welcome to the Book Editor show. Today we’re discussing how to edit your setting to add in horror and keep your readers up all night.
But first, if you are ready to move forward with your professional editing, stop by thebookeditorshow.com. We can help you in every stage of your work, from preproduction, developmental editing, copy editing, to proof-reading. Stop by today and let us know how we can help you build a better book.
I’m Clark Chamberlain and legend tells of a man who walks between the land of reality and the land of dreams. And while in those dreams he repairs the creative minds so writers can wake with new inspiration. That legendary man is my friend and co-host Peter Turley. Peter, welcome back. How are you doing?
Peter: I’m awesome. I’m mostly on the side towards dreams than reality.
Clark: Well that’s the side I always like to be on, too.
Peter: I’m doing just great, how are you doing?
Clark: Doing pretty well, you know. It’s been a busy holiday season. I can’t believe that we’re already approaching the end of 2016. So that’s… Where’d the year go?
Peter: It really doesn’t feel that long ago that we were talking in January about how this year was going to be and making plans for the show. It’s been a great year and I think we’ve done some pretty awesome shows, but that feels like two or three months ago. It does not feel like a year gone.
Clark: I know. It’s really crazy and I was thinking about the same thing. When we got started back in last year and then made our big push with our 90-day challenge that we did over the summer, which was just fantastic and did a whole bunch of stuff for us. I’ve got a lot of gratitude. This year has been a big one for me. A lot of moves, a lot of changes that have been very positive in where I want to go professionally. And this show has had a lot to do with that. And I really appreciate you, Peter, it’s just been great to work with a guy who is there, is smart, brings that fantastic voice and is fun.
Peter: Aw, shucks…
Well, the intros are worth it, so…
Clark: Well, that’s good. So do you have plans for the new year, like big goals, aspirations, stuff you’re chasing after?
Peter: Yes, but I think I could do with some help structuring them. I really enjoyed the challenge that we did last year, and I think we should do some more.
Clark: Well what if we did another 30 day challenge? Instead of doing the full 90, what if we went to 30 days, made it easier?
Peter: Yes, because in 90 days, then we could do three.
Clark: That’s right. I know, we could do three in a row. Well, I think that’s a fantastic idea, and in fact, you’ve got to go over there. If you’ve never signed up before on Facebook, definitely jump in.
Actually maybe it’s faster to go through this direction, and it’s the
90daychallenge.website. If you go that that website, 90daychallenge.website, you can sign up right now to get involved. I’ll make sure that the links are all posted here in the show notes and then also on the Book Editor Show Facebook page. You can also go straight over to Facebook.com/groups/bethehero, and that jumps you over to the 30 day challenge as well.
So a couple of different ways to get in there, and what we are going to be doing though is helping — like Peter was saying — help you focus, get the mental game going, so that you can take that New Year’s resolution and run with it, and actually make a big change in your life that’s going to last through 2017.
Peter: I want to say that last year I decided to not do a writing challenge, because it doesn’t have to be — it can be — but it can be personal, professional, however you like. Mine was fitness related. And I actually stuck with it all year, I mean, it transformed my year. I’ve kept it up almost completely for the entire year. It’s just been amazing.
Doing that challenge and being in that group — it sounds like a sort of big thing to say — but it did change my life, and it’s had a lasting effect, and it’s something that I’m going to take into the future now and keep up, even after the challenge ends.
The group is awesome and helpful, and everyone’s in there to just chip in every now and then and help each other and to check in and keep everyone accountable. So outside of the challenge, it’s a great thing year round to be a part of.
Clark: Yes, it absolutely is, it’s a fantastic group. So go in there; either sign up through the website, go over to Facebook, get signed up. No cost, it’s free for you. You’re going to get daily motivation; you’re going to have the group there to help support you. And again, any goal you choose. If it’s just a simple resolution, if it’s something more intense, whatever it is, we’re going to be there to help you, give you the right mindset, give you the right tools so that you can actually put it to work for you and make it last throughout the year. So I’m excited about that.
For me, it’s a big thing about accountability. When I can get up and I know that I’m going to get up in front of the camera every day, I do better because I want to say “yes, I accomplished the goal.”
Peter: Yes, and just putting it out there and being verbal, and daily reminding yourself that you’re on a path and you’ve got a direction in front of you. It is just sort of a really powerful thing.
Clark: Yes, so one other thing not related to the challenge, moving along with the show.
Wanted to let you know to make sure that you update. We’re going to be doing a switch over the next few weeks. It will be on both feeds for a little while, but within a month, we’ll be moved over to a new podcast hosting platform, and so we’ll have all those notes in here so that you can grab and make sure that you don’t miss any episodes.
For sure if you like Facebook, Book Editor’s Show Facebook page, we’ll give you all the information there, too.
So anyway, just be aware of that as we’re making some changes, and it’s going to be very positive for everybody. Change is good, because that’s what happens.
Peter: Yes, and that’s what 2017 is going to be about.
Clark: That’s what it is. All right.
So let’s dive into this. How long, this show’s been sitting here since Halloween we’ve been talking about doing this show?
Peter: Yes, it’s been sitting here for so long that we had an entire bunch of service announcements built up.
Clark: So I really am excited. This would have been fun to do at Halloween, but it’s great right before Christmas because there is nothing better at Christmas than good old horror.
Peter: You know, it was fun to be an amazing Halloween show. Well let’s be honest, we write horror all year round, you know?
Clark: I know, just come to the show. Just check out the…
Peter: You want horror, go listen to the earlier episodes.
Clark: Oh, yes, I know.
Peter: It frightens me.
Clark: They might not make it over to the new podcast feeds.
Peter: Might get lost in the digital ether.
Clark: One of the things that we wanted to take a look at with horror though, is adding it to it.
So let’s say that you are doing of course, a book in the horror genre and sure, you can have this fantastic monster, you can have crazy people or whatever, but one of the things that you don’t want to forget is that you can add a lot of intense scenes right through your setting, and how you create that initial setting, and where the events are taking place.
That’s one of the things we want to take a look at today, is how you can bump that up when you get into the editing process so that you can really scare the pants off your readers.
Peter: Yes, because…
You can’t say that live on air. [laughs]
Clark: No. [laughs] I just realized I’ve also said “keeping them up all night” and now we’re “scaring the pants off them,” so I don’t know what’s going on. But, no.
So setting this horror — what we’re talking about of course, the classic idea of a setting that is in a horror film is the haunted house.
Peter: Numero uno.
Clark: That’s the number one thing; that’s where our basis is for when we start talking about this, and we’re going to spread that out and change this up.
Today, in our new planned communities, I don’t know that we have a lot of those old, creepy houses, so I don’t think my son… There is not a neighborhood house that he would walk to and be freaked out about, but there sure was when I was a kid. I’m being serious about this, I lived on Elm Street, I grew up on Elm Street.
Peter: That explains a lot.
Clark: It does. Right there at the end of Elm Street was this really creepy house, and they know it was a creepy house, so at Halloween they would hang dummies, like mannequins out of trees and do all this other creepy stuff just to add to it, to up play the whole mystique of it.
Let’s say you don’t have that. Let’s say that your book is written in a community. A suburban type community, where all the houses look the same. How can you take that house that looks the same and then create that feeling of horror?
One of those things that I wanted to take a look at, is the way you describe things.
Think about the words that you are using when you are describing a setting. You come up to this place; it looks the same as everything else, but it’s a feeling. It’s a feeling that the kids get when they walk past the place, that that house, even though it looks the same it’s not the same as everywhere else.
So you think about as the kids walk by, and they hear… They don’t hear a cry coming from inside the house, they hear a wail, they hear a howl, a groan. So think of these other types of words, these more powerful words that you can use when you start to describe a setting to really punch it up.
Those types of words — “wail” “howl” “groan” — those immediately add something different than “cry.” “Cry” can be a baby. But if you hear something howling, you hear something wailing, that’s a completely different type of image that gets conjured up into your head.
Peter: I think it can be useful. You almost see the setting as a character. If you’re going to describe a character, and you want them to be distinct and different to the other characters then you are going to use unique, individual, evocative words.
“It was decaying, the walls splintered…” Powerful, strong words to conjure up images.
You don’t want to say just “the black wall” or “the wooden fence.” Really, just as you would a character. And that’s how I approach setting. Especially when you are looking at a piece of horror, what better word could you use here? Obviously word choice is applicable to everything that we do, but especially when — as Clark said — you are trying to turn something that’s possibly quite ordinary into extraordinary.
Clark: Of course. Maybe you do have the haunted house already that’s already there. These can work for it as well. But this certainly will work when you are trying to take something that looks the same and make it changed.
We’re going to get to another idea, flip side of that, a little bit later, but let me give you a few of these other words that I had pulled out here.
