This is the first page of my first serious attempt at a horror story, any feedback would be welcome. I don't use forums much or share my work often but I am looking for ways to improve and I like the environment here. It's a haunted house story...sort of... There's a mystery to uncover and more to be explained later on. Thanks to mizal for the help with punctuation and I've tried to add your suggestions, let me know what you think.
I'm just writing this on Infinite Story for now because I thought of it as mostly as an ordinary novel at first, but I'm trying to come up with ideas for more choices and I'll move it over here if I can do that.
The title is Dream House.
Chase Warren was a very uninteresting boy. He made straight Bs in class and never got into trouble. He never had a dog or cat, only a goldfish his sister named Glubbo. Without anyone really noticing, he grew up into a very uninteresting adult. He worked at Walmart, talking to people all day but never really talking to anyone. He liked to ride his bike, draw, and play board games, and he never tried to argue about it when his girlfriends thought he was too boring and left him. He liked to read, but only read non fiction. So when the letter with the real estate office's official stamp arrived in the mail, he didn't recognize the signs of how weird things were about to get.
"Mr. Chase Warren," it read.
"Our office has been trying for some time to find you. As the only living relative of Matthew Warren, Jr., you've come into the possession of the Warren Estate, located in the town of Vagary, Maine. You'll find a map and directions to our office there enclosed. Because of the peculiarities of this case and the wishes of your great uncle, we'll need to meet with you in person to proceed any further. Please call if you have any questions."
Well of course he had lots of questions. "What the heck? Is this some kind of scam or what? I don't even have a great uncle," he muttered to himself. He almost threw the letter away. Then his curiosity got the better of him and he called his mom instead. It was then he learned that his father, long deceased, had been adopted. So this Matthew Warren, Jr., had been his father's biological uncle. It seemed a long shot that someone he'd never met that, as far as he knew his father hadn't had much contact with either would go through the trouble of leaving him anything, but then again he'd known very little about his father and there could be more to the story. It was at least enough to make him give the number a call, after looking it up and seeing the real estate agency was a real one in Maine.
He was answered by a man named Luke Bronson who seemed excited to hear from him and knowledgeable about the situation. "We've been looking for you for three years. You were originally supposed to inherit the house back when you turned 18. How soon can you be down here to sign the paperwork?"
"Whoa, slow down. The address is over a thousand miles away. How do I know this is even real? And I'll have to take off work and everything..."
"With all due respect, Mr. Warren. You're about to inherit an entire house, and it's one of considerable value even without factoring in the antique furniture inside. I've also been authorized to advance whatever funds are needed to smooth the transfer of the property along. Meaning I can book a hotel at the nearest place to us with an airport and arrange a rental car."
Chase paused before he answered. It all sounded too good to be true.
"Uh, authorized by who? Where is this money coming from?"
"The groundskeeper of the estate has been in the service of Mr. Matthew Warren for decades, and he was the one entrusted with upkeeping the house and the funds to do so for an indefinite length of time. He's just as eager to see the property transferred over as we are however, we'd all like to see this matter resolved."
Chase took a deep breath, running his fingers through his blond and brown streaked hair. “Sorry, but this all seems so crazy and out of nowhere to me. I never knew anything about my dad’s biological family...he was adopted and well, he didn’t leave this one on the best of terms either.”
That was an understatement. His dad had driven into the lake with Chase as a three year old still strapped in the carseat. Only the chance of a passing Good Samaritan with lifeguard experience had been able to save them. Afterward his dad had disappeared from the hospital. Everyone said he must have had some kind of psychotic break or gotten amnesia and wandered off. There never was any way to know whether they’d both nearly drowned on accident of if it had been deliberate. Chase of course had been too young to remember anything, and his life sense then had been blessedly dull.
“Mr. Warren, I understand completely,” Luke said soothingly. “It’s a lot for anyone to take in at once. But there are certain time sensitive matters involved in this, and of course this has been a property we’ve had to deal with, at no profit, for three years now. I think the entire process will be simpler than you think if you’d just come on up to the office. We can’t go forward with anything just over the phone.”
"Fine. But if this is some kind of scam: I work at Walmart, I have no freaking money! There's nothing you can get out of me."
Luke made a sound over the line that was lost in a burst of static, but it sounded like a chuckle. "I will certainly keep that in mind.”
