Rob E. Boley discusses his five things learned writing
The Scary Tales Series
I love writing lil’ tidbits like this because it forces me to do something that surely does not come naturally to me: thinking. See, I’m much more of a do-er than a think-er. I’m the guy in meetings who’s tapping his feet, doodling, checking his email, or slamming his head again and again into the table. Why? Because I don’t want to talk about it; I want to do it. I’d rather sing it than bring it. I’d rather bite than bark. I’d rather walk than talk. I’d rather write than outline.
Which brings me to my first point . . .
1) Solid stories fall together, not apart.
On the scale of pantser-to-plotter, I’m almost entirely a pantser, which is to say that I have a general idea where my story will end up, but I have only the vaguest of notions how my characters will get there. There are pros and cons to this approach, but the biggest positive is that my characters continue to surprise me.
I can tell you for sure that the vast majority of the coolest swerves and most riveting developments in The Scary Tales were unplanned. These little moments were spontaneous outgrowths of the characters and their situations, and I had as much fun discovering them as my readers will (hopefully) have reading them.
But these moments don’t always happen. I’ve had many a story die on the vine, and it’s usually because something was missing—either the characters didn’t have a strong enough arc, the tension was too wobbly, or the destination ultimately wasn’t all that interesting. I’m a firm believer that if a story has a solid foundation of characters and conflict, it will fall together, rather than apart.
Fortunately, with The Scary Tales, everything has fallen together wonderfully, and that’s at least partly because of my next point . . .
2) Fairy tales are rich soil for fiction, especially horror.
My Scary Tales series started as a simple Snow White zombie short story, but that story quickly blossomed into a novella, a novel, a trilogy, and ultimately a full-on series. At last part of that growth is because of the rich metaphors and iconic characters associated with the Snow White fairy tale—as well as fairy tales in general.
I’ve read a ton of fairy tales—especially by the Brothers Grimm—since I started working on the series, and these stories are full of compelling characters, horrific acts, tense situations, and depraved twists. Some of the most fascinating of the original Grimms fairy tales aren’t widely known, such as The Singing Bone or Thousandfurs. So if you’re looking for some dark inspiration, I’d recommend exploring some of the lesser-known of these tales.
They will make you laugh out loud with their absurdity or cringe with their grotesqueness—or possibly both, which hints at my next point . . .
3) Everyone brings their own story to your story.
I’ve had some people read That Risen Snow and tell me about how they simply couldn’t put it down because they were so anxious to see what happened next. Others have told me that they thought it was laugh-out-loud hilarious. Still others have told me it was scary as hell. These are all valid interpretations of the material, mind you.
Likewise, I’ve had all manner of response to the characters. Some readers have absolutely hated Merry, one of the seven dwarfs who is plagued by depression and who makes some questionable decisions throughout the novel. Others seemed to sympathize with the little guy and considered him their favorite character. I’m always thrilled when my writing elicits any strong emotion from readers, but I wasn’t expecting their responses to vary so widely. Edmund Wilson summed up this phenomenon with this great quote: "No two persons ever read the same book."
Of course, if you want to provoke any sort of response from your readers, you have to keep them engaged. That happens with tension, which for me is an outgrowth of my next point . . .
4) Imagining terrible things happening to your characters beats the hells out of worrying about terrible things happening to you.
At some point while writing this series, I came to a realization about how writing makes me a happier, healthier person. See, when I was a little kid, I worried about everything. I worried about the penny I swallowed poisoning me. I worried about getting in big trouble for the basement window I broke. I worried about going to the doctor or playing sports or talking to girls.
As I got older, I outgrew a lot of my anxiety but it still remained as my default “negative” emotion. Some people get angry. Some people feel guilty. I worry. After my daughter was born, I was surprised both by how much I loved her—but also by how much I fretted over her. Maybe it’s no coincidence that I started writing fiction after I became a dad. I’ve learned that the writing acts as an outlet for that anxious fidgeting of the mind. Oh, I still spend a good chunk of every day conjuring up awful things that might happen, but these are things that will happen to my characters, not to myself or my loved ones. That benefits me as a person, because I’m not a nervous wreck, and it benefits my readers because it keeps the tension flowing in my stories.
A tense reader keeps turning the pages until they run out of pages, which brings me to my final point . . .
5) Some people really fumping hate cliffhangers.
If I could change any one thing about That Risen Snow, the first book of The Scary Tales series, it would be the abruptness of the ending. I won’t give any spoilers here, except to say that the story ends with a pretty major cliffhanger.
By and large, the book has great reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, but the few negative reviews mostly concern the cliffhanger ending. Some people like cliffhangers. Others tolerate them if they care enough for the characters. A very vocal minority hates the shit out of cliffhangers and would probably eat your firstborn child if you have the audacity to write a cliffhanger. Seriously.
While I think the first book ends more or less at the best spot in the overarching story, I wish I’d finessed the final scene a little more. The subsequent books all end with some degree of tension, but the endings are more poignant and subtle. Rest assured, Book 9 will not end with a cliffhanger. All will be resolved. And almost no one will live happily ever after . . .
Rob E. Boley grew up in Enon, Ohio, a little town with a big Indian mound. He later earned a B.A. and M.A. in English from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.
He’s the author of The Scary Tales series of dark fantasy novels featuring mash-ups of classic fairy tale characters and horror monsters. His fiction has appeared in several markets, including A cappella Zoo, Pseudopod, Clackamas Literary Review, and Best New Werewolf Tales. His stories have won Best in Show in the Sinclair Community College Creative Writing Contest and the Dayton Daily News/Antioch Writers’ Workshop Short Story Contest.
He lives with his daughter in Dayton, where he works for his alma mater. Each morning and most nights, he enjoys making blank pages darker. You can get to know him better by visiting his website at www.robboley.com.
That Risen Snow: A Scary Tale of Snow White & Zombies
Available in paperback and ebook.Ebook currently on sale for free!
That Wicked Apple: A Scary Tale of Snow White & Even More Zombies
Available in paperback and ebook.
A Scary Tales Box Set (Books 1-4)
There’s no better time to get caught up on The Scary Tales! This special box set contains the first four books of The Scary Tales series. That’s four complete novels for only $7.99!