Posted by: Kathleen Mix | August 6, 2013

Horror Stories

When I’m deep into writing the first draft of a manuscript, I shy away from reading other authors’ books. By not reading a novel, I avoid getting hooked by someone else’s plot or characters and minimize the risk of distraction.
But I love to read and, over the years, I’ve found that the best way to satisfy my need for fiction during my first draft, can’t-get-involved-in-books diets is to read short stories. In a short story, the plot concludes quickly, so I don’t have to lie awake overnight guessing at the ending. The characters may be interesting, but the length prevents me from forming too strong a bond and I can resist an emotional commitment.
My evening reading for the last week has consisted of stories from the collection Night Shift by Steven King. I’m not a fan of Mr. King’s horror novels. They’re too convincing, and his weird happenings tend to give me nightmares.
But his short stories are less frightening. That’s not to say they aren’t creepy, just that I don’t get as immersed in the story settings or scenarios and I can more easily rationalize: this is only fiction.
The stories in Night Shift are excellent examples of the depth of Mr. King’s talent. Contrary to what many non-writers believe, writing a good short story is difficult. The author must accomplish a lot in those two, three, or four thousand words. Characters must be introduced and made interesting and believable. A time and place have to be established. The plot must start quickly, develop steadily, and reach a satisfying – or terrifying – ending.
Most writers can more easily ramble on forever than be concise. They wander off on tangents, explain the details of every characters’ backstory, and generally, use thousands of words to accomplish what Mr. King can do in one paragraph.
Tonight I’ll be reading about the boogeyman. I’m happy to say he’ll probably go away after about twenty pages. Tomorrow, I’ll be able to concentrate on my own character’s fears.

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