My Little Town: Writing Small Town Horror with Tom Deady

Small towns breed excellent horror. Bram Stoker award-winning author Tom Deady will take you behind the white picket fences and smiling neighbors to uncover the nightmare within.

Your Instructor: Tom Deady (author of Haven)

Where: Online — Available everywhere!

When: August 9, 2022 - September 6, 2022

Enrollment: 16

Price: $325

Class Description

Something dark lurks beneath the postcard-pretty town.

We’ve all driven through places like this after taking a wrong turn off the highway, or perhaps trying to find a shortcut. A white gazebo sits on the town common where band concerts are held during the summer. Cute mom-and-pop shops line the one-stoplight center of town. Quiet tree-lined streets, an ice-cream truck surrounded by children. Friendly townsfolk wave to you as you drive through. And we've all wondered what secrets lie buried in here.

Small town horror is a subgenre that, when done effectively, can be the most evocative type of horror tale. The dichotomy of a cozy rural setting and some unspeakable evil – be it vampires (‘Salem’s Lot), a serial killer (Autumn Bleeds into Winter), a town tradition (The Lottery), or a carnival (Something Wicked This Way Comes) – creates a perfect sense of dread. The beauty of this subgenre from a writer’s perspective is that half the work is already done. The setting exists in every state across the country, it’s just up to the writer to make it their own and give their evil a home.

If you’ve always enjoyed these types of stories, and think you have one of your own to tell, this course is perfect for you. Whether it is a creature that lurks in the woods surrounding your fictional town, the creepy old lady who lives on the corner and never comes out during the day, or the empty house on the outskirts of town where murders are reputed to have taken place, this course can help you bring those ideas – and those towns – to life.

With guidance from the instructor, students will explore the subgenre of small-town horror, and construct their own small town and all its evil. Students will bring their ideas to the class, and we will get down to the essentials of good story-telling. Voice, tone, plot, cause and effect, and pacing will be covered. The emphasis will be on setting and character development and how those two elements are critical to the subgenre.

Participants may have a short story or novel excerpt already prepared when enrolling, though it’s strongly suggested that they write and expand on a piece as the class progresses. Each week will include handouts, a short lecture, suggested readings, and writing assignments that will be critiqued by your instructor and your peers. There will be opportunities to pose questions and engage in discussions with both Tom and your fellow classmates.

MY LITTLE TOWN is taught by Tom Deady, 2016 Bram Stoker Award-winning author of HAVEN. He has since published several novels and novellas, as well as a collection of short stories. His first Young Adult novel, The Clearing (The first book in the Hopedale Mystery series) was release in 2021. Tom holds a master’s degree in English and Creative Writing and is a writing instructor at Southern New Hampshire University. Tom will take each student on a guided tour of small town horror and help unleash their stories.

What This Class Covers

WEEK 1 – I WAS BORN IN A SMALL TOWN…

Small town horror takes a place where people are comfortable and turns that sense of security against them. The horror is magnified by the dichotomy of where it takes place. The writer’s job is to construct that town and make it come alive to their readers. In small town horror, the setting is one of the main characters.

The small town you create must be visually recognizable. Is there a diner where the regulars huddle daily to gossip? Do the townsfolk gather for Sunday mass at a beautiful, white-spired church? Do the residents rally around their high-school football on Friday nights? Is there some local haunted house or mysterious resident? Are there rumors about the woods on the outskirts of town or the lake where locals swim and fish?

In this first class we will focus on setting and world-building to create an idyllic small town.

*There will be a handout and short lecture, suggested reading, and writing assignment for this class.

WEEK 2 – WHO DO YOU LOVE?

Setting alone does not a story make. Every story, irrespective of the genre, relies on its characters to seduce the reader. Character-building in the small-town setting can be as much fun for the writer as it is for the reader who gets to meet these folks. The key is creating believable, people-next-door residents for your town.

In this class, we will discuss the techniques to create characters that will resonate with your readers, as well as the cliches to avoid in character development. Consider the typical small-town “good guy” staples: the kindly priest, the sheriff/police chief, the friendly teacher. Also consider the prototypical villains: the creepy school janitor with the mysterious past, the crazy neighbor, the fanatical priest, the bad teacher. Now, turn those cardboard cut-outs into three-dimensional people that your reader can relate to by blurring the lines between good and evil and putting your own unique spin on the character.

At this point, students should have a number of story ideas to draw from and will begin writing stories. There will also be a writing assignment to begin developing potential story structures.

*There will be a handout and short lecture, suggested reading, and writing assignment for this class.

WEEK 3 – WELL, HOW DID I GET HERE?

Now that setting and characters have been identified, the next piece of the puzzle is situation. Why is your protagonist living here? There are essentially three possibilities: he/she has always lived here, he/she grew up and moved away but came back, or he/she is new to town.

If your protagonist has always lived in your town you will need to create catalyst for the story. Is there some recurring evil whose time has come? Did someone else move into town that is creating the conflict?

If your protagonist is returning to town, why? Did they return to investigate something that happened during their childhood? Did they come home to bury a parent? To retire?

And for the new residents, perhaps they were relocated because of their job? Or trying to escape big-city life in a safer (hahaha) quieter environment?

None of these situations are new, but it is your job to put a fresh coat of paint on them and engage the reader.

Finally, we will review the basics important to fiction, regardless of genre – voice, tone, pacing, dialogue, character development, etc.

*There will be a handout and short lecture, suggested reading, and writing assignment for this class.

WEEK 4 – VOILA!

For the final class, we will review key points from prior weeks specific to small-town horror and writing in general. There will be a final critique of each piece, and the opportunity to ask questions or discuss any aspect of the class in more detail. Ideally, students will have a complete story ready to submit after completion of this session.

*There will be a handout and short lecture, suggested reading, and writing assignment for this class.

Goals Of This Class

• Learn about the different aspects of small-town horror and what makes a successful backdrop to a story
• Develop an understanding of how to use setting to create tension and essentially be another character in the story
• Leave class with a deeper understanding of the key elements of writing short fiction, regardless of genre
• Get your work critiqued by your peers and a published, acclaimed author

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