Read Your Writing Out Loud
This is the best way to catch typos and find awkward phrasing. If it sounds wonky while you're saying it, it'll sound weird when others are reading it. Weird phrasing is more distracting than typos. With typos, people get your meaning and they can keep rolling. If your sentence is constructed poorly enough it brings the reader to a dead stop.
(Note: I'm not doing this with this blog post. ENJOY THE TYPOS!)
Think About How People Do. . . Anything
There's a lot of stories where the writer doesn't seem to be writing about how people act, but rather about how people in shitty movies or creepypasta act.
For instance, if you're writing, let's say, a blog and you see a monster/killer/murderous Crash Bandicoot plushie outside your window, are you really going to type, "OH NO, what's that, the thing that's trying to kill me? I gotta gooooo! TTYL blog!" then hit publish and go. Or, would you, I don't know, just run the fuck away? I would do the latter. I also wouldn't update my blog or write a journal entry while I'm dying. Or fill my journal with exposition, because I'm the only one who is going to see it. That kind of stuff reinforces the idea that the reader is reading a story. You want them to get absorbed in the world you're creating. The more natural the elements of your story are, the easier that will happen.
The same things goes for any haunted or crazy video game, book, movie or sandwich. If something is disturbing you to THE BRINK OF INSANITY!!!! um, you should stop playing, reading, watching or eating. That's what most people would do. Especially if there's no hand-waving about how you just can't stop because of the devil or whatever. You need to have a really solid reason for why your character would continue subjecting themselves to that kind of torture.
More than that, video game pastas LOVE to have parts like "Wario walked down the hallway for 10 minutes." Would you play that game? Seriously. I get bored playing through the tutorials of games, but apparently a good percentage of gamers (and 100% of all gypsy cursed video game owners) are down to just walk to the right for minutes.
Stories where characters are stupidly forcing themselves to experience something terrible are hard to make scary. This podcast features two friends arguing about what classifies as a horror movie. One of them believes that for a movie to truly be considered horror, the characters have to be in a situation they can't opt out of. If a character can just choose not to go somewhere or pursue someone/something, then it's not scary because they're essentially doing it to themselves.
Streamline Your Writing: Keep it Moving
This is a huge one. You're writing a short story, you need to make things move fast. The shorter the story, the more you have to make every word count. Don't say, "I needed new shirts, but I didn't like any of the stores downtown. Also, I didn't have a lot of money. I looked online, but the shipping was too expensive. So, in the end I went to the discount store at the mall." Just say, "I went to the mall to buy some shirts."
Here's three questions you should always be asking yourself as you write:
- Is this progressing the story?
- Is this interesting, engaging or making the story better in any way?
- Is this necessary to understand the story and/or will it come back later.
If the answer to any of those is "Yes," then you're on the right track. If all of them are "No"s, then cut out whatever that sentence or paragraph is. If it serves no purpose, it fucks up the flow of your story. When I say interesting, I don't mean EXPLOSIONS or BLOOD EVERYWHERE. Sometimes, it's engaging just to read about people doing normal people stuff if it establishes their character and makes you more interested in what's coming next. Description can be interesting if you're good with imagery.
Here's a great example of a story, just two pages long, written by Raymond Carver, one of the greatest short story writers ever: Popular Mechanics. In two pages, he tells a story where you understand everything about the characters and the situation and it has an emotional impact. (For good measure, here's a Carver story where nothing is said directly, nothing is obviously progressing any sort of plot, but everything contributes to the themes of an amazing story that leaves you with a feeling you can't quite describe: Why Don't You Dance?).
On the flip side, here's a reading of a Creepypasta that is ridiculously long and says so little.
(Please note, I don't want to call out anybody's story in this blog post. However, since this story is no longer on this site and it's such a good example of wasted words, I'm using it).
Streamline Your Writing: Can You Say it In Fewer Words?
The answer is probably "Yes." Cut out filler words, repetitions, obvious statements and pointless details. The better you are at conserving words, the better you are at telling a story. Now, you don't want to leave just dry bones. Dialogue can be full of flavor, because people don't speak like someone is trying to write their words perfectly. Also, if you have a very strong voice as a writer or your narrator has a strong voice then you can be looser with streamlining writing.
Here's a great example of a story that has a lot of flavor in the writing, but doesn't get bogged down by wasted words: The Girl Who Was Plugged in By James Tiptree (AKA Alice Sheldon).
Adjectives Don't Equal Good Description
Someone at some point probably told you that good writing is descriptive. Since adjectives are descriptive words. . . then. . . good writing must have a lot of adjectives, right? Not really. Adjectives tend to be very cheap and vague words.
If I tell you a child looks dirty, you know the kid is unclean, but that's it. Now, if I tell you a child has torn, stained clothes, a face smeared with mud and they smell like piss and sweat you know the child is dirty and you have a much stronger image in your mind. Now, I'm still using adjectives, but the image is stronger than if I had just said "dirty." You need more than a single word adjective to build an image. This is important if the horror in your story is hanging on a single word. If you only tell us that the antagonizing force is "crazy" or "scary" or "deformed," we get nothing out of it.
And it is even more important with emotional adjectives. Sad, scared, angry, nervous. These words all fall flat. Tell me the internal and external ways those emotions manifest themselves.
You don't always have to expand on adjectives, just when you really want to build an image.
Know What You're Talking About
Hold on, I'm running a quick scan of your computer. Beep boop boop beep. . . . . Scanning Complete.
Yeah, you're using the internet, dumbass, so there's no excuse for not knowing what the fuck you're talking about. If you're unsure what a word means or if the file extension for the haunted ROM of Spy Hunter is right or just about anything, then use the internet. It's 2013. You don't need to go to the public library to find out things anymore.
The thing is that while most readers might not notice you got something wrong, someone will. When that happens they're going to get a great big hard-on and tell you you're wrong. They might be a dick about it, they might do it politely, but they're going to let EVERYONE know that you don't know what's up. No matter what you're writing about, somebody is going to know about it. I know about news writing. The first version of this blog post had two long ass paragraphs about how people love to put newspaper articles in their stories, but have apparently never read an actual newspaper.
Most research will take just a couple minutes. It's usually worth it. And if you don't think it is, avoid putting those details in your story.
READ SOMETHING OTHER THAN CREEPYPASTA
Now, I understand a lot of people write Creepypasta for fun. They dash it off, don't really care, they just want to try it out. But, if you really enjoy writing and want to be better at it, you have to do a lot of reading. There's no way around it. Reading shows you how established authors do their thing. You see different styles and voices, how they build their characters and create imagery and it also shows you the basics of grammar (though, many writers choose to the break the rules for a variety of reasons, don't go looking for grammar lessons in post-modernism).
But you can't just read Creepypasta. You're going to pick up a ton of bad habits. I also have a feeling it's why there's so many similar stories. If you want to write a story, but all you've ever read is Sonic.exe and Jeff the Killer, you're probably going to write something similar to those. Reading different things gets your brain thinking about different ideas, different characters, different stories and jump-starts your brain into thinking outside of the standard Creepypasta fare.
Here's three short, creepy stories by published authors that you might find helpful: