Some Questions for Robbie Atienza

What was your writing process like for this piece?

In my creative writing course last semester, I was tasked with writing a flash fiction piece. I took that opportunity to write a horror story because I had never written one before and thought it would be fun. I started out with an idea that I thought was scary and paranoia-inducing: “What if your house was broken into but nothing was taken?”

I went through a bunch of iterations before landing on my final story. Initially, I was going to have the narrator discover that someone had buried a body inside her house but I kept coming up with questions that poked holes in that idea: Why would someone go through the trouble of burying a body in someone’s home? Isn’t that unnecessarily risky and inconvenient? Why not just bury it in the woods or something? The more I thought about that idea, the less I liked it. I then played around with the idea of a Stranger Things-like portal hidden in the basement and someone breaking into the home to access it. I didn’t care for that idea either. I later came across a picture of an internet urban legend called “The Hat Man,” a spooky, shadowy figure with a brimmed hat. I thought the concept was interesting and retooled it to become the monster of my story.

With Stephen King being one of your inspirations, were there any techniques of his that were used in this piece? Did you read or watch any other horror pieces to gain inspiration for this piece?

I’m a huge Stephen King fan and what stands out to me in his writing is his word choice. For all genres, but for horror especially, using precise, descriptive language to create imagery in the reader’s mind is very important if you want your work to be effective. Pacing is also important for horror. If things happen too slowly, the reader will get bored. You don’t want things to happen too quickly, either, because the reader will just get desensitized to the parts that are supposed to scare them. Varying the structure and lengths of your sentences will help with pacing too. When you write horror, it’s critical to build up tension and then release it at just the right moment.

Beyond Stephen King, I also took inspiration from the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I think that story does an excellent job of putting you in the narrator’s shoes as she questions her own sanity and slowly descends into madness. I also love the claustrophobic and oppressive atmosphere that story has and tried my best to emulate it in my own story.

Read Robbie’s short story “Mine.”