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Posted March 6, 2013
Rayne pens "Writing Scary Scenes" in an adventurous plot that takes a writer through a "course" that will help them improve their writing. A great read filled with practical suggestions and examples that will help anyone. Highly recommended for all aspiring and accomplished writers.
This review is based on a complimentary copy from the author which was provided for an honest review.
Posted March 1, 2013
Scary stories are my most favourite things in the world, be it in book or movie form. I love that sense of dread that comes with waiting for something to go wrong. Horror, thrillers, dark fantasy, yes please, do want.
That said, for as much as I like reading it, I am complete fail at writing it. My writing tends to turn out incredibly fluffy. So when I saw this book on tour, I had to sign up. Please Ms Hall, teach me! And learn I did. It is a very informative writing craft book, well laid out and easy to follow. For every piece of advice, examples and/or further explanation is provided to ensure you really understand the concept. While a lot of it is standard scary story advice, I did find a few things I hadn’t considered before. Like euphonics and backloading. Things I have never given much conscious thought to, but will now be on the lookout for.
I am not going to give your the results of the wimp test conducted on my WIP, that would be too embarrassing. I will say that it was a real eye opener, you don’t realise how easily these things add up until you go searching for them. This review would be longer, but I now have to go put some steel in my protag’s backbone. And my story will be the better for it.
Posted January 18, 2013
(The author provided me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)
The majority of the tips in Writing Scary Scenes are what I have taught middle school students. Time and again through this book, I imagined Hall leaning over to instruct seventh graders. So, when in the introduction she states outright "Writing Scary Scenes is a book for advanced-level and professional writers", I admit I scoffed. It is difficult to believe this is for adults when she imparts wisdom such as "A scene which ends where the PoV is in acute trouble with no obvious way out [...] is called a ‘cliffhanger’ and it's a sure way to make the reader turn to the next page" or "Readers buy romance novels because of the love story" and "Readers who buy horror books want to be scared." If I judged this as a beginner’s guide to writing, I could agree that it is a good jumping off point. If I am to judge it as Hall insists it is, as a book for professional and adult writers, I must hold it to a much higher standard.
If you are the sort of writer who prefers to scan through a manual, find someone else’s sentence to express a particular mood or emotion, and slot it into your work, you may find more value in Hall’s book than I did. One bit of marginalia from my initial reading of this book is that it "sometimes reads like a technically manual for aliens on how to fake being human". Anyone finding this book brilliant is going to write similar stories fit for high school literary magazines published in October, but that likely won’t be seen anywhere else. Writing is creativity and this book advocates for formulaic but technically competent authorship. That is not remotely the same thing as interesting, and predictability is the least scary thing I can imagine.
Some of the advice is sound, such as "you can increase the horror [...] by mentioning something innocuous in the same sentence as the gory detail", "The last word touches the reader's psyche more than any other, so make it count", or "gruesome openings have no effect [before you know the characters]", but it is too little too far between. There is nothing prior to page 73 that I find advice that strains the upper limit of middle school writing, by varying sentence length to add tension, giving a satisfying story beyond the twist ending, or draw out scenes. She gets distracted by alliteration and assonance, which would draw me completely out of a story. If the villain speaks all in slithering sounds, I am going to put the book down for being immature.
Most of her examples of mastery are from people who are hardly commonplace names. Doing a bit more research and using luminaries of their genres in particularly well-crafted scenes would improve these. This is especially glaring where she decides for one chapter that copyright prevents her from quoting excerpts, even though she did so in the prior chapters.
The last fifteen percent of the book is a selection of Hall's stories, presented without comment other than a preamble amounting to "see if you can figure out what I was doing." This seems filler where it could have been used to dissect a story without fear of copyright infringement. Given how often I found chapters bloated, this seemed a wasted opportunity. Whenever she gave some small advice, she provides a dozen needless examples, to the extent that she once lists different time pieces ("a grandfather clock which goes tock-tock-tock, a clock on the steeple of a German village church, an expensive Rolex watch with silver hands, a children's alarm-clock with a Winnie-the-Pooh face, or an egg-timer with purple sand"). I learned to skip these. The book itself is repetitive, even when it discusses how overly using the same techniques is guaranteed to turn the reader off. It felt as though she worked from a template of chapter to reduce original text rather than writing what she thought would be genuinely helpful to readers.
Despite this, there was a point in the book (page 136) where she offers horror opening that beginning writers overuse. While indeed terrible and ill-advised, she can only think of two. I know for a fact that she edits anthologies - one of them is in my review pile - and so she must have more examples. I cannot fathom why she chose this moment to be tight-lipped.
