Followers of my blog (and my life in general) will know that Dark Continents Publishing shut up shop last month. With the company’s closure, my first (and so far only) single author collection Ghosts Can Bleed was withdrawn from sale.
But I have exciting news in Tracieland – Ghosts Can Bleed will live again, thanks to Miika Hannila and his team at Creativia.
Creativia is a European independent press that has a similar ethos to Dark Continents. They’re small (but growing fast) and agile, they love speculative fiction, and they like their authors to retain control of their work and their careers. Although the ink is barely dry on the (simple and transparent) contract, I have a feeling I’m going to fit right in.
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to fellow Kiwi author and close-friend-I’ve-never-met, John Irvine (I’ve promised him duty free rum on my next visit to New Zealand). Creativia is publishing Disquiet, an anthology of fiction and poetry by New Zealand and Australian authors co-edited by John and me (but more on that in a later post). They also publish two of John’s works, Blood Curry and Anomalous Appetites, the latter being a dark speculative fiction poetry anthology that has achieved great things on Amazon’s bestseller list under Creativia’s assured promotional hand. John introduced Miika and me and put in a good word for me…and now, here we are!
There’s no scarcity of online resources advising authors on horror tropes to avoid, so it is perhaps ironic that I’m about to add to the subject with a post that might not contribute anything original. But hey – it’s my soapbox, and I’ll say what I wanna.
Back in 2012 I posted a list of character clichés that I see too often in the slush pile. This list adds to the ever-expanding list of things I see in horror fiction that are likely to make me pull a Simon Cowell. (My apologies to any author who pioneered these tropes. Imitation is the sincerest form or flattery, or so they say.)
- The protagonist regains consciousness after a car crash.
The general advice in all types of fiction is to avoid starting a story with someone coming to or waking up. Not sure that I’d go so far as to issue a blanket warning against all such story starters (especially since I’ve had published more than one story starting this way). It’s just that, with such a common beginning, the author might want to consider if the rest of the story concept is equally derivative.
Watch out! There’s a zombie in the bathroom!
- The protagonist walks into a strangely deserted convenience store.
I don’t understand why or how this has become novice writer shorthand for “some seriously scary shit is about to go down”. If someone can explain it to me, please come forward.
- The protagonist is dead, but doesn’t know it.
Again – I have done this. Quite recently, in fact. But in my defense, my story has the protagonist – and the audience – become aware of this fact halfway through the story. It’s not a “gotcha!” ending, and the story has a different reason for being other than to reveal the protagonist’s demise. If this is the only point of your story, it’s not likely to be a strong contender for publishing.
- The protagonist goes to some version of Hell for his misdeeds.
A variation on the revenge story which is very rarely executed originally or well.
- Something bad happens to a lawyer.
- A Satanic ritual goes wrong.
Uh duh. Those things are designed to go wrong.
What could possibly go wrong?
- A reclusive author/grieving person retreats to a cabin in the woods/by a lake/in the woods AND by a lake.
Bonus cliché points if the lake contains something eeeevil.
- Zombies in a supermarket.
See “strangely deserted convenience store”.
- Protagonist kills him/herself rather than become zombie fodder.
Zombie stories in general, much like vampire and werewolf stories, are hard to write with originality because they’re so popular in horror fiction. This is just one zombie cliché best avoided.
- A devil (or The Devil) delivers a monologue that is meant to be funny (but usually isn’t).
Usually these stories have the devil complaining about his working conditions. Because overworked demons are hilarious. And terrifying. Or something like that.
I’d love to hear your own undergarment-shredding pet peeves when it comes to horror fiction.