Those of you who are on my mailing list will already know that I was recently approached by a small press to submit a short story to an anthology focusing on Lovecraftian fiction. As a big fan of H.P. Lovecraft’s original stories, I jumped at the chance to stretch myself as an artist and see if I could do justice to the Cthulhu Mythos.
Once I started the project, I quickly confirmed something that I’d suspected for years: writing like Lovecraft is hard. His style of horror focuses on visceral storytelling that uses mood and atmosphere to create tension rather than overt physical threats. Lovecraft can (and frequently does) write stories where the majority of the horror comes simply from the way he describes his settings. That’s a far cry from an author who focuses on building tension through a tight conflict/resolution pattern focusing on the interactions between characters and whatever is threatening them. In other words, an author like me.
This lack of emphasis on event-driven writing also has an effect on the structure of Lovecraft’s plots. Frequently, his stories will focus on some particularly terrifying concept and its gradual discovery by the protagonist. Once the protagonist discovers the secret fully, the story is over. The resolution of any physical threat is secondary to this final revelation. I remember reading one of his stories that ended with lightning striking the spooky house, burning it to the ground along with the villain while the hero woke up unharmed without explanation, simply because the explanation wasn’t important.
Still, it’s important to distinguish a Lovecraftian story ending from your traditional deus ex machina. Within the Cthulhu Mythos, humankind is not the center of the universe. Whether penned by Lovecraft himself or a later author, one of the most consistent themes in this expansive body of work is the insignificancy of humanity compared to a variety of immense, cosmic realities. These concepts and creations are not evil in the traditional sense. They’re not trying to destroy humanity. They are indifferent to it. If a protagonist doesn’t understand how or why something happens, it’s because they are the proverbial ant on the truck tire, unable to conceive and interpret events beyond their scope.
And I decided to try writing a story like that.
Actually, the process has been really enjoyable. For an author who usually uses action and dialogue to carry the momentum of a story, it’s a fun exercise to see how much I can do with setting description and interior monologue. It’s also liberating to discard notions that everything needs to be explained for this type of story. Why is a room scary? Because it simply is. My job isn’t to justify the story, but to evoke the proper emotions in the reader through my writing style.
I’d compare the process to an artist experimenting with a different medium, like a painter using charcoal or a guitarist learning to play the mandolin. The nuances are different, but the fundamental principles of the language are the same. I can handle that much. Writing in this style may be a stretch, but it’s not fully out of reach.
So, will my story sound exactly like Lovecraft? No. But my hope is that those of my fans who also enjoy Lovecraft will be excited to see this type of story told through my own unique way. And who knows? Maybe some Lovecraft fans will enjoy discovering a new author who shares their appreciation for a classic storyteller.
As always, a big shout-out to the fantastic members of my Readers Community:
Randall Hodgson, Jerry Staton, Matthew Paxman, Yoshiyuki Nishikawa, Wil Sisney, Jarred Walton, Joel Stanger, and Kelly Wilbur.
If you’d like to learn more about my Readers Community, check out the following link: