On Writing: Channeling Nightmares

The thing about being a writer is, if you get hit with a nightmare, or a real-life scenario even worse than a nightmare, you can often take a step back and say, “Okay, how would I use this in a book?”

Mind, it might not be a book you ever write, depending on how many horror elements you want to use in your fiction. But at least it lets you get some mental distance, and try to break down what aspects of the situation hit a person viscerally, and what are just… window dressing.

In the case of the Hoard from Heck, the most visceral detail is dust.

Gray, gray-brown; sometimes sandy, sometimes fine particles that cling to your skin no matter how you scrub with soap and water, and haunt you even after you’ve showered and thrown all the day’s clothes in the wash. Dust that itches. That makes you want to scratch your own skin off, before sanity prevails and you head for the sink and soap again. Dust that thickens in your throat; that makes you sneeze out, as if you’d tried to inhale an attic packed with crumbling dirt. Dust of memories, of carelessness, of too many things left undone because someone couldn’t be bothered to carry them through.

Yes, it sounds like a Stephen King novel to me, too.

I could see someone using the Endless Hoard as the backdrop to a cozy mystery, or a gritty urban fantasy. Especially if your good-guy paranormal investigator was called in to help the poor hapless soul cursed with dealing with the mess.

It’d be a tricky job. Most curses are tied to some kind of object, and how would you find one cursed item lurking in the background of all that casual malice? Not to mention just physically finding it in the first place. When you’ve found bagged pecans in the boxed wool, bonsai pots in the clothes drawers, and legal documents stuffed in a rock tumbler – one curse juju could be anywhere.

Bonus if your protagonist brings in holy water and Clutter’s Last Stand, then after several escalating incidents suggests just burning the place to the ground and sifting the ashes. Extra points if the poor client would love to commit arson, if not for the other relatives wanting their chunk of the supposed inheritance intact, and waiting with lawyers like vultures in the wings.

Ahem. I really, really don’t like horror, so if someone wants to use this in a story? Take it! 🙂

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17 thoughts on “On Writing: Channeling Nightmares

  1. This kind of reminds me of the bag lady from the Labyrinth. The one that tried to trap Sarah in the hoard? And the stuff slowly started fusing to her as she refused to let it go? That could be one route for using these themes without going straight horror

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  2. I think I’d turn it into a dungeon delve: Go deep enough into the Endless Hoard and you start finding _spaces_. Then you start finding things that weren’t on the lists of possessions, that look like they might be worth something as antiques . . . and then it feels like things are watching you, especially if you try to retrieve what you’ve found.

    Things similar to the hoarder from the Goblin King’s Labyrinth can be found, brooding in their own lairs and sometimes wandering around, looking for ‘treasures’. Or for the opportunity to load intruders up with junk, making more of them. (This can be an ironic fate for a greedy relative-with-lawyer.) And they’re one of the nicer examples of what dwells within the Deeper Hoard.

    Eventually the investigator is going to lose access, of course: Once the curse connecting the Endless Hoard is resolved, it disconnects from the Deeper Hoard, hopefully with everyone that the protagonist cares about on this side of the world.

    But given the knowledge that the Deeper Hoard still exists, who could resist the urge to find another point of access? To brave the perils of further ventures into forgotten spaces, seeking the rewards that lie abandoned and waiting to be brought back to the world of sunlight . . .

    -Albert

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  3. Ah, I have a story like this (which used elements from a nightmare I had). It involved rot and salpeter, and a new house turning into a rotting mess overnight… It was an awful dream but definitely a good writing material! But I do love the potential of dust (it has such “wonderful” psychological aspect to it, memories, how it hides things and as you said; casual malice).

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  4. Comes to mind that the VRMMO to Isekai, ‘I have infinite inventory space, and I’ve been playing forever’ style collecting protagonist has some overlaps with this.

    Also comes to mind, especially since many of those are wizards, that a wizard collection could justify just about anything. And wizards who are not isekai protagonists do die of old age. Another thing that comes to mind is university collections.

    So, perhaps using the same limited inventory cheat setting I was considering in yesterday’s thread, imagine a widespread wizard profession, plus a wider university system that teaches other kinds of professionals.

    Executing the will of a deceased wizard could be a pretty difficult and intensive proceeding. Security, hazardous experiments that have been neglected, plain old cursed item nonsense… Interested wizards, appraisers, clerical magic users, lawyers, and regular adventurers. (If one of the major rules is ‘no storage cheats’, and conventional transportation is difficult…) If you have enough need for adventurers, funding the enterprise might be a challenge. You might have the local section of a wizardly professional society with decades of backlog of deceased member’s estates that it might want to do something about. With periods of partial senility before death, and some of the local section officers are a bit past the peak of their power. Or out of touch with current economic conditions, aspects of modern tech, or what have you.

    Several problems. One, world building the magic systems. If you have different wizard professional societies, it seems most likely that is because they use different sorts of magic that requires different mental approaches, that do not easily transfer over from one to another. Compare defense lawyers to civil trial lawyers to corporate contract law, etc… Which becomes more of a challenge with deep study based magic systems. Two, how do you square a local wizard society section, decades dead members, and a frontier with fresh areas to explore and exploit? Third is not a problem if you don’t do isekai, but what if you do? If a summoned hero, why summoned? If VRMMO, how do you square inventory restrictions, wizards, and item heavy learning? Does it become a reincarnation thing, with all those headaches? Fourth, what do you do with the mundane economy to make things hang together?