“Wretched,” “whimper” — these are words that conjure up different types of imagery — “agony,” “apocalypse,” “beware,” — you got that woman who’s telling the kids to beware.
“Blood bath,” “blood-curdling,” “bloody,” “cadaver,” “catastrophe,” “corpse.”
“Cripple,” “feeble,” “frantic,” “horrific,” “insidious,” “nightmare,” “plague,” “poison.”
“Pummel,” “reckoning,” “searing,” “shatter,” “shackle,” “slaughter,” “terror,” “toxic.”
And if you notice, one of the things that when I’m saying these words — that my mouth really opens, that they make a very large sound. “Corpse” — my mouth has to open wide to make that. It’s not a very small sound, it’s a very large sound, it’s a very big sound.
“Feeble,” “frantic,” “horrific.” These are the types of words, and you can start to put this stuff in there. Not only are they powerful on their own — they’re much more descriptive than their weaker, vague counterparts — but they also create a larger feeling.
We’ve talked about that before from a book called Word Hero. You’re taking something and you’re using these types of large sounding consonants and vowels that then create a bigger, scarier feel to the word itself.
Peter: Yes, it’s almost poetic or lyrical. I mean, if you’re ever struggling with word choice, maybe read some poetry. It can really teach you, like Clark referring to there about sounds, and obviously, there’s a difference between describing a sound but then also, the sound that that word owns. The sound that you’re making when you read that word. And like “wail,” when you hear a wailing, it sounds like it is. So the word itself conjures up a feeling in you just because of the way the word sounds, not even the sound that the word is describing. And I think knowing that difference can be a really useful tool when you’re choosing the best word.
Clark: Yes, and I think you could jump back to pick up Edgar Allan Poe. He certainly was a
master of his craft in the day, and, of course, they wrote different then. And you do have a more poetic feel with everything. Of course, some of it is poetry, but —
Peter: The Telltale Heart is great.
Clark: Right, and these things — the imagery that it conjures up is very powerful. And the descriptive words that we use, I think we’ve covered that pretty well, but this is something you’ll want to do. Start taking a look at your vague words — “scary,” “felt worried” or whatever the word is — and take a look to see what kind of words you can use to punch that up. So that’s the first thing, you want to hit that pretty hard there.
But then another one of these is that overall, we want to create a gloomy, maybe a gloomy type feeling. You want to have the setting have a feeling. How do the people act when they are in that setting? Do they feel scared? Are they starting to cross their arms trying to be protective of themselves? Start using this type of things.
The setting — and it’s really interesting — say that you go to a hospital; you go to a wing in the ward where people are dying. You can feel the difference in there than you go over to the side where the new babies are at. There is a real difference that people bring with it, and that emotion can play there and you want to play with that emotion in your book, so that when someone walks into this place that they feel it.
They don’t even just feel it; they see it. If you look at the other person, they can tell they’ve got that scared look on their face. Something’s going on here and they need to figure out what it is.
But you want to paint that feeling, that emotion, all the time in that setting.
Peter: Yes, and you referred to the look on a character’s face. Obviously, story is priority, and we don’t necessarily bog down with too much setting. But you can portray the setting in a variety of ways. You can do it in description, as we’re talking, our descriptive words, our adjectives that we’re using to describe things.
But as Clark said, you can also… The look on a character’s face — you can do it in dialogue and you can do it in action in the way that a character interacts with the setting around them. You can have the setting move the plot forward and have it work almost as a plot device. You know, you could have an object that triggers a flashback that moves the plot forward. So at the same time it builds atmosphere, creates a scary scene, a scary feeling but keeps the story moving simultaneously.
Clark: Yes. So there’s a lot you can do here, so don’t just look for the monster to handle the horror in your story. There is so much other places that you can do this, and your setting is one of these, and so the whole overall atmosphere, the word choice that you use…
Peter, what was your next one?
Peter: Dialogue, description, and action. So, the way the character is interacting with the world around them.
Clark: So those are all really good ways that you can do this.
Another idea — just steal this one straight from the silver screen, how they do it in Hollywood — is the idea of point the camera at the door. What this means is that I want you to edit your work so that you’re starting to direct your attention to maybe a particular object or to a place in that setting, so that the reader really starts to notice it — over and over again or even in just one scene that the eyes are drawn to that. The idea of pointing the camera at the door is — something is on the other side of that door and it’s trying to get in, and they know that it’s going to come from there. They hear a noise outside, and now they’re staring at the door and they’re waiting for that door to break down and something to come in and get them.
