On Writing Posts

10 Horror Plots That Need To Die


Last month, we at Horror Writers successfully hosted our first horror flash fiction contest. We received a slew of entries covering every horror sub genre imaginable. Goreporn, southern Gothic, dark fantasy, even zombies made their way into the submissions inbox. I had the honor of judging the entries and while some submissions never made it past my inbox, I quickly began seeing some of the same plots pop up over and over again. While the twists were novel the first time I read them, they quickly became old hat by the third and fourth submission using the same plot device. Read on to see if that story you’ve been brewing is as original as you thought it was.

10 Cliched Horror Fiction Writing Plots That Need To Die

1. “The Shyamalan Revelation”: Guy does mundane things, but then OMG HE’S BEEN DEAD THE WHOLE TIME. This was by far the most common plot device I’d read among the entries. If you don’t have anything new to add to this cliche, please, for the love of horror, stop it.

2. “The Gothic Victimization”: People are in a haunted place, with no other point to the story beyond that. Spooky things happen to flat characters who are there just to be spooked.

3. “The Jonestown Plot”: The naive protagonist joins a new religion (often via a Craigslist ad), which turns out to be a cult that kills and/or sacrifices it’s newest members.

4. “The Exterminator Deception”:  A man narrates his day as if he’s an exterminator, referring to his prey as “vermin”, “bugs” or “rodents” and then after he dispatches them it becomes clear that the exterminator was actually killing humans the whole time.

5. “The Home Buyer’s Caveat”: A young couple embarking on a new life together buys or inherits a home that turns out to be built on an ancient burial ground, mass murder grave site, or crime scene. As seen in “Poltergeist.”

6. “The Adorable Harbinger”: A bringer of death and suffering is disguised as something cute and innocent, like a child or a fluffy pet. It kills everyone and escapes at the end of the story. As seen in the Adipose episode of Doctor Who.

7. “The Table-Turner”: A predator (maybe a pedophile, maybe a pickpocket) stalks his/her prey, and the prey turns out to be a vampire/demon/supernatural entity. As seen in the Stephen King short story, “Popsy.”

8. “The Soothsayer Dismissal”: A realtor/fortune teller/child will warn about bad juju present, but the protagonists rationalize every strange event until it’s escalated to the point that someone dies or they need to call a medium/priest.

9. “The Dallas”: Unsettling, weird things happen, and it all turns out to be a dream or the insane visions of an unstable narrator. This offshoot of The Shyamalan Revelation is both a cop-out and a letdown to readers. As writers, we’ve all written ourselves into a plot corner at some point. Put in the work and get your characters out in a believable manner.

10. “The Victim Strikes Back”: A bullied kid is now grown and takes bloody vengeance on his/her past tormentor. In the beginning you think that he’s some cold, heartless murderer until the backstory is revealed, then…he’s still a cold, heartless murderer, just one who’s been bullied before.


I’ve seen these tropes used in some outstanding horror stories, and used well. The trope was subverted, or the story was self-aware and satirized the cliches in horror, as we’ve seen in films like Tucker and Dale vs. Evil and Cabin in the Woods. Sometimes a more creative writer will use the trope as a tool, a cog in a much bigger nightmare. In those cases it makes for a great story worth telling, but the harsh reality is that these ten plots made up the bulk of submissions that I received. In an era when anyone can self-publish their work online and call themselves an author, the need for originality is of the utmost importance.  We can do better than these dreadfully common tropes, for the greater good of the genre.

On Writing Posts

7 Ways to Lose a Writing Contest


It’s done. You’ve finished your beautiful, haunting work of art and for once, you’re happy with the result. You’re confident enough to not only share your story, but to put it up against countless others in a competition to see who has the best storytelling skills. You decide to enter a writing contest.

Entering a writing contest raises questions: How do I stand out among the sea of entries? What are the judges looking for? Will they even look at my entry?

I recently judged submissions for Horror Writers’ first flash fiction contest, and had the opportunity to see what it was like on the other side of the table. Within hours of opening for submissions, my inbox was flooded with entries from both new and published authors, all with a story to tell. I reached out to a few friends who served as judges for writing contests in the past and learned how to make my task easier. Now that the contest is over and the winner has been chosen, I can share some tips with you.

