My friend and new Samhain Horror author Glenn Rolfe dropped by the blog tonight to share some thoughts on fearlessness. So without further ado, here he is!
Be the Fearless Writer
by Glenn Rolfe, author of Boom Town
“I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.”—Stephen King
This might be my favorite Stephen King quote. It’s definitely the most important one for me as a writer. When I began to take writing seriously almost four years ago, I had no idea what I was doing. I’d read a lot of Richard Laymon, Bentley Little, and Brian Keene, plus plenty of Stephen King and Jack Ketchum, but I hadn’t taken an English course since 1995! Needless to say, I knew my writing would be pretty rough. I knew I had A LOT to learn, but the one thing I thought I understood was what would make a good story.
One of the first books on how to write that I grabbed was King’s On Writing. The line that always stuck in my head was that quote: “”I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.” From day one, I applied it to my work. I didn’t wimp out on any of my characters or on any of my scenes. If it was going to be vicious, I let the blood fly. If it was going to be sexy, I slid right into it, nice and slow, or fast and hard. The key was to be real about whatever I was writing. That’s the lesson I learned from King. Did I like how mean some of my characters turned out? No, they were horrible people doing horrible things. Did I consider myself to be every bit the sexual counterpart to these characters getting it on in my stories? Hell no. I’m pretty shy and very private about my sex life. But King told us: “I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.” Your characters have to be real. If you take those fears in with you and you let them deplete the character or scene you are creating, you will fail. (Unless, of course, the character you’re writing is a quiet, reserved type, then, by all means…) I’m talking about the need to be brave enough to unleash your rawest creations. If you chicken out on your dialogue, or approach a scene too cautiously, it’s going to show. Don’t let your fears cheat your story.
In writing Boom Town, my latest novella for Samhain Publishing, I took on a different fear. I dipped my horror toes into the sci-fi pool. When I finished the first draft, I knew it wasn’t right. I had copped out. I shied away from the monster in the story. The blue ooze was unidentified. Or was it? I knew what I wanted it to be. I knew I wanted it to be alien goo, but I was too chicken shit to commit. That fear killed the original story. I had read tons of horror from Little, Laymon, Keene, and Ketchum, but I wasn’t really up on my reading of science fiction literature. I lacked the confidence to write the story the way I wanted. Instead, I brought my fears to the table and let the story fall flat.
Then, I remembered the King’s quote again: “I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.”
I loved the characters and the storytelling that I created in Boom Town, and decided to (quoting Rocky from Rocky III) “go for it.” I wrote a whole new opening scene letting readers know right off the bat that the tale would feature something extraterrestrial, and BAM, the whole thing came together perfectly. I went through and fearlessly attacked the rest of the manuscript. I sent it to my editor and he sent back a contract.
My advice to any of you out there writing today is this: be the fearless writer. It’s okay to be afraid, just don’t write that way.