“The Horror Renaissance” for Scaredy Cats

“The Horror Renaissance” for Scaredy Cats

I heard mere fragments of my friends watching Smile (2022) from two rooms away and I’ve been sleeping with the lights on since. I loathe being scared. Yet, despite closing my eyes for the monster reveal every time I see a terrifying movie, I can’t seem to stop writing about grieving character arcs and religious trauma allegories driven by sinister creatures. Horror stories pique my morbid curiosity and often make me laugh harder than rom-coms and cry harder than period pieces. In trying to understand my fascinating internal dichotomy, I dove headfirst into the horror genre and discovered what a unique storytelling tool it is. Though it still unsettles me, I’ve come to revere its powerful cultural influence.

Horror has always been much more than blood, guts, and creepy crawly stuff. Since its conception, it’s been experimental and expressive: birthing science fiction and gothic, mixing myth with lore in social commentaries, anchoring cultural shifts, serving as an apparatus to examine historical injustice and cultural flaws, and enabling catharsis by facing collective traumas we’re often overfamiliar with. Horror does these things so well because it is, fundamentally, about making the audience uncomfortable. “When you enter into horror, you’re entering into… your own fear, your own darkest spaces,” writer Carmen Maria Machado explains. “When horror fails, it’s because the writer or director isn’t drawing on those things. They’re just throwing blood wherever and seeing what sticks. But horror is an intimate, eerie, terrifying thing, and when it’s done well it can unmake you.” Horror writers have to meet the heightened standards of a wary audience. The horror that haunts me with symbolism and abreaction does more than meet those standards; it exceeds them. However, in the mainstream, horror has always been critically and academically undermined. This was only exacerbated by decades of perversion horror faced on the page and screen. Fortunately, that distorted status quo is steadily being remedied thanks to the horror renaissance.

The photo is the cover image of Mariana Enriquez's novel Our Share of Night. The cover image is of a hand with long, talon-like fingernails attached to the hand's slim fingers. The fingers are bent, which makes the hand look as if it is grabbing for something that we can't see.Literary horror is coming back better: as a tool, not just for the therapeutic effect and entertainment of getting the shit scared out of you, but for examining society’s shortcomings and personal trauma with an artistic lens that reframes these things for deeper and further exploration and understanding (a concept dubbed ‘horror vérité’). Crucial to the genre’s renaissance, horror vérité has developed in tandem with what Erika T. Wurth called the “egalitarian” community of authors engaging with horror. Authors who are queer, BIPOC, women, assault survivors, authors with PTSD, and in particular authors from Latin America are writing frightening stories with deeply personal and political messages rooted firmly in their horrifying lived reality. These diverse writers from marginalized communities are here, not to imitate the slasher formula, but to elevate the genre and step back into its psychological roots. On this revamped understanding of how compelling horror is, Machado paraphrased Mariana Enríquez, prolific Latin American horror writer and author of novels Things We Lost in the Fire and Our Share of Night, who said, “In real life… you don’t have the space to have the intensity of feeling that we should have when something horrifying or traumatic happens… [Horror creates] space for the person reading to have the actual emotional response that is appropriate to the thing that just happened.”

I wanted to understand why I felt drawn to horror, allured by the depth it seemed to reach into my mind, even though I still turned away if an unskippable ad for the latest demon-possessed doll movie came on. What I learned is that, ‘fraidy cat or not, I had been sensing the seeds of an influential and captivating genre about to bloom: the unique conventions of re-sensitization, catharsis, and horror vérité utilized by a new wave of insightful writers who have remade horror into a novelty in literature once again. I have always felt innately—and now understand practically—the cornucopia of sincerely profound possibilities that horror creates through the very fear that plagues me. In the moving words of Wurth, “Fear is powerful. If you can understand your fear, even use it to heal through the art you consume or produce—you’re so much further ahead than those who avoid it. Even if you’ll never completely understand it.”

Meet the blogger:

DARBI RENAUD is a student of Hamline University pursuing a BFA in creative writing. She hopes to obtain an MFA in the future. When she’s not writing, she’s usually sleeping with her cat sprawled out on or near her face.

