Thursday, June 2, 2016

To Write Good Horror, One Must Practice

All right. It's been a while. But, today I came across something that got my mind running at 110 mph and I was like, fine. I'll write the thing, then I need to get back to work, this book isn't going to finish editing itself. Some of this applies to writing horror, some of it applies to life in general. I just need to get it off my chest so that I can focus on my job. lol

Anyways, since some of my buddies have shared this on the FB and I didn't want to hijack their posts so I'm ranting here.

Basically, this Slate article is about why they need to stop writing essays in college, because it's HARRRRD and because everyone plagiarizes now so no one is really doing their work. Bawwww. Really? Really?!

Are there dumb, insipid, vapid kids in college? Sure. Are they all that dumb? No. I have a hard time believing that EVERYONE is that stupid. (Or are they? Dun dun duuun!) 

Can you engage them and get them to think outside the box and apply critical thinking skills to their favorite subjects and write about them in an essay? Yup. You sure can. I do it every time I write a horror review. No joke. And guess what? I ENJOY IT!

Oh yeah. Here's a hint: there's a super easy way to make sure that your paper is not plagiarized prior to sending it in. There's a good number of FREE websites that will check all of your text and point out when you have similar sentences to something else so that you can fix them. 

If it really is that much of a problem for you as a teacher, just have your students email the paper to you, no one hand writes anything anymore (not unless it's a final and you have to write essays in class). Run their text through the checker. If it flags something, send it back. If the entire text is copied, fail them and have them kicked out.

Honestly, I can't believe that she is whining about having to grade papers. That's her job. (We all have parts of our jobs we can't stand, but she's making it seem like what she is complaining about is the norm and not the exception here.) 

She should do what my college teachers did: Tell the students that your class is hard, you have expectations and if they do not learn properly, or seek out help when they are having trouble with the homework, that they will fail the class. 

You shouldn't be able to pass a class just because you have perfect attendance and spoke nicely to the teacher about what you are supposed to be learning. That's (to quote my dad) "some Mickey Mouse bullshit right there."

Hey, I edit posts on a regular basis over at Is it a pain at times? Sure. (I love my writers! They're so awesome, and make the website great. Really, they do! But even I have to edit my own crap to make sure that it reads right. And if I hadn't learned how to write in college, I wouldn't be able to do that, now would I?)

If they stop teaching how to write essays, how will people learn how to write them? How will they learn how to write anything if they don't write?  

Having talent, even for writing horror, means practicing. A lot. 

You want to write good, scary horror? 

You must exercise your writing muscles. It's the same thing as learning how to play a musical instrument or how to do the parallel bars routine in the gym. Practice. Practice. Practice. More Practice. Practice. Practice. Practice. Etc. etc. Rinse, lather, repeat. Until you're sick of it. Then take a break and go right back to practicing.

Thanks Webster's Dictionary! 

Talent isn't innate. We aren't BORN with it. Most of us have natural inclinations towards being good at certain things, but all of the most talented people in the world get that way because they put in enough practice hours to become experts at their particular subject. Whether it is sports or writing haikus. Everyone gets good at it by doing it. Repeatedly. Over, and over and over and over again. They get frustrated. They get discouraged. They want to give up. Sometimes they do. But the truly "talented" people only reach their potential by getting back up, dusting themselves off and trying again. And again. And again. 

Good horror is born from learning how to write proficiently. 

The horrible, awful truth of it is that everyone starts somewhere. And we all suck at it when we first start out. All of us. 

(I should share the first horror story I ever typed up on my family's Apple II E some time. It's awesomely bad, and I was like 7 so it was printed out on dot-matrix paper with the chads and everything. lol) 

Learning how to be excellent at writing or any other skill requires a ton of practice time and determination. It requires studying the works of other people that are well-known as experts in that field.

Look, we don't live in a vacuum. I know certain SJW types want to make college that way, but that's not how to learn. In fact, by eliminating things that make us uncomfortable and that challenge us to step up to the plate and prove to ourselves that yes, this thing is super HARRRRRD, but I did it! I actually did it!, we discredit ourselves and don't give ourselves a chance to really attempt to do something that we never thought that we could do. 