Whatever that is — and that’s just an idea; it doesn’t mean literally that you focus on just the door — but whatever that is — that object, the place, the thing that they’re looking at, start deliberately pointing your reader to pay attention to it. You’re bringing it up over and over again so that they see it there in that scene, and that they’re worried about it. Because that can start to create tension for the reader. Because how you’re directing the camera — quote unquote the camera here — is what the reader is going to pay attention to, and if the reader knows that that’s important they’re going to start to wait and expect, and something is going to come through that. Whether something comes through that door, imagery of a door, or not, it doesn’t matter. But they’re going to start to feel a tension of something about to happen there.
Peter: Yes, that’s amazing. I think that’s just a great exercise to try, and it exemplifies that link between a place and emotion. And I think to really compound that effect and increase that tension, consider — what is it about this thing or this situation. So they’re in a room, there’s a door, or if you go in with that one, what is about this situation that’s making the protagonist vulnerable, and how is the reader going to share that feeling of vulnerability and how can you get that across? They could be equally vulnerable in a crowd as they could be in an isolated place or an abandoned building, or cowered in the corner of a room staring at this door, but just remembering that that’s the feeling we’re trying to evoke.
Clark: Right, because it’s not just making your protagonist scared — you can describe the fear the protagonist is having — but you want to start adding tension to the reader. The reader needs to feel that tension, needs to feel that fear in themselves, and the only way you can do that — they have to be invested in the protagonist, they’ve got to care that something could happen to the protagonist. Just like Peter was saying, it was like “why?” So when they can do that then that’s going to help connect that as well.
Peter: Yes. I think by effectively describing your horror setting, what you’re doing that way is you’re setting up reader expectation. If your character wanders into an abandoned asylum, the reader is going to expect certain things to happen, and knowing what those expectations are as you move into those scenes allows you to then play with that. Are you going to play with the expectations? Are you going to subvert them? And describe the setting accordingly.
Clark: Right, because I know — like when I’m watching the horror movie — I know that that jump scare is coming. I just know that it’s coming, and I don”t even want to watch
because I know that that’s where we’re going.
But then a lot of times… So you set up for that jump scare, you set up for how you’re doing it either with the idea of pointing the camera to the door, or that we’re in an abandoned mental hospital so that we know something’s going to happen there. And then yes, that you don’t–
Peter: And I really hate that they’ve started doing new things with jump scares. It’s this playing with expectations, so like the camera will very slowly be zooming in on something, and you were looking in the distance waiting to see something, but then something pops up right in front of the screen and you know you were looking in the distance, and you get caught short, and I just hate it.
Clark: And of course, we have to do that as people get more and more used to the thing that has always been done, right? Like a horror movie, you start adding that scary music and you know something’s about to happen, well then they start doing the scenes where something jumps out where there’s no music, where you have this moment of just calm. In fact —
Peter: You almost catch yourself relaxing, don’t you? Just before it happens, and you’re like — oh no.
Clark: Yes, you ever have that moment where you’re like — oh, things are alright — that’s when it’s going to get you.
Although not a movie, not a book, but a video game from way back in the day, Resident Evil II, had a great scene like this. They did this a few times in the game, where you go past the same thing several times, like you’re walking past this window, several times. You know it’s making you go over here to do a puzzle, and you’ve got to go back over there and you’re fighting some zombies, and you go back over here, and pretty soon you walk past this place time and time again and you become really relaxed. You know? And then on that sixth time, you walk past it you’re going to be all relaxed, and something jumps out of that window to get you.
That’s the other thing — the managing that expectation. Like, it’s all normal, normal, normal — bam, it’s not.
Peter: Yes, I hate that. I think I know the exact bit you’re referring to as well.
Clark: Man, it made me jump a lot.
So this idea, though — we’re going to change expectations and then we could circle this back around to the beginning where we were talking about — your horror setting is in a suburban neighborhood. So that certainly is not your normal haunted house or anything like that. That’s taking an expectation and turning it.
Another master at this is — take a look at the book Nosferatu by Joe Hill and it’s about this guy who takes kids to Christmasland, that sounds great right? Nice holiday story. What could go wrong there? Except that the guy is shuffling them across because he’s some kind of like vampire-type creature and Christmasland is his place where he holds them forever and sucks out the life energy from them.
So, anyway it’s taking that great —
Peter: Sounds like a lovely story.
