Writing tales from the crypt

Workshop gives tips on penning horror and fantasy stories

Arthur Slade wants to help you bring your supernatural realm to life. The established Saskatoon-based horror/fantasy author is coming to Winnipeg to share his secrets in a workshop hosted by the Manitoba Writers’ Guild.

Slade grew up reading novels by Ray Bradbury, J.R.R. Tolkien and Stephen King before starting to write his own stories.

“I always knew I wanted to write the things I was already reading, just new versions of them,” the 47-year-old says.

In 1997 he released his first novel, Draugr, which shares the name given to the undead in Norse mythology. The plot follows three American kids who spend the summer visiting relatives in Gimli, Manitoba while one of those creatures drags their grandfather away. Since then, Slade has published 17 books with Dust serving as the most popular, even winning the 2001 Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature.

“It’s set in 1930s Saskatchewan and it’s about this supernatural rainmaker who comes to a small town,” he says.

Most recently he released a graphic novel called Modo: Ember’s End and is working on a new book called Flickers, which he hopes to release in 2016. But despite mostly writing for young adults Slade says that this workshop is geared towards an adult audience.

“I think it’s much more accepted to write fantasy and horror for kids just because we’re dealing with younger imaginations that are more open-minded,” he notes. “But the basic rules are all the same no matter who you’re writing for.”

Slade adds respecting the reader and being detailed is one of the first things budding novelists should take away from this workshop, which he’s led on three previous occasions.

“You want all the writing and characters to be strong and believable, which you do by adding a lot of detail,” he says. “If there’s some sort of supernatural force you’re writing about you want to be very detailed and know what its limits are. You don’t want to stop the story to make those details clear either, you want the reader to understand them almost naturally.”

Discussion time and exercises are also included into the agenda so that writers can practice what they’ve been learning. The six-hour workshop also offers tips on how to avoid clichés, something that can be particularly common in these genres.

“There’s so many vampire stories and ghost stories so you really need to look at these characters in a new light and find a new way to say something that hasn’t been done before,” he says. “Read lots of stories to see what other people are doing and then try to come up with your own take.”

Slade just hopes the workshop inspires people to try their hand at creating stories in these genres.

“Writing fantasy is a lot of fun,” he says. “It reminds me of riding on a rollercoaster and when you get off at the end you’re still alive. At least in theory.”

Published in Volume 69, Number 12 of The Uniter (November 19, 2014)

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