The whole section on Wimp Points grated on me, especially as she describes as "wimpy" a character who experiences grief at another’s death. It does not matter if this informs the character, explains her actions, and gives her impetus to grow strong, Hall thinks it is wimpy and should be avoided for fear of gaining Wimp Points. She brings up romance novels several times when they did not seems applicable, but there is a curious absence of mentions of them when discussing heroines crying. (I guess the love of a Fabio absolves one of wimpiness.) She is also not a fan of characters thinking. My note here reads "Thinking is verboten (British: "forbidden"). Literacy, too. All characters must drive flaming motorcycles into werewolves so as to avoid Wimpy Points." Also, unwimpy characters must only be successful in all things, as "trying" or "attempting" anything makes them the equivalent of mincing nancies.
Some of her advice is strange, for example "Here's a nifty psychological trick to torment the reader's subconscious with suspense: tell your protagonist to strip off her clothes." Titillation isn’t suspense, as she proves when she described inert people taking off articles of clothing. I do not care at all why a man is taking off his jacket to prevent it creasing, one of her actual examples. It does not frighten me unless he is an Elder God with OCD. She later digresses that one might wish to limit describing unpleasant smells in erotica and then she informs the reader that there is very little gore in romance and children’s literature, apparently assuming I picked up Writing Sexy Kid’s Lit.
Several of my issues with this book boil down to that Hall and I ascribe to different schools of writing. She preaches telling, showing, telling again to make sure that the reader got what happened. As a reader and a writer, I find this frustrating and boring. I assume my readers are clever enough to see what happened. They did have the good sense to read a book I wrote, after all. I am sure that Hall and her kith would find my method just as frustrating because I am not making certain they saw what I did there. Hall, too, is not unaware of the flaw of this method: "Like everything, it can become tedious if overused. If every scene in the novel starts with the scene goal in the first sentence, the effect wears off." She is a proponent of relying on tropes (actually writing that one should use the forbidden phrase "A dog howled in the distance" to build mood) while I prefer those who seek to subvert what which is predictable and thus weak.
My final issue, snarkily alluded to above, is how Hall felt the need to interrupt herself to point out what a British English word meant in American English - e.g., abseiling (American: "rapelling") skills, mobile phones (American: "cell phones")", goose-pimples ("goosebumps" in American), loo ("bathroom" in American), football (American: "soccer") . Professional writers, to whom Hall says she is writing, should be assumed to not need this chiding (and, yes, rappelling is spelled as such in the book, thus invoking some version of Muphry’s Law that I an no doubt now going to be victim to myself for po
Posted September 5, 2012
Rayne Hall’s book Writing Scary Scenes is a must for every horror or suspense writer. Hall delves deep into every facet of how to create those spine tingling, breath stealing moments in a book.
Hall breaks the process down into areas such as sound, darkness, isolation, and more, then goes further into the depths of scene structure, location, how to manipulate the elements of pacing, infusing the scene with sensual details and many others guaranteed to ratchet up those thrills and chills.
There is no fluff or filler in this book. It stays on target and offers the writer straight up information on the writing process and all the techniques used to write scary. It’s packed full of suggestions, examples, and advice on how to keep the reader hooked to the end of every scene.
This is an excellent writing craft book, not just for horror or suspense, but for any genre.
Posted September 5, 2012
I love Rayne's tips and tricks that she shares in her book "Writing Scary Scenes". She goes in depth on techniques to increase the quality and tension in your novels. There are many examples that she gives to help create and deepen the scary and frightening scenes needed to keep readers enthralled. This book is a must buy; especially for beginning novelists.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 26, 2012
I devoured this book only a couple of hours after receiving my review copy. It starts off with different types, or “flavours,” of fear, including the signs, symptoms and how each type of fear can work in fiction. Simply reading through them brought to mind some of my favorite scary scenes as well as scenes from my works that could use a little punching up. Rayne has a knack for breaking down scenes, emotions, and even language in a way that will get readers thinking.
For example, Chapter 3: What lurks behind that door? reminded me of ‘Resident Evil’ – the first one, back on the PS1. If you’ve ever played the game, you’ll remember the doors (and the stairs)–everything else fades to black while a squeaky door slowly opens. Sure, in this case it gets old, very old since you’re going through the same slow scene every time you leave or enter a room, but admit it–your palms get a little sweaty and your heart throws in a couple of extra beats while you anticipate what will be awaiting you when the game resumes. But, have I ever used this tactic in a story? No, but now that I’m thinking about it, I have some good ideas.
The book is concise, yet it brings a tool shed of tips and tricks to your fingertips. From using body cues, and understanding how vocabulary choices will resonate with the reader, to pacing and using the senses, I couldn’t finish a chapter without thinking of something to use in one of my scenes.
Plus, it will resonate with a variety of genres. If you need to build suspense, anxiety, or just scare the begabbers out of your readers (while also making sure your MC is not a WIMP) this book will show you how to do it.
Favorite Quote: “Heroes may be frightened, but they may not be wusses. Often, the difference lies not in the hero’s actions, but in the words you’ve used.”
My verdict–If you’re an author you can’t afford not to buy it. (Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for an honest review.)