Writing Horror (When You Didn’t Think You Could)

Ivan Ewert’s debut horror novel, FAMISHED: THE FARM, was released October 12, 2012 through Apocalypse Ink Productions. It has been described as “a lovely, gruesome book” and is available through Amazon.com. His work has previously appeared in the award-winning anthology Grants Pass, as well as in Human Tales and Space Tramps: Full-Throttle Space Tales. His dark supernatural novella, Idolwood, was serialized in the e-zine The Edge of Propinquity throughout the year of 2011. Ivan can be reached at www.ivanewert.com and on Twitter @IvanEwert.


The last horror movie I saw was the original Jaws, in 2006. I never watched it before then. I was too frightened.

Today I’m a published horror author.

I admit it doesn’t really add up.

Horror’s not something I thought was in me, and yet FAMISHED: THE FARM apparently gave a few readers nightmares. It’s  been called “super gruesome” and “disturbing,” and I suppose there are a few scenes that fit that bill. Still, I really only felt the disturbing feelings it awoke during a single scene – and that had more to do with the emotional betrayal of the characters than the horrific acts being described.

So how did I write up-front horror when I didn’t think it was part of me?

  1. Look to the ordinary and make it terrible. I’ve got a bad habit, a mild case of dermatophagia. In English? I bite at my nails and skin. I don’t even think about it most times, but when I saw the divots in the pads of my thumbs, the white moistness of the flesh? That played a big part in FAMISHED’s conception. I had friends whose parents were farmers, and saw the way beasts of burden had to be handled, saw the easy decrepitude barns can sink into. There’s terror in your household cleaning supplies, in the rotting food in the back of your fridge, in the way a glass shatters and splinters against the floor. Use it.
  2. 2.       Have sympathy for your little angels. I dislike most horror films because I empathize with the victims. Even during trailers, I find myself thinking of their families, their children, wondering if mom or dad or their baby is ever coming home again. I wonder how I would react if someone I loved went missing, and imagine the worst … and then I write it down.
  3. 3.       … and sympathy for the devil. If your villain’s just a killer – or worse, a craaaaaazy killer, man – you’re not going to be able to make things horrible enough. Everyone in fiction has to have a reason or an explanation for the things they do, bar none. My villains in the Farm alternately believe they’re saving civilization, or rebelling against laws they find unjust; but they have reasons for doing what they do. That made my scenes in the pigpen, the loft, and the punishment chair much simpler to write.
  4. 4.       Writing. Is. Exorcism. Truth. Writing the scenes was sometimes difficult, and often done in the darkness. Once it was on the computer screen, though, the worst was over. I didn’t dream about the way the knife would feel, or the heat of the blood, or the voice of the Wound. It was done, and after a week, a clinical eye could be turned on the phrases without feeling my stomach lurch.
  5. 5.       Use your fears. Fearless heroes aren’t horror heroes, they’re hardboiled. Antiseptic terror is cranked out by a formula that counts decapitations like Harlequin counts heartbeats. If something makes you frightened, that’s half the battle! Grab that fear, and swing it by its tail. Bash its head against the rocks of your story and let the worst come out. It’s not real. It can’t hurt you.

That last one’s important. I’m not mothering anyone when I say that what we write isn’t real. If you’re prone to nightmares, then do what you’re supposed to do with all your life’s dreams, and use them. Humans with words in their blood have done that since wolves howled at the edge of the firelight, silver teeth and terrible claws, trying to keep us in the darkness.

We’re storytellers. We’re dreamers. We’re writers. It’s our life’s work to take all that’s in us, the good and the bad, and bring all our dreams into the light for others to learn from, shiver at, wonder about.

Cherish your fear, and share it with us all.

I’ll be waiting.