Brewing Horror – Method to my Madness?

Side note: just watched the new It movie and it was amazing! I won’t post any spoilers but make sure you watch it! Now on with the post:


I have always loved writing stories – horror, thrillers, fantasy, and action-packed tales – from elementary school into the present. As part of this passion, I enrolled in many English classes, especially creative writing classes. In every one of these classes, the teacher tried to impose some sort of method to writing. In elementary school, it was thought webs and diagrams to plan every event and action. I learned about rising action, climax, and denouement.

In junior high and high school, it was about listening to “inspiring music” (usually some instrumental ambiance,) about copying favourite authors, more diagrams, — even in my 12th grade creative writing class – a journal where we had to document daily thoughts that helped with our writing. In university, I had to keep a shoebox full of mementos/items/thoughts written on paper of things that had inspired my writing. Every professor had their favourite book on writing that they recommended and I was obligated to buy for the class.

All these classes, all these teachers, they taught me a very valuable lesson.

The art of bullshitting.

Please don’t read this and take from it that I think all these methods are worthless. Do take that all these teachers believed in only one or two right ways and based grades on it. If I didn’t hand in the shoebox, the journal, the notes, the diagrams, and writing practices; I lost marks in the class. So, I learned to lie, to make up inspirations.

I used none of those techniques and, to this day, continue to use none of those techniques. That’s the tricky part of writing, everyone does it differently and everyone thinks their way is the right way.

I don’t plan out my stories on paper. I don’t diagram or make post-it note graffiti on my walls. When I get a story idea, I keep it in my head. A few days, a few weeks, maybe even a month. I think on it and play out how the story would go in my head like a mini-movie.

In school (junior high, high school, or university) I played out these movies as I walked to and from class. Sometimes even in class, on the bus, or as I did my grocery shopping. In Asia, I planned it out as I listened to music on the trains and buses I took to work, to social gatherings. In the States, during my painfully long commute to work, I listen to my music on full blast and play my movies out in my head as I drive.

Once I have the plot nailed down, the characters designed out, and the twists and turns planned; I start to write. The only times I usually sketch out ideas are in the margins of the journal I’m using, or in highlighted text within the word document. Sometimes if I think I’ll forget an idea – such as in the middle of the night or during a party or drive – I’ll write it down in many of the journals I keep stashed around in my purse, car, and house.

When I am passionate about a story, it’s hard to stop writing. I get lost in the movie in my head. This made it hard to switch from writing it down to typing it all up, my thoughts race so much faster than I can type using my index and middle fingers of each hand (I look like a T-Rex, I swear!) I had to switch though, to keep up with the anthology calls I was finding online and to prevent loss as I travelled throughout Asia and Europe. Though it does remain a tried and true cure to my writer’s block – I just pick up a pen and that helps ease the pressure. Somehow it seems easier to erase mistakes or just keep going when it’s just on paper – I can doodle or scratch out things when I have second thoughts or need a break. On the computer screen, it just looks so much more formal.

After I have my first draft down, I let it sit for a day. Then I’ll read through it a few times, deleting, adding, cleaning things up.

Depending on the story, I might only go through it once before submitting it. Some stories just come out that way, cleaner and tight. Other stories, I’ll tinker with many times, worrying over this part or that until I feel like it is just right. Some stories never get submitted, they disappear into the bowels of my hard drive and are forgotten. Others get submitted and if they are rejected, I polish and clean, submit again and again until I know victory. This is true for one of my favourite short stories: Godmouth, which took 3 years to get published. It was my greatest homage to H.P. Lovecraft, a dark and ominous cosmic horror that was always too long to meet submission lengths until Hinnom Magazine accepted it. (Thank you, C.P. Dunphey!)

I feel like one thing that many other writers do is to recommend books on writing. I always appreciate their efforts because they truly want to see me succeed. But, again, I feel like writing is subjective. Everyone has their preferred method, technique, and process. Some only write on typewriters, some only at night, some have to diagram everything on their walls like a serial killer, others use writing programs on their computers. And some, some are like me, living it out all in their heads before committing the madness down to share with the world.

So, if ever we are driving together and you see me tune out, don’t be insulted – I’m just planning out my next blockbuster!


Remember to share using the buttons below. Until next Sunday, readers!


x P.L. McMillan

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