Any contest judge or slush reader will tell you: when we’re sitting under a mountain of submissions and only have a few open slots for winners, we are reading to reject.

I’ll say that again: we are reading to reject.

Writing Contest Tip for Horror Writers

You may have a stellar story that is sure to keep readers up at night, but if you don’t present that story properly, the judge won’t look past the title. Here are 7 ways to lose a writing contest:

1. Don’t bother with proofreading. If you’re of the mind that true art is effortless and copyeditors are for losers, then feel free to send in that rough draft as a final submission. Judges don’t want to spend their time correcting basic grammatical errors in order to make your story readable. A sloppy story WILL get passed over for a weaker story that’s more polished and tightly written.

2. Don’t bother with following submission guidelines. Format predicts quality, straight up. When a publication sets forth rules on how your email should be titled, story format, and so forth, they aren’t just trying to make their job easier (though that is part of it). They are checking to see who can follow basic instructions. If I decree that email submissions look like this: CONTEST SUBMISSION: [TITLE]-[WORDCOUNT], and I get something titled “Hey, here’s my story I hope you like it”…I’m not even going to open the email. In our last flash fiction contest, I threw out 3 submissions for this exact reason.

3. Feel free to ignore word count limits. Go ahead and send in that 4,500 word masterpiece to that microfiction competition. The judge will hate you with the fire of a thousand suns and will make a mental note (and possibly a physical one) to never support your work in any way, ever.

4. Start your story slowly. Judges often pass the biggest judgment on the first page of a piece. If we don’t care about what happens next, we stop there. For flash fiction, it’s the first paragraph. For microfiction, it’s the first sentence. Our inbox is full of more submissions, and we are looking to whittle down the submisssion to a small group of finalists. A quick way to weed out the weakest entries is to discard any story where the beginning fails to make us want to continue. So, if you’re trying to avoid that lucrative contest prize, don’t draw your reader in or begin with a bang.

5. Keep your character as flat as possible. Don’t worry about developing them or making your reader care about them. It makes it easier for the contest judge to check out of your story early on, and discard your entry in favor of one that features a compelling protagonist.

6. Hit your reader with the same thing they’ve read a thousand times before. That plot twist you saw in The 6th Sense is not only a crazy turn of events, it’s also a great way to guarantee that your submission gets tossed right into the trash folder.

7. Leave your reader hanging. Psst: We can tell when you got dangerously close to hitting your word count limit and panicked. Maybe you spent so much time on character development (see #5) that you ran out of room in the end. Whatever the reason, your judge will be frustrated that they invested in the story only to get slapped with an unsatisfactory resolution. They’ll tell their friends. They’ll tell their cat. They’ll also hit “delete” on your submission.

In a writing contest, it’s not enough to have a really great story concept. The sheer volume of entries limits the amount of time that each judge can dedicate towards absorbing your work. As a result, it becomes important that you not only polish your work and keep it compelling, but you must prove that you can follow simple instructions. These are the best ways to guarantee that your story will get the attention it deserves.

Have you committed any of these contest-writing sins? Let us know in the comments below.


Announcing the Horror Writers Flash Fiction 2016 Contest Winner!

We want to send a big thank you to everyone who participated in our first Flash Fiction Contest and helped make it a success!

And a special congratulations to E. Reyes, the winner of the Scrivener Grand Prize in our Flash Fiction contest!. His work, “Christmas Blues” stood out among the 50+ entries, and has been crowned the winner. Be on the lookout for his winning story next month, along with a Featured Author interview. Enjoy your prize, E. Reyes!



Review: The Mind’s Eye

The Mind’s Eye
Director: Joe Begos
Starring: Graham Skipper, Lauren Ashley Carter, John Speredakos
Runtime: 87 minutes
Rating: Not Rated


The Mind's Eye Movie Review


Do you remember when body horror was dark, sexy, and too gory for children?

Joe Begos remembers.

In a DePalma-laced throwback to 70’s/80’s horror, Begos creates an alternate universe in the early 90’s in which gifted outliers with psychokinetic powers roam the country, avoiding attention and trying their best to live a normal life. Zack Connors (played by the talented Graham Skipper) is one such outlier. We meet him at the beginning of the film, walking alone through the snowy town. He seems perfectly fine with his lone wolf status, until some local cops on a power trip accost him into a panic. Restrained in a chokehold, Connors reveals his power and destroys some police property, tossing a cop onto the pavement like a rag doll. An intense, quaking stare is all it takes to remove objects – and people – from his path. Nonetheless, he’s subdued and brought in for questioning.


