I don’t invent novels and short stories by their plot points. That would put me into a rhythm of “And then he did this and then he did that and then…” which plays falsely somehow. It lacks beauty, a word seldom used when readers refer to the horror genre, though I believe it is an essential element if we want things to have a spooky, frightening effect.
Of course, this method would eliminate splatter. Having a character stab someone FIFTY TIMES isn’t scary. After one or two good ones the victim has already shown us heart of the event, and the chance for beauty is lessened with every thrust. Good scare moments are poetry. If they just shock us, we have the thrill of release, but that’s not frightening. In a way, it is a relief. The moments that have meaning for us are the ones with symmetry, odd beauty, and staying power, affecting us long after the book is closed.
A guy awakens a spirit in the graveyard. Okay. In terms of plot, that works. But I don’t see it. I don’t feel it, under my skin, in my bones. When I conceived my first novel ‘Alice Walks’ I had a horrific image in my head, not even sketched in full sentences, just fragments of darkness and symmetry connected by commas, almost like a heartbeat. There was a ghost, a girl, tinted green somehow in her burial dress, floating a foot or so above the ground on a night of early November snow in front of her dark mausoleum on the south side of the graveyard near a scatter of woods. She was wearing a veil, trying to breathe like the living, sucking the silken material to her face briefly showing the shape of her bony features, then releasing on the exhale becoming formless again. There were boys who had raced up from the edge of the courtyard, those who didn’t understand her, and they’d brought rocks in a dented beach pail. They were throwing the stones and she got wounded, bleeding, arms stretched now like Jesus as she flies toward them hard through the semi-darkness.
At the time, I had no idea why the boys were there throwing stones, so I wrote the story around the image that would bring it to life. The novel I have coming out through Nightshade Books titled ‘Phantom Effect’ this coming February was conceived with an image in mind of a 6’5” Native American serial killer caught in a late autumn rainstorm at night out on an abandoned highway with both back tires flattened. I pictured that his huge hands were dangling down, his long hair hanging in his face, and he was staring into the trunk at a girl cut into pieces and floating in the pond, head lolling with her long straight hair matted across so her face wasn’t visible almost in a mimic of her attacker looming above her; an ankle portion was partly submerged, bobbing in the black rainwater showing the floral and ivy tattoo going up to her calf. He’d purposely slanted his blade during the dismemberment portion so he could save the pattern.
My novel that just came out this past December titled ‘The Witch of the Wood’ is loaded with images strung together so rapidly, so violently, that I was hoping the pacing itself would become a living, breathing entity. The central figure or image for this one at the point of conception made no sense in my head at the time, it had no context yet…a “vision” in its purest sense. I saw a tall figure rising above me, wearing some sort of industrial headset, with ridged goggles. He had his hands stretched up above his head almost like one of those old school vampires about to strike melodramatically, and the central visual was the black cape rising behind him, flapping in what appeared to be a hard wind and dotted with points of stabbing light that were blinding. That is the description of my “Dark Guardian” character, making his appearance at the halfway point in the text. Before him, I have scenes of intensive erotica and situations that keep working toward an ever darkening center. After him, there are visions of creepy blank slate beings trying to work themselves into the bloodline, exploding heads, witch burnings, fireworks, apocalyptic thunder as every tree in the world crashes down to the earth at the same time, and hell, at that point I’m just getting started.
I would never insinuate that my process of image first – plot second is any kind of a standard. One of the wonderful things about writing is that there really is no base script for the joy of invention. We make it up as we go. Still, I am willing to bet that Stephen King had the image of the pale, expressionless twins holding hands in the hallway and saying, “Come play with us Danny. Forever. And ever,” long before he conceived the story around them. Or maybe not.
I know that’s the way I would have done it…Michael Aronovitz published his first collection titled Seven Deadly Pleasures through Hippocampus Press in 2009. His first novel Alice Walks came out in hardcover by Centipede Press in 2013, and Dark Renaissance Books published the paperback in 204, and his novel The Witch of the Wood came out through Hippocampus Press recently. Aronovitz's first young adult novel Becky's Kiss will be appearing through Vinspire Press in the fall of 2015 and his third adult horror novel Phantom Effect will be published by Night Shade Books in February of 2016. Michael Aronovitz is a college professor of English and lives with his wife and son in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. Visit http://michaelaronovitz.com.