That night Chase dreamed of riding his bike. He rode out of the city and down a long winding road through an idyllic countryside. Up ahead was THE HOUSE. No matter how many twists and turns the road took, THE HOUSE was always right in front of him. He rode across a bridge, on a walkway along a river, then through a dark tunnel through a mountain with unblinking red eyes watching him from all sides. When he came out again THE HOUSE which should have been left behind on the other side was still right there on a hill against the horizon, more ominous and unavoidable than ever. The patches of farmland had turned into squares on a literal quilt, green and gold. There were embroidered letters in rusty brown that he couldn’t make out, undulating across its surface. What he could read however were the words painted in giant letters on the road itself, that he drove over one by one. STOP. DEAD END. TURN BACK. WRONG WAY.
And finally: TOO LATE.
Chase woke up and gave a huge yawn, rubbing at his eyes. Some remnant of a dream flickered through his mind. He remembered a patchwork countryside and a creeping sensation of dread. He had an idea some hulking, alien thing had been crouched up ahead, but the memory of whatever it had actually been was gone.
After breakfast, he picked up the phone and called Luke Bronson again at the time they’d agreed on. It was time to arrange how to travel to the house. After all he couldn’t exactly just ride his bike there.
Thanks for reading! Let me know what you think.
The first choices after this will be whether to take a plane straight there and go on to the original idea I had, or else you can drive there with your friends and get a different plot with the story more about the trip and someone mysterious trying to stop you from even reaching the house.
Thanks Mizal, and I forgot to say that draw.io did turn out to be useful. I'm still trying to figure out choices, but I was able to use it to make a map of the house.
Your English is far better than mine. However, at the beginning the flow is weird, feel like rushed and like something is wrong in the first paragraph when you explain the grey life Chad had.
I recommend you check out The Ground Zero intro the character is as well a looser, but Endmaster doesn't say it. He shows with the text how boring and grey the protagonist live is.
However, in the last part with the nightmare riding the bike the pacing and flow it is really better.
What I would like is more descriptions of the surroundings and how all it is like. It helps to building an atmosphere.
But, well I am nobody really to give advice.
I'm going to change the beginning. I think the dream sequence is the best part too, thanks.
I'll start with the usual disclaimer of: take this with a grain of salt, think about the things I'll mention yourself, and horror is not my expertise (though I wouldn't say anything really is).
Also, if there is something more specific you are curious about, feel free to ask. Specific questions can help with acquiring desired feedback, as otherwise the feedback can end up a bit more general than you might be hoping for.
Oh, I should also mention that I consider writing to be very much a thing where you ought to find what works for you. That's why one of the things mentioned above was to think about the things mentioned yourself, since you might find they are irrelevant in your case.
Because you seem to be punctuating dialogue correctly (here is an article for those who don't know how) I'm going to instead say... that it seems you haven't used any semi-colons or em dashes. Obviously you don't have, but in case this isn't a choice but because you don't know how to use them, here is a website that might help get some idea of it (to start at least, there was a better one but I can't find it): liminalpages.com. Alternatively, you can wait for Gower to make an article here, it'll probably be better.
The reason I bring this up is not because there is anything lacking in what you have written that'd be fixed with this, but rather because having access to all the tools can help more interesting and varied sentences, along with better conveying ideas and creating nicer flow. Personally, I don't really use either of these myself, but I would like to at least be capable.
This one depends on style and intent, so think about it an extra amount.
Here are two sentences early on:
Maybe it is just me, but the repetition of talking and then read feel a bit off, especially the second one. Try reading them aloud (or mouthing the words). The first one I think just needs a comma (but I could be wrong); check this article out: Basic Sentence Structure: Additive Sentences. For the second one, I think the second read makes it clunky, so I'd just drop it.
As such I'd suggest something like:
I'll quickly mention that one thing said: non-fiction/nonfiction (British/American spelling). However non fiction didn't seem to come up.
I find flow to be something you get better at just by writing/paying attention. It is an interesting element of writing which I am no authority on, but I can still point it out!
Other than that, word omission would also cover not giving pointless information. Sometimes, readers can assume things, and this can also be used to affect pacing. As you need to think more about tension and stuff (which I think matters more in horror) it is definitely worth keeping in mind.
