Friday, October 19, 2012

What Are Writers Scared Of?

We're knee deep in the Halloween season and there are spooky and scary writing contests all over the internet. I'm not big on a lot of these contests (it's difficult enough finding time to work on my current writing projects) but I couldn't resist Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge over at TerribleMinds. The rules were simple: write a horror story in 3 sentences using 100 words or less.

Man that's a lot harder than it sounds.

After a few gajillion revisions I came up with:

I can feel tears run back across my temples and cool air caressing my naked skin, but I cannot wipe the tears away, cannot cover up.

“The paralytic should be in full effect by now,” he says over the whine of the buzz-saw.

I cannot scream.

I feel pretty good about it. It may not be particularly original but I think it's pretty scary. When posting it to TerribleMinds, I started perusing the other entries and found myself fascinated by what different folks came up with. Being the super nerdy scientist type that I am, I busted out my Excel spreadsheet and took a tally to see what writers (at least those that like flash fiction challenges) find scary.

NOTE: AS A SCIENCE GEEK I FEEL THE NEED TO...sorry, I'll stop yelling...the need to point out that these "statistics" are super unscientific and relied a great deal on my interpretation of the stories. That being said, please enjoy my nerdyness.

This first graph represents the percentage of stories that had protagonist, antagonist, or neutral view points/main characters. I defined protagonist as "scary stuff happening to them" and protagonist as "the one doing the scary stuff". "Neutral" were those main characters that were simply witnessing something scary and really didn't have anything to do with the story. I was surprised that more writers didn't have the bad guy as the MC (although I didn't either). I just thought more of us would take the opportunity to use that viewpoint. 


 This graph shows the number of stories that fell within a common premise. Not all of the stories are represented here. These are mostly the ones that fell into a category that I could figure out (same for the rest of the graphs). Being eaten was a big one. Of the 19 in that category, 5 involved cannibalism, 2 of those involving infant cannibalism (parents eating babies to be specific). The "Dying or Dead" category involved stories who's MC was dying or already dead without a clear explanation of why. The "Slasher-like" category is a little broad but includes stories that had a knife/chainsaw/etc. wielding killer. The "Child Accident" category included stories where the child of the MC is hurt or killed, usually due to the neglect of the MC/parent. I found these especially disturbing but not particularly...scary (if that makes sense).

Of the stories that had an identifiable "Bad Guy", the antagonist was overwhelmingly human. I guess us writers are far more scared of people than the supernatural. Of the humans, there were 12 true slashers, 4 evil kids, 3 doctors, and one clown. The rest were just "regular" people. "Monsters" were clearly non-human beasts without any defining characteristics. Of the animals, there were 2 cat, insect, and rodent stories and 1 story each for snakes and dogs. I was surprised that there was not a single alien story.

This one is of themes that turned out to be common in the stories. Most of theme are pretty standard in the horror genre although I did find the number of "Creepy House" stories a little disappointing. Haven't we done that one to death?!?!?

This last graph might just represent me being a jerk. I'm not sure. Basically, these are the people that didn't follow the directions. The "Cheaters" are those stories that tried to cram way more than 3 sentences in by having crazy amounts of semi-colons, commas, and dashes. Cheaters. "Wrong Genre" were those that really didn't have anything to do with horror. These include funny stories that didn't have any scary elements. There were a number of scary stories that were also funny but that's something completely different (and awesome). The "Chuck Love" category included stories who's sole purpose was to brown-nose Mr. Wendig. Have some pride people. The final category included references so obscure that I had to google them in order to have any idea what their story was about. Yikes.

There you have it.


  1. Great analysis, Adam! Very revealing and interesting! :) I'm not surprised by the amount of human bad guys, but by the cannibalism. It says quite a lot (including that 2012 truly is the year of the zombie).

  2. Wow. You are a geek. ;)

    Very interesting post, though. And your flash fiction gave me the creeps, so I say it's good! :)

  3. That was interesting - and I'm not usually a graph lover. Especially the statistics on human 'monsters' was intriguing.
    Glad I found you and am definitely following now :)


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