Saturday, 26 September 2015

Writing horror for kids: love your monster

AVAILABLE NOW: 2 books, just $9.99

The #1 rule I've learned about writing horror stories for kids? Love your monster.

Today is the launch date for my new 2-book bundle of Weird Stories Gone Wrong: Jake and the Giant Hand (2014) and Myles and the Monster Outside (2015). It's a good deal, 2 books for 1 special launch price.
Check it out here.

It's been interesting to try my hand at middle-grade, quick-read horror, and the younger end of middle-grade at that. There are challenges for sure: what's too spooky, what's not spooky enough, how do you keep a younger reader engaged without giving them nightmares?

One way to keep the scare factor in the right ballpark is to hire a talented illustrator who understands the market. Shawna Daigle did the covers and illustrations for both books (and a third book coming in 2016, Carter and the Curious Maze) and nailed the tone for kids 8-12.

Another way to keep the right tone is to love your monster.

Myles & his monster, by Shawna Daigle
A few months after I finished graduate school, my brother-in-law took me to Robert McKee's fantastic, all-weekend scriptwriting course. I highly recommend it. I learned about story arc, character definition, subplotting, humour, horror, and a lot more. There were no MFAs in creative writing in those days, so I'd never actually heard a lecture on HOW to write. It was 36-hours well spent (and at $400 each, far too expensive for me to afford at the time, it was a graduation gift). I learned a lot that weekend, but the one thing that has really stuck out over the years was McKee's discussion of how to love your monster.

It means this: give your monster an eccentricity or recognizable human trait that readers/viewers can relate to. A slight humanity makes your monster more terrifying. Mr. McKee used the example of Peter Boyle as the monster in the movie Young Frankenstein. When he's dressed in top hat and tails, ready to dance with his master (Gene Wilder) on stage at Carnegie Hall, he tips his hat to himself in the mirror just before they go on.

There you have it, monster love. It makes the monster both human and horrifying (because he's not human). We see ourselves in the monster for a second and what could be scarier than that?

I have two monsters. The first in Jake and the Giant Hand, is never seen. He's a missing giant if you will, all we have left of him is the mysterious legend of his long-buried hand. But there's a secret about him you discover (and I can't reveal here!), which makes him very, very human.

The second monster in Myles and the Monster Outside, is a man of fog and mist, following along outside Myles's car as he and his family move to a new home. Myles is only one who can see him ... and once the monster starts to whisper Myles's name, he's the only one who can hear him, too. Is the monster real, imagined, a symbol of Myles's fears made manifest? Or just an annoying echo of the storm outside the car? It was a lot of fun to imagine the monster whispering to Myles whenever Myles was most vulnerable ... and to change his message each time, just enough to eventually become annoying. Kind of like a little brother whispering at the door...

He-he. It's been fun! Monsters are pretty lovable, I've discovered. Who knew?

Read Goodreads review of the series. Read Kirkus Reviews
New author Q&A about writing horror for kids on the Dundurn Blog
Book Trailer for Myles and the Monster Outside
Buy the 2-book bundle now

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