The Mind's Eye Movie Review


In the police station, he meets Dr. Slovak. Slovak reels him in like a twisted Dr. Xavier to a wary Wolverine, promising to help him and reunite him with Rachel (played by an expressive Lauren Ashley Carter). Despite his soothing demeanor, Slovak is a bad egg who keeps other such gifted people imprisoned in his home so he can drain their abilities and consume their power. Whereas Connors sees his gift as more of a curse, Slovak sees a nefarious potential in those abilities. The demarcation between good and evil couldn’t be any more clear in this movie, and John Speredakos inhabits the role of power-hungry madman with an over-the-top zeal that you can’t help but grin at. Conversely, Graham Skipper takes a more subdued approach to his role, providing a nice balance to his Lex-Lutherian adversary. It makes sense, as Zack Connors is not a willing hero; rather, he is manipulated into conflict and forced to act accordingly to save those close to him.

Conners eventually grows tired of his captive situation, so he locates and escapes with fellow prisoner Rachel. Dr. Slovak isn’t pleased, and so begins a thrilling chase that ends with an inevitable showdown to prove who wields the baddest brain power on the block. The movie is rife with scifi tropes, creatively deployed in such a manner that at times you forget you’re watching a second effort from an indie director. The themes bear many similarities to those of Scanners, particularly the connection between sexuality and power. It’s obvious that Begos is a Cronenberg enthusiast, and every scene, no matter how crude, is an ode to the body horror master.

For a low-budget film, this really delivers. Begos went in with a low spending limit, and it’s apparent that he spent most of that scratch on the effects department. Considering the finished product, I’m glad he made that decision. The utter carnage that ensued during the third act of the movie was some of the most memorable mayhem I’ve seen in a long time. Exploding heads, flying flesh debris, and not-so-minor axe wounds amplify the scifi celebration. While some cinephiles may balk at the close-up quivering gazes and (wire-supported) swaying axes, Begos’ vision shines through the shoestring budget. This is a legit midnight feature, where staying true to the genre is what really matters. From the mental warfare to the corporate conspiracy to the lively practical effects, The Mind’s Eye stays true.



Graham Skipper and Lauren Ashley Carter are both in fine form, playing their starring roles with restraint and vulnerable ferocity, respectively. They provide a solemn yin to John Speredakos’s campy yang, and it all just works. Indie horror darling Larry Fessenden shows up in a few endearing scenes as Connors’ father, bringing his A-game to the role, as always. I found it particularly striking that Fessenden’s performance brought more gravity to the conflict, despite dropping in halfway through the film.

The soundtrack is especially of note, as well. From the title card at the beginning reading “THIS FILM SHOULD BE PLAYED LOUD”, the use of sound in the film is paramount. Sound effects are utilized to great effect to display when psychokenetic powers are being used, rather than simply relying on visual cues like nosebleeds and distended veins. Sound effects designer Graham Reznick dishes out a handful of penetrating sounds, like the cerebral rumble that Zack emits when he deploys his kinetic abilities. It creates an unsettling effect common in body horror, particularly – you guessed it – Cronenberg’s Scanners. The film is truly a throwback, and a riotous one, at that.

When it comes down to it, you can hate on the familiar route and threadbare upholstery, or you can crank the tunes and enjoy the ride. The Mind’s Eye is a fun flick, straight up; the kind of film that the late-night double feature was meant for. The rough-around-the-edges production value only adds to the appeal and gives it an authenticity that many genre fans have been looking for in the age of the polished remake and the rebooted cash-grab. Pour some booze, watch it with your friends, and whoop and holler at the gratuitous gore.

Horror Writers Rating: 4/5 stars.

The Mind’s Eye is currently available on VOD and DVD.


Review: The Snare

The Snare
Director: C.A. Cooper
Starring: Eaoifa Forward, Dan Paton, Rachel Warren
Production Company: Uncork’d Entertainment
Runtime: 90 minutes
Rating: Not Rated
Watch: In theaters and On Demand Jan. 6th, 2017
Summary: Three friends head to the seafront for a drunken weekend, only to be imprisoned on the top floor of their holiday apartment by a malevolent paranormal force.


