A writer has to pay attention to the details…

As you all know, I’m a fiction writer. These days most of my stories belong to the horror genre, but that hasn’t always been the case.

Today, as well, I’m not here to talk about serial killers, shapeshifters, or infernal church organs. No, today, I want to talk a bit about writing, writing fiction to be precise.

Writing was always important to me. I grew up with the tales of the Brothers Grimm and stories from Greek mythology. For as long as I can think, fictional stories had a place in my heart. It was only natural for me to write stories of my own.

When I first got on the internet, it was a whole new world for me. Everything was new and exciting. Before long I scurried the World Wide Web for fictional stories and places to share my own.

I found many of those places, some bigger, other smaller. It made me happy to see that so many people still enjoy the written word in these times of perpetual distraction and cheap entertainment.

During the years I’ve read hundreds of fictional stories on the internet. I worked my way through countless tales of science-fiction and fantasy before I fell in love with the horror genre.

There’s one thing I noticed though. Many writers make one grave mistake:

They don’t pay enough attention.

Not to their writing, per se, but to the world around them. As a writer, you have to look closer. You have to see, to watch and, of course, to learn.

The reason is simple. A writer has to tell the truth. If you don’t look at the world around you, you won’t be able to tell the truth about it. In turn, your readers won’t be able to see what you want to show them.

While I read quite a few brilliant stories, many by writers far more talented than me, the majority lacked the above qualities. Things don’t feel real and I wasn’t able to create a vivid picture in my mind. All I could see was a meshed up blur of half-truths.

Great writing is different, much different, but it also takes much more effort.

You see, if I want to write about nature, for example, I take a walk before I sit down to write. I look at the grass, let my hands slide through it to feel each blade. I study the strange patterns of the tree bark and watch how each leaf is shaken slightly differently by the wind. Once I get back, I put all those images into my story.

That’s what it takes to paint a vivid picture in your reader’s mind.

The same holds true for all sorts of activities. If one of your characters is a musician, but you never held an instrument, you won’t be able to paint a clear picture of playing music.

When it comes to research, people go to Wikipedia, YouTube, or talk to someone knowledgeable in the field. This is not enough to put things down as they are. There will always be something missing.

I once wrote a story about a painter, but somehow, it all felt wrong and stilted. Even after reading various pages on Wikipedia and watching videos on YouTube, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I didn’t know enough.

The problem was that I didn’t know what it was like to be a painter.

Eventually, I headed out to a crafts store nearby. I got myself some paints, a variety of different brushes, and set out to paint my neighborhood. The result was an embarrassingly bad painting. After I finished it, though, I understood how complex painting truly was. I had learned that the strokes of the brush had to be delicate and how important the amount of paint was you used.

After this experience, writing the story became much easier. The story felt real, alive, and most important of all, true. It was an overwhelming feeling, and the story was one of the best I’d ever written. I even remember the editor of the publication asking me if I was, by chance, a painter myself.

This took place a few years ago and ever since then I held true to one certain principle.

I’d only write about things I’d done before, knew about, or was willing to try out for the story. It didn’t mean that I had to become a singer or work as a chef to write about those things. It only meant that I had to try those things out on my own and try to get them done to the best of my ability.

There was one obvious downside, though. It restricted my choice of topics and it limited my output considerably. I didn’t mind though. The quality of my work improved, and I soon learned that quality always wins over quantity.

As good as things sounded, there was one time when things took a turn for the worse.

At the time, I’d been dating a girl for a year. We were quite a good match and things worked out well. I was always pressed on money though. So I accepted a few questionable commissions. One of those was an erotica story about a rather weird sexual fetish. I was a little deterred at the prospect of writing smut, but they were willing to pay me quite a bit of money.

I won’t elaborate on what I was writing about, but it took quite a bit to convince my girlfriend to try it out. The biggest problem was, I didn’t have any experience writing this type of story. I didn’t want to miss out on the payment, so I ended up pressing her to repeat the entire thing a few more times over the week. She complied, but I could tell that she hated every second.

At the end of the week, I sent out one of my finest pieces yet, but also my girlfriend. She couldn’t deal with me anymore. She’d been annoyed at my habit of trying out weird things to write about them. The last straw was to get her involved in it. She told me she felt disgusted with herself and didn’t want to deal with my eccentricities anymore.

I guess it was for the best. She was never the type to understand what true art was about.

After the break-up, I was heartbroken, as you can expect, but also excited. It meant I could try out a few different things.

Writing about sex had a certain edge to it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll never write smut or erotica for a living, but I had to admit, it was exciting.

For all the downsides the internet has, it’s still man’s greatest invention. There are so many weird, little niches, and finding a girl who’d be willing to help me out wasn’t too hard. She liked that I was a writer and was into quite a few strange things.

This chapter of my life didn’t last long though. I wrote a few brilliant stories, but the weirder the sex got, the more of a strange aftertaste it left.

Before long, I closed this strange chapter of my life for good.

What I didn’t give up on, though, were my principles. From this point onward I did other, questionable things.

At one point I accepted a story commission about a drug dealer. I knew that one of my friends sold weed and other fashion drugs to college students in town. After some back and forth and me paying him a bit of money, he allowed me to follow him along.

Things took a turn for the worse though when he got into an argument with a group of troublemakers. The entire thing escalated, and he got beaten up right in front of me. Not a great night, I can tell you. Still, there was something about the violence, about the blood. I’d read so many stories online and while they beat up my friend, I understood what those writers weren’t getting right. They’d never seen true violence, never seen actual blood flowing.

At another time I helped a friend who owned a night club in a rougher area of town. I spent the better part of the night working with the bouncers. We handled a few drunk guests and even got into a fight with a group of people who weren’t willing to leave yet. The following day I wrote a story about my experiences. Again, the editor commended me for my writing. What he wondered about was that I described the breaking of a bone as a wet snap and not a crack. Well, what can I tell you, that’s exactly what it sounded like.

After those two events, I finally wrote my first horror stories. I guess there was some part of me, something hidden inside the back of my brain that had enjoyed the violence I’d seen.

It wasn’t long before a friend of mine got curious about my shift towards the horror genre. I told him I wanted to try out a few things, and that it was nothing but morbid curiosity.

As I said before, many of the horror stories I read online lack the attention to detail. They don’t go the necessary extra mile, to tell the truth.

I on the other hand are more than willing. After all, it’s the core principle of my art.

There are so many things I’m eager to write about and I’m sure, if I get my hands a little dirty, they will come out just right.

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