I'm reading CTHULHU ARMAGEDDON and I have to say... Charles is an entertaining writer. His mythos inspired apocalyptic western is exactly the kind of popcorn reading I love. I think you'll love it, too.
Developing Doomed Characters
A lot of people talk to me about how to write horror stories. I've written quite a few short stories in the genre and I've recently released my post-apocalypse horror novel CTHULHU ARMAGEDDON which does it's best to mix action with the macabre.
However, the trick of creating true horror is a tough one to master because it asks the reader to become invested enough in the storyline that they care enough about the characters that they're worried they might come to harm. Then you must convince them they will.
This is why I recommend a strategy of developing doomed characters. Basically, if you really want to sell a horror story then you had best have a selection of cannon fodder for the monster to eat which the audience cares about. It's a simple enough strategy, right? I mean, slasher movies have been doing it for years. You have a bunch of likable or semi-likable characters and only one of them makes it out alive. Should be a piece of cake, really.
Well, yes, and no.
One of the reasons which The Walking Dead, in all its incarnations, has been so successful is they're not afraid to decimate the cast in both surprising as well as heart-rending ways. However, it's a series which also has suffered from killing characters which the audience cared about while sparing those they didn't.
It's easy to drift into a dark sinkhole of apathy where the audience for your story just doesn't care what happens to the survivors. If everyone is rooting for Character A instead of Character C, Character A dying could make them tune out. Worse, Character C as the star makes the entire purpose of killing Character A pointless. So what's the best strategy for making sure you keep a careful balance of development as well as risk?
My first recommendation is you should make it so the doomed characters are ones who feel like they're going to be a major supporting character to begin with. Heck, make it so they are. You should always kill characters who feel like they have more room to grow.
If Jane, John, Jack, and Wilma go to a cabin in the woods then make it so they have a complex web of personal relationships. Jane is dating John, Jack is brother to Wilma, and Wilma is cheating on her girlfriend with Jane. The death of even one of these characters will send reverberations throughout the story which should followed up on.
Next, you should follow up on the deaths of the characters you do kill so their deaths have meaning for the survivors. A lot of novels effectively drop the dead once they leave the narrative. If you keep the loss fresh in the mind of the characters, then that will have more meaning.
It’s best to avoid making any character's fate related to their likability. Jerks shouldn't die any more than innocents unless you're making a point about behavior and that may undermine the terror of death. Likewise, deaths shouldn’t be telegraphed too much either. If you can make someone look like the hero before killing them without alienating the audience, you’ve really accomplished something special.
In conclusion, it's not just an art form to create characters. It's an even greater art form to make a character's death which exists to make the story scarier.
C.T Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He is the author of The Supervillainy Saga, Cthulhu Armageddon, Straight Outta Fangton, and Esoterrorism. He is also a regular blogger on "The United Federation of Charles."
The Last Days of Salton Academy has been released! This YA horror novel is getting some love.
Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Ragnarok Publications
It's referred to as 'The Outbreak,' and it happened just over three months ago, casting the world (or at least this part of it) into a state of powerlessness and chaos. The Salton Academy has become a rare sanctuary for those few students who remained behind over fall break.
As winter approaches, cracks are revealed in the academy's foundations as it's discovered someone is stealing food, another is taking advantage of a captive audience, and yet others have banded together and are thinking about mutiny, even murder. One thing's for certain — a supply run must be made soon, or everyone will starve before winter's end.
Oh yes, and then there’s the matter of the headmaster’s son and his undead dog…
“The Last Days of Salton Academy is a dark, twisted rollercoaster of a book. Jennifer Brozek knocks it out of the park.” — Stephen Blackmoore, author of City of the Lost and Broken Souls
“If Lord of the Flies had occurred during a zombie outbreak, it would read something like this. A bloody good tale you can really sink your teeth into.” — Timothy W. Long, Author of the Z-Risen series.
“The Last Days of Salton Academy is a delightful character study which combined boarding school antics with the survival horror of a post-apocalypse thriller. The characters are fresh, the dynamics interesting, and the story engaging from beginning to end. It is a YA story I heartily recommend.” — C.T. Phipps, author of Esoterrorism and Wraith Knight
“As much as I love all things undead, what kept me turning pages wasn’t the zombie horde, but something far more horrible: the students and staff of a pretentious prep school. The Last Days of Salton Academy is compulsively readable—I devoured it in one sitting. With a cast of all-too-believable characters and a set of ever-ratcheting disasters, this novel is guaranteed to keep you up past your bedtime.” — Wendy N. Wagner, author of Starspawn and Skinwalkers
Still elbow deep in the current novel. About 2/3rds of the way through. So, here's a Bubble & Squeek for you. Plus a cat picture. Hope all is well with you.
Release: Pre-order The Last Days of Salton Academy - According to Amazon and IPG's schedule, the book will be out on 25 Oct 2016. Yes, there will be an ebook version, too. I will be reading with Mira Grant from this book on November 17th at the university bookstore. It will be an evening of zombie goodness!
Review: New review of Chicks Dig Gaming - I'm pretty happy with this review. It's a good one.
Review: Praise for the Karen Wilson Chronicles - It's always good to hear when someone likes the books you've written. They take so much time to write and to get right. :)
SFWA: SFWA Speakers Bureau - If you're looking for a speaker on something in your local area, the SFWA Speaker's Bureau is a good place to start. Here's my profile.
And, as promised... kitties!
August and September were strange months stats-wise because I had so much editing and travel—Worldcon, Tracon, and a wedding, spanning America, Iceland, and Finland. Now, I’m back home and I’m deep into Sekrit Project Alex
Fiction words written: 148,910
Article words written: 15,700
My novels/collections edited: 11
My short stories proofed: 8
Other novels/anthologies edited: 13
Events attended: 9
Event-wise, I should have only three events left and all of them are in November.
Writing-wise, I have Sekrit Project Alex and the small additional material for that. The main bulk of writing for both should be done by mid-November. Then, I have 3 contracted short stories to write and get to their respective editors by mid-December.
For once, while I am busy, I don’t think I’m burning the candle at both ends for the end of the year writing work. If I keep a steady, consistent pace, all will be well and I will have a couple of planning weeks before I start the new YA series I’m going to write.