Sunday afternoon, I attended the “How to Write Frightening Fiction” workshop facilitated by author C.S. O’Cinneide (Carole) at the University of Guelph. A former IT business analyst with 25+ years of technical writing experience, Carole has written Petra’s Ghost, a novel that resonates with both literary and horror communities.
From an early age, Carole enjoyed writing fiction. While she enjoyed her IT career, she hoped to write a novel someday. At midlife, Carole decided to seek inspiration and direction on the Camino di Santiago.
Her supportive husband looked after their two teenage daughters and a German exchange student while Carole was away.
Walking 30 kilometers each day, Carol completed the ancient five-hundred-mile pilgrimage that crosses Northern Spain in one month. During that time, a woman was abducted and killed on the Camino.
When Carole returned to Canada, she spent two years writing and editing Petra’s Ghost, a novel loosely based on that tragedy. Intrigued by the storyline, Dundurn Press offered Carole a contract within three days of receiving the manuscript.
At Sunday’s meetup, Carole shared information and advice in an entertaining and interactive session. A short Q & A period followed.
Here are seven nuggets that captured my interest:
• Terror and horror are not mutually exclusive—most scary fiction is a mixture of the two ends of the spectrum that has terror on one end and horror at the other.
• Horror gives people a safe place to face their fears. In one of the exercises, we were asked to list 10 things that frightened us. In the sharing session that followed, a number of “fears” emerged, among them sharks, earthquakes, and shame/embarrassment.
• Don’t terrify readers the entire time. Use a balance of light and dark to give the reader a break from the tension at regular intervals.
• Develop an inner struggle to match the external one. Publishers and readers want a deeper story to go with the thrills and chills.
• Make the threat real and present for the reader. Writing in the present tense can add to the immediacy of the danger.
• A “hook” is essential when writing frightening fiction. Write the first chapter and then find the place where the “hook” occurs (often halfway or near the end of the chapter). Rewrite, starting from the hook. The earlier prose can be reused as backstory or flashback.
• Speak the language to get your book published. Do your research and decide on the best descriptor (magical realism, psychological suspense, speculative fiction, etc.) for your manuscript.
A man’s pilgrimage becomes something from his darkest nightmares when secrets arise and ghosts haunt his path.
A woman has vanished on the Camino de Santiago, the ancient five-hundred-mile pilgrimage that crosses northern Spain. Daniel, an Irish expat, walks the lonely trail carrying his wife, Petra’s, ashes, along with the damning secret of how she really died.
When he teams up to walk with vibrant California girl Ginny, she seems like the perfect antidote for his grieving heart. But a nightmare figure begins to stalk them, and Daniel’s mind starts to unravel from the horror of things he cannot explain.
Unexpected twists and turns echo the path of the ancient trail they walk upon. The lines begin to blur between reality and madness, between truth and the lies we tell ourselves.
Books on Horror
Danse Macabre (Stephen King)
Monster, She Wrote (Editors: Lisa Kröger, Melanie R. Anderson)
Horror: A Literary History (Xavier Aldana Reyes)
Writing Horror (Edo Van Belkom)
Thanks to Karen Ralph and Marion Thorpe for organizing this event.