This'll be short because you seemed to do it well, but I'll say that words that end with -ly being tacked on as additional descriptions for stuff can take away from the writing when overdone (this ties in with word omission). Some people tend to overdo this without realising the negative impact it can have. Anyway, you seemed to do this well, so no complaints from me.
Not much to comment on, as this is just the first page. However there are some general things that are worth mentioning.
Mara did mention showing rather than telling regarding the protagonist being uninteresting, which is worth thinking about as 'telling' can be bad (but again that is when overdone). Showing AND telling do have their merits, but the general proverb exists because people tend to overdo the telling which can end up rather dull.
In this case, I think both ways can work, and it depends on what you are going for. I imagine you don't care to spend much time before the inciting incident, which makes sense, which is why I think keeping it as is should be fine (but do consider trying to polish the opening some more, as you generally want to make sure the reader isn't put off before the story even really started).
I'm curious about all the directions this can go, you already mentioned a major branch at the start, so it is nice to see you thinking about it. Anyway, suffice to say the idea seems to have potential (but this doesn't mean much, as I'd say most ideas have potential).
However I'd say this opening is executed pretty well, and if you end up delivering some happenings/narrative beats, I'm sure this can end up as a pretty good story.
Don't forget that the scope of branching narratives can explode like crazy, so thinking about it a bit is a good idea. Also keep in mind that cutting things or restructuring them is something that exists and can be done.
Keep writing, it's looking good! Do tell me if there is anything else you'd like mentioned, for I tried to not go overboard by giving all the general advice I can think of (aha), but this does mean I might've missed something worth talking about.
Oh, also, if you have time, remember to proofread. I think people like to skip that step, but it is definitely worthwhile as it can push a good story into a great one. Doing a proofreading pass at the end can also help spot scenes that might be omitted (or find good spots to add new ones), because at this stage you'll have a really good idea of the overall story.
Heck, in general, the micro vs macro of writing is interesting, and something I'll hopefully get a better understanding of. I was considering trying to talk about it here, but I'll save it for when I am more confident in what I have to say, and besides, this post is long enough as is.
P.S. Here is an article about proofreading (for those who it may concern...which might be a good deal of people): Proofreading.
This is a lot to look through, thanks.
Thanks everyone who posted here. The only problems mentioned were the first paragraph and that it needed more description, so I'll take that as a good sign for the rest.
I didn't bother describing his apartment or surroundings because the next page will take the story elsewhere and he won't be coming back here. The opening being boring was one of my concerns and it was why I moved the dream to the end of this page. But I'm not sure what to do about the first paragraph. I know you're supposed to show, not tell, but I can't think of any interesting way to show any of this stuff that wouldn't add several pages that weren't interesting and don't really matter. I just wanted to make it clear Chase was a quiet guy who kept to himself before he got summoned to the house.
I'll change it if I can come up with anything better or if anyone can suggest something, but I'm just going to keep going ahead with the plot I started for now and worry about this page later. If anything I'm relieved that's all anyone could find wrong with it. Thanks again for the comments.
I haven't read it all yet, just the first paragraph after skimming the thread and reading this last comment from you.
If you want to describe and not tell, that doesn't mean you have to write pages about his apartment and such. That just means you need to create a feeling without directly stating what you are trying to make people think. The first paragraph is going to be boring, because that is what you are trying to convey about the main character. You can remove things like the first sentence if you create the feeling though.
For example if you start with, "Chase Warren made straight Bs in class and never got into trouble his entire life." That (to me) screams wow this guy is uninteresting/average. It also shortens it up so you can be more descriptive about the things that make him boring. Maybe adding details about his fish being his only friend in high school, or some other stories that give a sad impression.
The line about his girlfriends might be spiced up by taking out "thought he was too boring and left him" and adding in something more descriptive and specific. Like maybe Susie dumped him on her birthday, when he wanted to stay home and read essays about grammar rather than taking her out to dinner. I feel a girl would definitely dump a guy like that for being too boring.
I think the paragraph is fine as it, but I thought I would take a stab at some suggestions based on feedback I received from Gower on a horror game I wrote not long ago. I hope this is helpful, and think you should continue with the plot! you can always clean up minor things once the story is written too.
Edit: I read the rest and thought it was good! One minor comment is that "sense" should be "since" at the end of the paragraph about his dad (just before the dream).
