Horror week #005: “What are you afraid of?” Michael Slade

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          In October, 2005,  I attended a session given by Jay Clarke, aka Michael Slade, horror/thriller novelist. The subject of the workshop was FEAR. Here’s a few of the notes I took:

“No one ever lost money by offering readers a good ride to hell.” –Michael Slade

–“Fear is the fuel that fires up our fight or flight response.”

–“Put the hook—IN THE READER’S CHEEK—right on the very first page.”



Fear of deformity, something that takes pieces off your form—our sense of self-preservation kicks in. (Connection? His novel, Headhunter.)

Fear of the dark—what’s out there? Something that might get us—takes us back to cave man days when some ferocious creature might be waiting outside to make us its dinner…

Fear of closed in spaces. (Connection? Ghoul, his second novel).

Fear of creatures, both natural and supernatural—human monsters, subhuman monsters, cyclopean (HUGE) monsters, rats, snakes, shifting shapes, invaders, the spawn of hell, ghosts, horrid children…! (Connection? Oscar Cook’s short story, “The      Caterpillar” and Ray Bradbury’s story, “Small Assassin.”)

Fear of squishy things, like brains and a blob. (Although, “CSI has desensitized many people to squishy things.”)

Fear of “homemade people”—body doubles (doppelgangers), ventriloquist dummies, dolls, clowns—they put our very existence into question. (William Goldman’s book, Magic)

Paranoia—the world is out to get me. Psychological fear—monster in the dark, killer on the loose—someone or something is out to get me. (Fatal Attraction)

Fear of yourself—schizophrenia, dementia…afraid you’re going insane. Am I losing my mind?

Eight things to fear…but because I know you can never get enough, here are a few more he mentioned . . .

Fear of bad things happening to your eyes. Mom’s warning—“Don’t run with scissors!” (his novel, Cutthroat)

Fear of authority figures—police, secret government officials—CIA, CSIS.

Fear of public humiliation…loneliness…does my life mean anything?

Fear of death.


“It’s important to start with the fear and then work outwards from that. Enthrall and repulse the reader simultaneously, with the very first line. Remember that fear often comes from being frightened in a safe place. Don’t make the reader a voyeur; make him share the experience!”–Clarke


Try this:

Choose one of the fears above and write the first page (at least!) of a horror novel.

Coming tomorrow: We’re back to beginnings, but these techniques come from nonfiction. Use them for your fiction and narrative poetry as well…



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