Crafting Great Horror: 5 Questions for Tonia Ransom

“You never know when luck will strike, so all you can do is be ready with a body of work. Control what you can, and forget about the rest.” Tonia Ransom

Tonia Ransom is the World Fantasy Award-winning creator and executive producer of “NIGHTLIGHT”, an IGNYTE Best Fiction Podcast featuring creepy tales written by Black writers, and Afflicted, a horror thriller best described as Lovecraft Country meets True Blood. Tonia has been scaring people since the second grade, when she wrote her first story based on Michael Myers. She successfully scared her teacher—just not in the way she intended, but she got hooked on that feeling and the rest is history. She lives in Austin, Texas. You can follow Tonia @missdefying on all the socials. Risen is her debut novel.

On Saturday, October 7th, Tonia Ransom is teaching a class for the WLT called “Crafting Great Horror: Eliciting Dread, Disgust, and Terror.” In this class, you’ll learn several premises for a horror story, a list of beats for a story, and a roadmap to help them execute those beats for maximum tension and dread.

Here’s what Tonia had to share with us:

Scribe: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you write? How did you come to writing?

Tonia Ransom: I wrote my first story as part of an assignment in second grade. We had to write and illustrate a picture book, and even make the book itself. It was a really fun project, and I wrote Michael Myers fan fiction. I have 3 older brothers, the oldest of which is 9 years older than me, and my dad loved horror, so I was introduced to scary movies at a young age. I can’t remember exactly what I wrote, but there were definitely illustrations of corpses and bloody knives.

I was a good kid in school, so when my teacher called my parents, I assumed it was because I did a good job of scaring her…which was true, but not in the way I intended. My mother never told me what the teacher said to her, and when I asked years ago, she’d completely forgotten about the whole thing. Either way, I got hooked on the feeling of scaring people with my words, and kept writing, though as I moved through the school system in a conservative East Texas town that made national news for its book banning campaign, I eventually learned that writing horror was frowned upon and stopped sharing my work.

When I went to college, I needed an elective, so I picked a writing class. My professor encouraged me to write horror and share my work, and I am forever thankful to her for that because I needed to hear it after years of being told I shouldn’t write or share my work. Thanks, Charlotte.

Scribe: In your own work, how do you approach overcoming the challenges that come with writing, be it writer’s block or craft or business-related challenges?

TR: It’s taken me a long time to figure out how my brain works best, so I spent a great many years struggling with periods of not writing at all. I finally learned that doing writing sprints, especially with a partner who works alongside me on their own project, really helped me stay accountable and not let things that weren’t priorities for me get in the way.

I struggle a lot with fear of failure. Sometimes, I don’t write because subconsciously I’m afraid people will hate it, and my brain reasons that if I don’t finish the thing, people can’t hate the thing. I’ve learned that I have to keep going anyway. Being a podcaster helped a lot with that. I got used to bad reviews and learned that sometimes people just don’t vibe with your work—it doesn’t mean it’s bad quality; it just means there is nothing you could write that everyone would love. That fear of failure is still there, but I can talk myself out of it much easier.

There’s still a lot I want to accomplish: I want to sell a screenplay, for instance. Some things are out of our hands once we finish writing, and luck is a factor in our line of work. I’ve accepted that my job is to keep going, even if something near and dear to me never sells. You never know when luck will strike, so all you can do is be ready with a body of work. Control what you can, and forget about the rest.

 Scribe: Has there been a moment of epiphany in terms of your work, when you thought, “This is it! Now I know what I’m doing?” How long did that feeling last?

TR: Sadly, no. I am a perfectionist, though I try very hard not to be. Even now, when people ask me to consult with them on their work, even after winning big awards, I still feel like I don’t know what I’m doing…even though I do for the most part. There is always room to grow, and my brain tends to want to focus on that over what I’ve accomplished and learned. I think one day I’ll overcome that and have those moments of “I know what I’m doing!”, but for now “Other people know that I know what I’m doing” works for me. Though I don’t like it, I thrive on external validation, and I’m lucky that I have plenty of it. But my eventual goal is to not need external validation because I know that’s not a sustainable or healthy mindset.

Scribe: What piece of advice do you find yourself giving to writers again and again?

TR: Be authentic. Don’t be afraid to write about your experiences and perspectives. Give us insight into what it’s like to live in your culture. I think stories are one of the greatest ways to combat xenophobia—it’s hard to hate someone when you understand their experience.

Scribe: What is one thing that people will take away from this class?

TR: I think my greatest skill as a writer is hooking readers. If there’s one thing I hope students will take away from this class, it’s how to keep your reader hooked. There’s tons of self-published content on Amazon that isn’t particularly well-written, but the story itself is so captivating that people tolerate typos and weirdly-constructed sentences. We can learn to write beautifully, but if we don’t know how to captivate our audience, we’ve failed as storytellers.

Thanks, Tonia!

Click here to learn more about Tonia Ransom’s upcoming class.

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