Thanks a bunch man, I'm going to use some of these ideas. The girlfriend line is funny.
No problem, I am glad you like it! You can use whatever you want, but I highly encourage you to make it your own by using your own words.
The issue is that you are spending time telling me what he doesn't do, and that's not particularly useful for the reader in this case. Instead of telling me he's uninteresting, why not just tell me what he does let me decide if he's uninteresting or not? If there's a boy who works reasonably hard at school so consistently that he got straight B's, never got in trouble, who enjoys board games, I'm not getting "uninteresting" off that. He seems like a regular dude so far. I think what's happening is that you are signaling boring with things that don't signal boring to me. He never had a dog or cat (ok, that's the absence of information, and it makes me think the author feels not having a dog or cat is a sign of something); he rides a bike and draws, both interesting hobbies that I could imagine an author showing me makes him interesting. He likes to read nonfiction (which also sounds like the author is trying to show makes him a boring person. But I'm not sure that's a sign of that either.)
In short, if your goal is to show he's a quiet guy who keeps to himself, give us a few paragraphs where you show him doing that. What does he do when he's being quiet? Where is he? Show us him talking but not talking, or drawing when those around him are socializing. Show me him spending time with a fish. Make me care about your protagonist.
Chase Warren was a very uninteresting boy. He made straight Bs in class and never got into trouble. He never had a dog or cat, only a goldfish his sister named Glubbo. Without anyone really noticing, he grew up into a very uninteresting adult. He worked at Walmart, talking to people all day but never really talking to anyone. He liked to ride his bike, draw, and play board games, and he never tried to argue about it when his girlfriends thought he was too boring and left him. He liked to read, but only read non fiction.
Boring might have been the wrong word. I'm not saying any of it that it's bad, but the idea is that he'd not be the kind of person to expect weird things to happen to or anything strange going on with his family.
I might get rid of the first paragraph since everyone hates it and I think I can re do the page to not need it.
Thanks for reading and for the help!
I've grabbed one of the paragraphs to talk about with the hope that it is representative, so we can talk about prose style. I've broken it into sentences.
Well of course he had lots of questions.
That wants to be "Well, of course he had lots of questions." Interjections at the start of a sentence pretty much always needs a comma.
"What the heck? Is this some kind of scam or what? I don't even have a great uncle," he muttered to himself.
My only thought about this sentence is that it doesn't sound like natural speech. I wonder if it works more as a thought than spoken words.
Then his curiosity got the better of him and he called his mom instead.
Comma before "and"--this is an additive sentence.
It was then he learned that his father, long deceased, had been adopted.
I wonder if you can make this important sentence more interesting by starting with a more interesting word. "It" is one of the more boring words to start a sentence work. "His long-dead father had been adopted, he learned"; "His long-dead father, he learned, was adopted." Dunno. Mess around with the sentence? People often hate when I give this comment, but I find that people who lean on "it" for sentence starters use that word a lot, and it becomes a go-to rather than them think about how to use that primo sentence real estate interestingly.
It seemed a long shot that someone he'd never met that, as far as he knew his father hadn't had much contact with either would go through the trouble of leaving him anything, but then again he'd known very little about his father and there could be more to the story.
There's the sentence-starting "it" again. But more importantly, this sentence is really hard to read, and I would avoid the double cliche of "a long shot" and "more to the story."
"How likely was it that someone he'd never met, and whom his father hadn't had much contact with, would go through the trouble of leaving him anything? Then again, he'd known very little about his father. Maybe there was more to the story." <--I've broken it into three sentences here, following up the long, multi-clause sentence with two snappier sentences to mix up the rhythm.
It was at least enough to make him give the number a call, after looking it up and seeing the real estate agency was a real one in Maine.
There's "it" again as sentence starter, and to boot, another "it" in the next clause hanging out alone. Usually I recommend reducing the number of unnecessary "it"s when you can. Look how you can give the sentence more power by ripping them out:
"Seeing that the real estate agency actually existed, he figured he'd give them a call." <---here, I tightened it way up (partly because saying "the real estate agency is real" is odd sounding, with the two "real"s right next to each other. I also omitted "looking it up" because that seemed obvious enough that you don't need it.
Thanks I'll try to use these in the new first page I'm writing.