Clark: Yes it was quite scary. Creepy. It was really creepy and that’s I guess the idea. It’s not that it was scary in itself, because the idea of this place where kids can go to Christmasland and they can eat cookies all day and hang ornaments and all this kind of stuff — that just seems really nice and easy.
Then you take something like that that is naturally just wonderful and sweet and no horror involved at all. And then you take it and you make it into something like Christmasland that then becomes synonymous with this really crazy story.
So look at these other places. If your setting is too… If you got the house on the hill, it’s too much that then change it up and make it something that seems like it should be nice. You can go back I guess with Hansel and Gretel. You go into the witch’s candymade house, right? This should be a nice place to go inside, and then that sometimes can be the worst place to go.
Peter: Yeah, I can’t remember where I read it, I think it may have been a Writer’s Digest article — I wish I could give credit for this. And it said to “invade the ordinary with the terrifying” and it’s that idea that when you’re in an ordinary setting like that or a setting where the reader feels safe and doesn’t expect certain things to happen like Christmasland, then when they do happen they seem all the worse for just because they’re in such contrast to the setting. So these horrifying things — it’s like black and white. If your protagonist wanders off alone into the woods after someone’s escape from prison, then you kind of put two and two together and get four.
Clark: Right. But if they’re going down to take the kids to the carousel, and then everything turns into some portal to another horror dimension, or something like that, it’s hitting them with the left hook, so it’s the thing they don’t see coming. That can be really great with your settings. You can create these settings which just feel so nice, and even play with that. Have the setting, like we were saying before. It’s nice, it’s nice, it’s nice, it’s nasty…
Peter: And if you’re using an ordinary setting, also consider that you can be even more scarce with your description because if it’s a familiar setting, then you need fewer words to paint the picture in the reader’s mind. If you’re explaining what it’s like to walk around some creepy underground lair, then you might need to describe it more because not many of us have been in creepy underground lairs.
Clark: I work in one, but —
Peter: Yes. So I say creepy underground lair, and it painted the picture in Clark’s mind entirely.
Clark: Entirely, it was like, I see that, I see that right here.
Peter: That feels familiar.
Clark: Uh huh. So I need to pull the hatch and drop down inside.
I remember growing up on Elm Street there, we had a basement that was completely unfinished, and it was creepy. You had to walk down the flight of stairs before you could pull the string on the light bulb to turn it on. And it had that musty smell odor and rock wall and all this type of stuff. And if you can get a chance to see places like that and experience that, then you can start to add that in because we naturally do that. We naturally anticipate fear. Or not anticipate fear, we have fear to anticipate something that’s going to happen to us to try to keep us safe. And that happens right from childhood, like that scary place down in the basement.
Peter: Yes, and even in that short description you gave, there’s a sense of vulnerability. There’s one tiny light bulb with a really tiny string hanging off it, and that’s the only lighting source and there’s one way in, one way out. You’re in a vulnerable position.
Clark: Yes. So just don’t forget your setting. You can amp up your entire horror genre book just by going back in and tweaking the setting and trying some of these things out. Peter, did you have anything else that you wanted to add in?
Peter: No, no, I think that’s… I feel we’d be in danger of saying too much. I mean, you go back and you’re looking for the right word, and that uniqueness of setting. Or, a stronger word to describe what could be an overused setting. If you’re using something that’s been in a million texts before, what detail are you going to draw attention to that’s going to make it a little bit different and a little bit scarier? And we don’t need to be heavy handed when we do that.
Clark: No, it’s a really good way to wrap that up.
Just a reminder again, two reminders. First of all, make sure that you jump over there, get into the 30 day challenge. The second thing, remember that we’re going to be updating our platform. So there’s going to be a new RSS feed that’ll be coming out. This should be pretty seamless. We’ll let you know where everything’s at as that comes along.
Peter: “Should be” being the key word there.
Clark: Yes. So this show here is being recorded on the new one, but then we’re going to be uploading it to our old platform as well until we make sure that everyone has transitioned over, so. At any rate, I hope that it’s going to be an easy transition for all of us.
If you enjoy the show, and I know that you enjoy it now that Peter’s back here, please leave us a review on iTunes or Stitcher, or like on YouTube and follow us on Facebook. And if you’re ready to edit your book to emotionally connect with your readers, stop by thebookeditorshow.com and download our free worksheet. I’m Clark Chamberlain, and for my co-host Peter Turley, keep writing, keep learning, and build a better book. [end]