On Writing Horror by Tanya Nehmelman

Today’s guest is the lovely Tanya Nehmelman. I love talking craft and hearing where other authors get their ideas, especially in the realm of the horror genre, so this is an especially cool post for me. Enjoy!


On Writing Horror

By Tanya Nehmelman

Author in Paying the Ferryman (upcoming)

My horror stories are influenced by a number of things from nightmares or dreams to everyday experiences. I started out keeping a notepad and pen by my bed so I could jot down ideas before I forgot them. Now I downloaded an app so I can just grab my phone and type them in. Much easier and quicker than having to get up and turn on the light before I can write down the ideas on paper.

Taking stories from my dreams started out when I was younger, still a kid. I remember waking up sometimes after a dream and being mad that I woke up. I was the weirdo, who wanted to know what happened, so I would think about it and try to make myself redream about it, hoping I’d get a conclusion. More often than not that didn’t work, so I started writing them down and giving them endings I thought fit, and they became my stories.

Then there are the other story ideas that hit during everyday experiences. Like odd situations at work (I work in a doctors’ office) like when there was this weird smell coming from the hallway by the nurses’ station. It gave me the basis for a story about doctors and nurses who were getting rid of bothersome patients and stashing the bodies in the ceiling. Or one I came up with during nurses’ week when one of the doctors gave his nurse a beautiful antique pin. It provided the basis for the story I call, “Lisa’s Gift.” It’s about a haunted pin that transports its new wearer back in time to face the horror the original owner experienced when she received the pin. I guess I just look at everyday situations, make them weird and transform them into a horror story.

Balancing writing with the realities of everyday life comes to a bit more of a challenge for me these days. When I was in school, I’d work on my stories during class when I should have been paying attention. But if I started it in study hall and was really into it I had to keep going until it was complete even if that meant writing past study hall and in an actual class.

Now that I’m older and have the dreaded responsibilities of an adult I can’t just drop everything and work on a story although I’d like to sometimes. I’ll jot things down if I get a lunch break. After work I try to do some type of writing for at least an hour, some late nights that’s hard. On my days off are when I get some real writing done. I aim for a goal of at least four hours, depending on what errands are in store for me that day.

Once in a while I’ll wake up sometime in the middle of the night unable to go back to sleep, and use that time to work on some writing. Writing in the dark while everybody’s sleeping adds to the creepiness in my tale as I creep myself out.

Then there’s the shower. I’ve come up with countless ideas while in the shower. I’m not sure if it’s just because I’m completely alone during that time or the fact that the shower resides in an old creepy basement. Maybe it’s a little of both, but it is the perfect place to manifest scary ideas.

Although I do love writing horror, I do face some challenges in my writing. I’d say they differ from story to story. A lot of times, I come up with a good idea, but then can’t figure out a good or catchy way to start it. I work on the “meat” of the story and wait for the beginning to hit me. Sometimes it’s right away, sometimes not, but I eventually come up with something.

Other times I struggle with finding a good ending that fits and doesn’t come out cliché or predictable. This challenge doesn’t happen as often as the latter. I start a lot of my stories at the ending. With that said the hard part of starting backward is getting the rest to fit without making the story sound cheesy.

The worst challenge I find myself suffering from the most is losing interest in a story. I come up with a great idea, but once I get it on paper I don’t like it. What’s challenging is getting myself to care about that particular story enough to reinvent it and get it back to the state of me liking it.

Pandemonium is a perfect example of this challenge. It started out as a dream I had years ago. I woke up and wrote a short story originally called 6:12. I did not like it at all. It sat for two years until I picked it up again last summer and rewrote into something I liked enough to submit, and now I can share it with all of you in Paying the Ferryman.


Tanya Nehmelman is a graduate of the Institute of Children’s Literature. She is the author of several short stories included in the anthologies, Dead Men and Women Walking, Fossil Lake an Anthology of the Aberrant, and The Twelve Nights of Christmas. Her story All Hallows’ Night took 3rd place in the Inner Sins crossword format contest and is in issue 13. She has also received several editor’s choice awards for her poetry at poetry.com. To find her upcoming work visit her page at facebook.com/tanyanehmelmanauthorpage. Tanya Nehmelman lives in Northern Illinois with her family.



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