The Snare Movie Review


When Alice followed a rabbit and descended into Wonderland, she had no idea what she was in for, and emerged with a new sense of self, for better or worse. Such is the journey that our Alice embarks upon in C.A. Cooper’s psychological horror film, The Snare. The film locks us in with three mates as they devolve into madness and mayhem. Tangible characters, no-slack tension, and beautiful composition with a memorable score culminate in 90 minutes of disorienting dread.

The opening credits centering around a decaying white rabbit give you a stark picture of what you’re in for. Parallels with Alice in Wonderland abound in The Snare, including themes of maturity and the loss of innocence. It’s no coincidence that the protagonists’ name in The Snare is Alice. She’s a young woman who lives with her widower father, with whom she has a testy relationship. At the start of the movie, he enters her room while she’s changing and makes no effort to accommodate her sense of privacy or her obvious discomfort at his presence. She keeps a journal that she closely guards at all times, especially from her father. She also still keeps a childhood teddy bear, which amplifies a running subtext: Alice is a growing young woman who, in many ways, is still a child grappling with her lost innocence. Two earth-shattering events occurred early in Alice’s life that culminated in that lost innocence: the death of her mother, and another experience that can’t be explicitly mentioned without spoilers. These events form the earwig that eats away at Alice’s psyche throughout the film, causing her to question everything from her identity to her memory to the fabric of reality itself. Alice is an incredibly well-developed but reserved character; only her most relevant backstory is revealed, and only when absolutely necessary.


The Snare Movie Review


Alice and two of her friends, Carl and Liz, head up to a fully-furnished but unoccupied seaside flat for a quiet weekend. From the moment they arrive, Tim Johnson’s haunting score sets the tone and establishes the apartment building as more foreboding than its innocuous exterior suggests. Unfortunately, the beautiful soundtrack felt forced in its application at times, showing up before anything happens in many scenes. While the low, rumbling tones were effective in building dread, the filmmakers utilized the music as a way to prompt tension, rather than amplify it. It was noticeable and detracted from the well-built atmosphere, and could’ve been avoided entirely by simply waiting a few seconds before telling the audience that they should be scared.

Eaoifa Forward, Dan Paton, Rachel Warren are in excellent form as Alice, Carl, and Liz, respectively. From the very beginning, Liz is an antithesis of Alice. She’s a free-wheeling party girl who has no problem breaking the rules and cozying up with her boyfriend, Carl. Carl has a tense relationship with Alice immediately, which gets progressively worse once they arrive at the flat. When the trio realizes that they are stuck there and no one is coming for them, the tensions rise exponentially with each passing day. Food supply runs low. The water cuts off. Noises are heard. Things are seen. All the while, tempers are getting shorter and shorter while our Alice has longer and longer periods to be alone with her thoughts, which isn’t good.


The Snare Movie Review


The Snare has been compared to Evil Dead, but it’s far closer to Kubrick’s The Shining, in spirit and in craft. Cooper creates an atmosphere echoing that of The Overlook Hotel, only allowing the characters and the audience to have a vague sense of time via the weather, as viewed through the balcony. Isolation and entrapment are the motifs of the day; the film is filled with close, intimate shots of Alice that isolate her from her peers, and intricate staging that frames her in enclosed spaces. She is the fly, and the building has her in its web. For a film that doesn’t have the outright terror of a single boogeyman chasing the protagonist around, The Snare keeps a strong sense of dread throughout, and builds tension well. Jump scares are used sparingly and to great effect, as a tension-reliever rather than as a crutch. I found a special pleasure in seeing one of Alice’s horrifying nighttime visions, as it was clearly inspired by the crawling ghoul of Japanese horror, right down to the creepy death rattle.

The Snare is a thrilling reminder that good horror can be original and deep. Tumble down the rabbit hole and escape from the countless franchise remakes and reboots. Let The Snare give you a bit of Cheshire Cat wisdom, which happens to be the horror genre’s utmost maxim: “We’re all mad here.”

Horror Writer’s Rating: 4/5 stars.
The Snare is available in theaters and on demand January 6th, 2017.