Thursday, February 3, 2011

Guest Blogger Toby Tate On How To Be Horrifying

How To Create a Supernatural Horror Scene

“When he got close enough to see what it was, he froze, holding the beam steady, mesmerized by the sight. There were two things pushing sand out of the way now, and something else rising up in the midst of them. A cloud of silt spread out around the thing, partially obscuring it from
Dan‘s view.

“Suddenly it broke free of the ocean floor and rose up like a nightmarish monolith, the cloud of dirt swirling in the lamplight like smoke from the fires of Hell.

“Dan‘s last thought before utter panic set in was that the thing standing before him should not, could not, be alive.”

Those paragraphs are an excerpt from the prologue of my supernatural thriller, DIABLERO, a tale about a demon-possessed Blackbeard the pirate who is brought back from the dead after three hundred years to reestablish the reign of the Great Old Ones on the earth.

I’ve been asked to blog about creating a scene for a supernatural horror novel and thought my own book would be a good reference. I’ve only published one novel in the horror genre so far, but I have done quite a bit of writing about writing for Web sites like and Suite 101, so I figured I’d give it a shot.

In the scene above, a diver on a routine archeological dive discovers something extraordinary and soon realizes that “something” was not what he thought it was. It’s beyond his experience, outside the realm of what he considers everyday reality. In other words, the impossible has become possible, and terrifyingly so. Dead things aren’t supposed to come to life, especially when you’re three hundred feet below the surface of the Atlantic, alone in the suffocating darkness with only a voice on a radio for company.

Good horror takes our mundane existence and shakes it up by suggesting things that we wouldn’t normally consider possible, like demon-possessed pirates coming back to life or doorways to other dimensions populated with ancient, monstrous beings of evil intent. Creating scenes within this context becomes fairly easy as the story progresses because you’re more or less building on what you’ve already started, putting your characters in extraordinary circumstances and seeing what they’ll do next.

 Look at the writings of authors like Edgar Allen Poe or H.P. Lovecraft for a good example of taking ordinary, everyday life and turning it upside down. Poe’s “Telltale Heart” puts a normally docile man in the same house with an old man who has the “evil eye.” Eventually, the old man’s milky-white eye drives the antagonist to become unhinged and do things he wouldn’t normally do—like murder.

My favorite scene in “Telltale Heart” is when, after murdering the old man, the police come to investigate and the murderer becomes overconfident about getting away with the crime. Soon, the heartbeat of the dead old man becomes louder and louder until finally, the young man confesses to the crime. But only he could hear the heartbeat—the police officer heard nothing.

H.P. Lovecraft was a master of creating the dark, sinister atmosphere that other horror and dark fantasy writers frequently imitate. “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” takes an ordinary small town in America and turns it into a breeding ground for evil. In one scene, the main character rides through the town on a bus and notices that the people there look something like a mix between frogs and fish, with small, unblinking eyes and slimy skin. Eventually, the man begins to change into one of these beings himself.

I think all good stories put everyday people in unusual circumstances, so horror stories are no different. The only difference is the circumstances are usually darker and more, well… horrifying. There are different degrees of this and authors like Stephen King, Bentley Little and Clive Barker have built upon the foundation laid by people like Poe and Lovecraft.

I use a lot of dark elements in my short stories and will be using them in my next book, as well. CREATURE, as I’m calling my second novel, will be something of a hybrid between technothriller and horror, so it should be pretty exciting. My current novel, DIABLERO, is available from Amazon and the Nightbird Publishing site as well as from select independent book stores. It will be available as an e-book sometime in April or May.

I’d like to thank Natasha for giving me the opportunity to talk about my favorite subject—writing! For more info and links to my writing, check out my Web site at


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