Three Ways to Spice Up Your Romance Writing

Three Ways to Spice Up Your Romance Writing

Love triangles. They’ve been all the rage recently, due in part to the wild popularity of novels like The Hunger Games and A Court of Thorns and Roses. (For the former, the brilliance of how the love triangle works is better explained in tumblr posts by users @fictionadventurer and @foxmagpie.) They’re a fascinating way of adding a little bit of spice and intrigue to a romance novel, but are also prone to being incredibly formulaic and boring. If you want to try your hand at writing your own version of a love triangle, here’s some interesting twists on the trope to make your story stand out. 

  1. Nobody Gets Together in the End

While romance novels often need a “happily ever after,” switching up that formulaic ending might be what your writing needs. Maybe the stress of all the plot elements spoils romance for the protagonist. Maybe both romantic choices suck in uniquely awful ways and the protagonist realizes they’re better off without either. Maybe both love interests die and the protagonist has to grapple with the great loss of both possibilities. Maybe the protagonist realizes they’re aromantic and have no interest in romance at all, but wishes to make friends with both love interests. Any which way you do it, if at the end of the story the protagonist walks away without a new beau, it’s a wonderful twist on “they get the guy/girl in the end”; not every story that starts as a romance has to end that way! 

  1. Have the Protagonist Cheat

Okay, before you start lighting my funeral pyre, hear me out. Oftentimes, part of the conflict of love triangles comes from the protagonist being unable to choose between two people… what if they think they can have both at the same time? There is a careful line to skate here in making sure that you’re not saying cheating is in any way acceptable—at the same time, the best protagonists are the ones who feel human. They make very human mistakes, have very human lapses in judgment, and furthermore, face very human consequences. How does the drama escalate when the two love interests discover the protagonist has been cheating on them both? How does the protagonist react? Do they apologize? Does this result in something else in the story going wrong? How does the protagonist grow from this, if at all? 

  1. Polyamory

I’ll be completely honest, this has always been my go-to answer for how to solve the issues apparent with love triangles for a long while. Can’t decide? Choose both! Maybe the rivalry between the love interests was a misplaced attraction between the two, or maybe they love the protagonist enough that they’re willing to share them if it makes the protagonist happy. It can be a wonderful opportunity to explore the unique struggles and the unique joys of being in a polyamorous relationship, as well as a chance to explore and critique monogamous relationships.

However you go about writing love triangles, or any story, remember that you are the one telling it—and you are the only one who can tell it in that specific way. By adding your own touches and being passionate about whatever you’re writing about, your readers will respond with the same passion and adore the love and work you put in. Now, get on out there and write in the way only you can. 


Meet the blogger:

A.E. GOODMAN is an undergraduate student at Hamline University working for Runestone. A double major in Creative Writing and Anthropology, A.E. enjoys traveling, video games, and storytelling of all kinds. You can find A.E. on Twitter at @AEStargazer or shoot an email to aegoodman01@gmail.com

Why Every Writer Should be Reading Creative Nonfiction Essays

Why Every Writer Should be Reading Creative Nonfiction Essays

Enormous parts of ourselves are defined within a sliver of a moment. These moments often become personal essays. The personal or creative nonfiction essay is a necessary work that all writers should be reading. We expand our humanity by reading CNF. Simply put, the creative nonfiction essay has heart… and guts, and grit. 

Creative nonfiction also tasks a writer with learning form. How do the words on the page take shape? Is there a structure or form that can contain, guide, or expand the work, and how might those things influence and inform character or the speaker? What type of container is being used? How is that enhancing the work? It’s important to be aware of these questions, because different types of essays accomplish different things. 

Take the fragmented essay which braids together seemingly disjointed, perhaps nonlinear moments or memories to create an enthralling story that is rich in emotion. Or the hermit crab essay which explores a topic through unusual forms like a grocery list, an email, or a horoscope (a favorite example of mine is Roxane Gay’s “To Scratch, Claw, or Grope Clumsily or Frantically”). There’s also the lyric essay which is often suggestive and a little harder to define but is a combination of poetics and prose, with peculiar rhythm and musicality. 

Reading CNF offers us new ways into our own work, no matter the genre. 