The flip-side of the whole "my emotions are hurt because you told me I did this wrong" coin is doing something, learning how to do it right, and then proving to yourself that you can in fact, do the thing. You can do all the things if you put your mind to it. You just need to woman up and do it. (Heh. Woman up.)  Find your backbone, pep talk yourself into achievements. Watch "Rocky" for inspiration. Do whatever you need to do to give yourself the fortitude to carry on. Get your shit together and get it done. Get your shit done.

Nothing in life that is worth doing is easy. In fact, all the things that are really super awesome achievements were attained through tears, sweat, and sometimes, blood. o.0  Yes, I went there. Because it's true. Ever get a blister? Sometimes those puppies pop and it's not just that weird watery crap that comes out of them. It's blood. (My apologies to those that are trying to eat and read this at the same time.)

My point is, if the written essay is eliminated from college curriculum, students won't learn how to write properly, nor how to express themselves in a coherent manner. There's a reason essays have been taught for over a century in colleges. Because they help people form their thoughts in a way that allows them to communicate clearly to others. It helps them learn how to be understood. And isn't that important? Isn't that the goal of writing? To share ideas? To be understood? 

The post author's main complaint is that her students don't know how to write and can't grasp core concepts, so her idea is to just stop trying to teach it. Period. 

Sounds like she wants to give up on people. That's not cool, for one. And for two, teaching oration only works if the students understand how to compose their thoughts in an orderly fashion to present their point of view or an argument. 

She thinks that essays are too subjectively graded, so doing oration would be fairer to the students. 

Now hold on a second. 

Wouldn't doing oral narration in class be subjectively graded? I mean, that seems like even more of a chance to not live up to a teacher's expectations. Hint: speeches are for speech class. You want to grade people's speeches? Teach that. Oh..wait. They still have to write them down before they say them. Damn! That plan won't work either. 

So like, uhhh...this Hankie guy that was like in that one movie, did this thing after he got like deserted on an island in the specific ocean and junk, and ummm then like uhhhhh...he found a volleyball and named it um, Wilkins, I think? and like that's a metaphor for like going to the gym. or something. And that's why war is bad and junk. The end.

See what I did there? Did you see it? That's what would happen in an oration-only class that didn't teach how to write speeches- which in some circles are considered essays. BAM!  

But I worked really hard on this short horror story and no one likes it! 

You can't expect to be Hemingway or Hawthorne or King the minute you pick up a pencil or sit your butt down at a keyboard. You think they just automatically knew how to write masterpieces? Hell no! They practiced! They wrote a ton of crap that they never showed anyone, because they were learning how to compose the written word.

So, get back up on your horse/chair and start again. Look for what didn't work in the story and examine it. Why didn't it work? What didn't make sense? What is missing?

Through practice and study, you will learn how to do it right. How to make it scary. 

Don't know about you, but I was an English major in college. I have my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. And let me tell you something, if I had not had to write so many book reports, research papers and constructive criticism essays, I would never have learned how to properly order my thoughts or write persuasively. Or hell, I wouldn't even know about story structure so that I wouldn't be able to write movie reviews, let alone funny ones that make jokes based on my observations of cliches and stupid plot-lines.

My point is that some things in life are hard, some are difficult and challenging, but that doesn't mean that you can't learn how to do them. You just need to practice. And practice a lot. Learn how to form your thoughts, and how to put them in order so that people can follow them. The only way to do that is to write. Then write more. And write some more, and keep writing. Then study how other authors wrote your favorite horror books, and read about writing horror and grammar and story structure, and then write some more and so on and so on, ad infinitum. 

The only way to become excellent at written composition is to practice. And really, the only way to write awesome horror fiction or make posts that are super awesome movie reviews that entertain people. 

So, to sum up:

  • Don't give up the thing because it's hard.
  • Keep at it.
  • Study it.
  • Learn it.
  • Practice it. 
  • Keep practicing. 
  • Give yourself pep talks when you feel like giving up and get back to work.
  • Practice some more.
  • Keep writing.
  • Do it.
  • Do the thing.
  • You can do it. 
  • I know you can.