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Horror Month: Author Sid Williams Discusses Horror Writing for Graphic Novels

This October we’re celebrating “Horror Month” on the Full Sail Blog. Stay tuned over the coming weeks for a series of features and interviews celebrating the best in horror entertainment.

There's a unique power in horror writing. A good horror book or graphic novel taps into the things that scare us collectively, and makes them feel universal. It's a notion that continues to attract fans of the genre, and something that Full Sail Creative Writing instructor Sid Williams has had an intimate connection with for over two decades.

Sid is the course director for our Literary Genre II: Horror, Mystery and Suspense class, and is also a celebrated horror author of over a dozen novels and graphic novels. Drawing on his own expertise in scaring readers, we got Sid's input on his picks for the Top 5 Horror Graphic Novels earlier this week, and continue today with a in-depth discussion on the mechanics of writing for the genre.

Full Sail: Specifically in terms of horror, why are comic books and graphic novels such a good medium?

Sid Williams: Horror is a lot about atmosphere, and comics visually can create a universe for horror to occur in well. The visuals contribute to the story in the same way as they do for a movie, but it’s that straddling the line between the printed word and the visual that really excites your imagination. A really moody comic panel can contribute to the scare factor of the story in a unique way.

FS: Is there a comic artist who you think captures that especially well?

SW: Bernie Wrightson. There’s a very primal style to Wrightson's world. The overall look is disturbing. That is inherent in his work, and just really cool as a reader.

FS: In terms of your own writing, is there a place you go mentally when you’re working on a horror novel or comic? What do you tap into?

SW: In any creative work the world starts to become that mental place that you exist in. I wrote a book called When Darkness Falls set in a small town, and I really lived in that town in my mind – I knew those streets, where each left turn was.

I’m writing a story now that’s set in the basement of a library, so that world is very real to me right now. I started with the floor plan of a real library, and once you have that picture in your mind you try to share it with the written word.

FS: Is there any advice you like to offer to budding horror writers?

SW: To get clinical about it, research contributes to horror writing because learning as much as you can about something like a vampire, for example – there’s so many little nuances that you can discover, and then your imagination can go off and play with them. A lot of times the things that are tucked back in your memory from what you discovered during research will kick in when you’re in the middle of a story.

FS: For someone so immersed in the horror genre, what does it take to scare you these days? What components does great horror entertainment need to have for you?

SW: I did go through a period where I thought I was so jaded that nothing would scare me again, but then some movies came down the pike that have done that. We’ve shown every form of dismemberment that we can ever imagine on screen, but have recently come back to the haunted house stories that don’t show every gaping wound, but suggest little flashes that scare us.

Like the part in Paranormal Activity where they put the talcum powder down and then a footprint appears in it, and then some of the moments in Insidious that really get into fear by tapping into the unknowns. That excites me. And I think I really have come to an understanding of H.P. Lovecraft’s notion of the unknown being scary, that the things we don’t see are the scariest.

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