Finding Your Voice

In my prepubescent years, a fuzzy hot pink diary enclosed the earliest of my creative writings: song lyrics, stick figure drawings of my blended family, big feelings, and what I didn’t have a word for back then—poetry. It wouldn’t be until my mid-twenties that I’d take my first generic creative writing class, and then a second about memoir. Both classes were filled with creative nonfiction essays that took on innovative and unexpected forms. Reading CNF gave me the vocabulary I didn’t have and taught me how to take leaps. Recognizing the voice in other writers’ work helped me discover my own. I started to examine where it shined through, what it was trying to do, and where it wanted to venture out.

Diversity and Community

Luckily for us aspiring writers, there is a surplus of CNF essays at our disposal in our own communities: in our classrooms and local bookstores, in our libraries, and online in a vast sea of literary journals. We have access to creative nonfiction essays written by writers around the globe, with perspectives we’ve never imagined. The world becomes much larger the more we read about other people, and the personal essay continuously offers us essential space to express our humanity and connect with others as writers.

Writing Personal Essays: A Starting Point and a Safe Place to Play

We’ve all heard it before: to be a writer we must first be avid readers (and listeners). Over the past two months I’ve attended a handful of mesmerizing readings from local authors who’ve recently published books in creative nonfiction. Much of the work is hybrid, fragmented, lyrical, poetic—but most of all, it’s inventive. At one of the readings I learned that one of the recently published books started as a CNF essay. The personal essay can be a very intuitive and prudent starting point that can grow into other opportunities or work.

My fondest realization though, is that the personal essay doesn’t have to be intimidating. I continue to witness its playfulness and vibrancy. I’ve discovered it’s a safe place for creativity and meditation, a place to wring out my obsessions. The personal essay is a superb place to fail until eventually you don’t. And all the while you’re building up that writing muscle, honed by reading CNF. 

Meet the blogger:

SHELBY LENGYEL is a senior at Hamline University pursuing a BFA in Creative Writing. She writes poetry and creative nonfiction. You can read two of her poems in Volume 7 of Runestone.

Five Tips to Overcome Writer’s Block

Five Tips to Overcome Writer’s Block

Five Tips to Overcome Writer’s Block

Ah, writer’s block. The bane of every writer’s existence. It doesn’t matter how long a person has been writing, we all have a period of time where writing just doesn’t happen. Either nothing is good enough or the ideas just aren’t coming. Below are a handful of tips that you might find helpful in overpowering the crushing weight of writer’s block.

Take a Walk in a Park or Around Your Neighborhood

Yes, nearly every post about writer’s block tells us to walk, but there is a good reason for this. For some people, getting away from whatever project they are working on is exactly what they need to have a breakthrough. And what better way to bring on inspiration than surround yourself with nature? Here in Minnesota, we have some of the best scenery to take in as you walk. The fresh air, the sights, just getting away from a desk—these are all things that can help to clear your mind and focus your thoughts. Alternatively, you could go for a drive. Just make sure that you can take notes hands-free or have somebody with you to take your thoughts down.

Write Something Different From Your usual

I know several writers that find it helpful to try writing something that is different from their usual genre, or they look at a prompt list online. They take whatever idea they have and either change the perspective or attempt to write it in a different genre. Additionally, outlining your latest project could help you break your block. Of course, everybody’s brains work differently, and outlines might not work for you.

Cook Something New

Writing can be hungry work. Your brain is firing on all cylinders and burning up calories. So why not kill two birds with one stone? Creating something else can help give your brain that extra push towards refocusing on the project you want to accomplish. My personal favorite type of recipe to experiment with is traditional Japanese home cooking. I have found that there is something about concentrating on the instructions for cooking or baking that helps to clear a person’s mind. And again, writing takes energy; a growling stomach will just cause you to lose your motivation and drive.


Meditation might seem like a thing that is repetitive or similar to going for a walk, but trust me, this is different. Just taking the time to take some deep breaths and clear your brain can lead to the breakthrough you are looking for. Emptying your mind of any and all thoughts, even the ones about the project you are working on, can help you to relax and push past your block. I encourage you to try meditation at least once, even if you think that sitting still is ridiculous. Try putting on a classical music playlist and let yourself go.