    That aside, I’ve had some unpleasant and some difficult experiences this past year, and you’d better believe that the appropriate ones are informing WIP.

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  5. Oddly enough, it’s not Labyrinth that comes to mind, but a book where a cursed board game ran the characters through a house of horrors that did this(and one character died to a room like this, filled with homework and an neverending slew of parental interjections about what she must do). As for my nightmares, they tend to be a)very odd b)set in some very neat locations, and c)totally innocent on the surface. Which makes it hard to throw them into writing.

    Now, the regular dream that is basically the orphaned/secondary children of the Arthurian mythos and the Norse getting together, opening a portal to another planet, and having to deal with both aliens and setting up a society that wouldn’t go up in flames like their last ones, that one works as an inspiration. Not that anyone would want to read it.

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    1. I think I’ve read that, sometime in the late 90s. Was there an evil smexy elf-type of ambiguously teenage appearance, who was ‘in love’ with the POV character, and trying to use the game to force her to stay with him?

      -Albert

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      1. Yep, and the main character won because she out tricked him, including(my memory is an odd beast), using her martial arts training to dodge when he tried to grab her. There were sequels, but they were nowhere near as good.

        I also liked that the fae managed to set it up that her boyfriends worst fear was “losing” her, that was a nice touch. Honestly, the first books of that writer were usually good, it was just the sequels that sucked(Christopher Pike, I think?)

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      2. I think I’ve found it. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7100490-the-forbidden-game

        Published in the late 90s, a trilogy (I only recall the first book), and according to at least some reviews the second book suffers from middle-itis lag, but the third closes the story out very well.

        I’m going to have to write the Deeper Hoard idea down in my notebook, with thoughts about connecting to other conceptual realms. In Exalted there’s a rule about it taking 5 days to reach Hell, which happens by getting thoroughly lost and slowly transitioning to the hell-desert yozi that surrounds the hell-city yozi, and I think I might adopt a similar conceit, that once you’re in the Deeper Hoard you can stumble into other kinds of fae realms by aligning your perspective correctly.

        But that’s still the shallows, there are far realms that require perspectives that we would consider madness to align to, but travel to even the shallows makes it easier to go back and forth, makes it easier for others to find their way as the realms become less occluded due to increased travel, there are entities that will trade favors for favors . . .

        At least half the time the protagonist needs to see something and nope! right the fluff out of there, when he’s venturing beyond the Deeper Hoard. And then there’s the prospect of ritualized behavior suddenly producing tangible results, and the question what What is now paying attention, and what kind of mental compatibilities were required to draw that attention? . . .

        And, of course, how does the government react once they notice some weirdness? Is there an MiB? Larry Correia’s MCB? Freemasons, Templars, Macabees, Assassins, or other ministers of action keeping an eye on that part of the world? Is the Deep State holding power via a monopoly on effective sacrifice? etc;

        -Albert

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  6. Proximal Flame has some story snips about the ancient Guardian of a long deceased ruler’s Hoard. Anyone, who takes even the meanest bit from it, is killed by the Guardian. One day, another explorer/adventurer enters the Hoard… but they aren’t interested in the riches, but only in the Guardian themselves… So this person can come and go as they please.

    “Abandoned” places have often been synonymous with antagonistic supernatural/unnatural forces, especially if they were obviously “lived in”…

    I’m reminded of… the “Friday the 13th” movie/tv series (iirc). Whatever it was actually called, it involved a pawn/antiques/curiosity shop, in which every item was cursed, and the series involved surviving family members/acquaintances having to track down the objects that had been previously sold… So, not only do you have to track down cursed artifacts still working their evil, and possesors/possessed that may not willingly give them up, but come back to the place the rest of them are stored…

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  7. Dust that thickens in your throat; that makes you sneeze out, as if you’d tried to inhale an attic packed with crumbling dirt.

    I recommend a respirator mask – that looks like the lower half of a gas mask, with filter cartridges on either cheek. The kind that the hardware store sells for working in environments with super fine particulates and Volatile Organic Chemicals.

    I can’t count how many times one of those has saved me from splitting headaches,dizziness, and allergic reactions to whatever’s in the air.

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  8. And if not that sort of mask -they’re very uncomfortable – one of the disposable N95s that were recommended when the fires were far too close. They work pretty well against dust, as well as whatever was in the air with the fires.

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  9. I helped my uncle do some renovations of his house (early 20th cen construction iirc) some 20 + years ago. The basement had old plastered reed mats on the ceiling, covering the floor joists, and between those, simple split boards with dirt on top as insulation, I guess. That all had to come down, and bone dry as it all was, the dust raised (and covering me) was epic…

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  10. Arguably, a curse wouldn’t have to be actively malicious. Maybe it’s just incredibly annoying, like when you keep finding a bunch of a certain (probably useless) item when you were absolutely sure that you’d gotten the last of them and the only way to get rid of them is to hand them off to someone else to deal with.

    If you read Xanth books, there was one where a girl was given a Rear View Mirror. If you don’t know Xanth, it is a magical land where if there is a possibility of a pun, it exists. In this case, it was a mirror that let her look at her backside, and the only way to get rid of it was to give it to someone else. Only problem is, who wants a mirror that they can’t get rid of and only shows their own backside?

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