Take a Nap

One tactic that most people don’t even think about to revitalize their writing—taking a nap. Some people might argue that meditation and naps are similar, but you’re working with two different intentions. Meditation is purposefully clearing your mind while staying awake and aware. Taking a nap can clear your mind by sleeping, which is what your brain needs to process your thoughts. Sometimes even your dreams can give you that last push towards a revolution. I encourage you to try and keep a notebook near your bedside to jot down your dreams.

These are just a few tips that might help you overcome writer’s block. Granted, there are plenty of other tips and tricks that aren’t covered here. And maybe these won’t help you at all! You simply have to find what works for you and move forward. Good luck!

Meet the blogger:

Rebecca FloorREBECCA FLOOD is a current student at Hamline University working towards her BFA in Creative Writing. She struggles with writer’s block herself and hopes that these tips will help others.

Exploring Poetry as a Fiction Writer

Exploring Poetry as a Fiction Writer

Last year, I took a poetry class for the first time. Despite being an avid reader and writer of fiction, I didn’t have much experience with poetry. I often found it boring, vague, or difficult to read. However, I was interested in learning more about the art form, and I felt poetry was something I should have a basic understanding of as a writer.

The class was rough at first: I spent hours flipping through our course text—The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry—struggling to find any poems that spoke to me, or at least made sense to me. However, as the semester continued, I was able to find some fantastic poems that shaped the way I think about poetry—and about writing as a whole.

One of my favorite poems from that book is “Winter Stars” by poet Larry Levis. It’s a beautiful poem about a son’s grief for his dying father, and reading it gives me a feeling akin to walking slowly and reverently through a gorgeous natural landscape or listening to a tear-inducing piece of orchestral music.

The conversational way the poem is written is actually quite similar to a prose piece written in the first person. However, Levis used poetic devices such as enjambment and end-stopped lines to carefully craft the poem line by line, and to me, that’s what makes the piece beautiful. This poem—and many others I read for this class, taught me that prose and poetry aren’t all that different after all. At their core, both mediums are ways to promote thought and induce emotion in readers through words.

I had to write a fair share of poetry for this class. As a fiction writer, writing poetry was outside my comfort zone at first, but as I had the epiphanies above, writing poetry became easier. The techniques I had to focus on were the same things I practice whenever I work on a short story: grounding the reader with details and imagery while using strong word choice and smooth-sounding syntax.

In writing fiction, I often struggle to integrate compelling imagery and metaphorical language into my work. Sometimes this makes my prose feel too simple and practical, simply telling what the reader needs to see instead of finding beauty or meaning in the details. Despite my earlier argument that poetry and prose are more alike than one might think, a compelling poem lives or dies by its imagery and symbolism. Similarly, every word matters in a poem even more so than it does in prose; a single awkward phrase or weak choice of words may hurt a short story, but a mistake like that could easily destroy a poem. A poem by nature is an exercise in finding beauty and emotion through carefully crafted language; if not written with care and deliberation, a poem falls apart.

What I’m ultimately trying to say here is that learning about poetry is an excellent way to improve one’s prose writing. A fiction piece uses language to tell a story and uses evocative, meaningful, and well-crafted language to make that story compelling. Many beginning writers tend to focus on the story first, which can put the language of the piece at a lower priority. In contrast, poetry is all about the language. A poem puts the background elements of a prose piece into the foreground; it puts beautiful language on display for the world to see. In practicing poetry, a writer learns how to wield language like a paintbrush that can paint gorgeous vistas, nostalgic locations, and representations of our strongest felt emotions. That brush can be used to paint a novel, short story, or essay just as beautiful as any poem.

Meet the blogger:

The writer is standing on a deck or porch that has a metal railing behind him. He is wearing glasses and has short, curly hair. He is also wearing a dress vest and tie. The writer is smiling with his mouth open looking directly at the camera.WILL WALKER is a Creative Writing student at Hamline University. In addition to writing poetry and speculative fiction (some of which may actually be worth reading someday), Will finds joy in tabletop role-playing games, fall weather, and spending time with friends and family.

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