Updated: Oct 24, 2021
American Horror Story is a phenomenon now ingrained in popular culture. Read about how the show inspired me to want to create stories of my own and embark on an ambitious writing project.
I was hooked on American Horror Story from the moment I saw it. Nine years ago I switched channels on the TV randomly one night and witnessed a woman driven insane by vengeful ghosts and nice a gay couple murdered by a man in a rubber gimp suit. I remember thinking what the hell did I just watch? It was episode 8 from Murder House, and my first introduction into this strange, creepy, campy world. I had never seen anything like it on TV before - it was like Twin Peaks on steroids. Since then I have followed every season, re-watched them all, and joined various online discussion groups and social media fandoms.
American Horror Story is one of those shows that have become a “phenomenon” in that it is now ingrained in popular culture. Social commentators and literary students have published academic essays on the themes, it has inspired dozens of Halloween costumes, created a string of merchandise, and developed a huge global fan base that either passionately agree or disagree on which is the best season.
The show’s creators, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, and writers and directors like Jennifer Lynch, Tim Minear, James Wong and Jessica Sharzer really inspired me to want to write and create. I started to invent my own characters and fool around with various AHS anthology concepts just after Roanoke finished in 2016. I had a couple of concepts down and built a bit of a plot around the characters. I then went a bit further by attempting to write an episode in the format of a chapter book rather than a script, so it was more reader friendly. That's when “The Project” was born.
What is "The Project"?
The Project is a website and blog I set up to document my writing journey. I had to set myself some goals and challenges around a bit of framework. One popular theory among fans is that each AHS season is based on a level of Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell. Interesting and plausible, but as it turned out, is not correct. This gave me the idea to work on seven concepts, based on the Seven Deadly Sins (the nine "Circles of Hell" just seemed too daunting). At this stage I have completed the first three of out of seven season concepts I am working on and have written two episodes into the first concept. They range from mostly past decades to present day, with one dating back to the 1890’s.
I’ve also challenged myself with a set of guidelines to produce a completed season. I’ve chosen to emulate the length of a 12-episode series which is about the average length for a season of AHS, although the last four have been shorter. I use a 12-step process for building the story and developing the plot. I also include an average cast of 24 characters that need to appear in 4 to 12 episodes. Then I use characterisation to develop a plot outline which then becomes the basis of the concept – so what I am creating here is a little bit like a “pitch deck” for my imaginary season. Read about my current concepts here.
Why do this?
This is a way to help me achieve some solid writing goals instead of just fooling around and procrastinating. Attempting to engage an audience will make me more accountable and more of a disciplined writer. Hopefully, I will learn to be able to write on demand, improve on my speed and learn from any critiquing. It is also a way to hone my social media and marketing skills.
Most importantly, it is a passion project for my own enjoyment where I can express both my imagination and love for the AHS universe. America has such a rich history of controversial characters, hundreds of haunted buildings, unsolved mysteries, and urban legends. There is, literally, a wealth of material to work with. The anthology concept of American Horror Story really appeals to me because there is so much more out there to explore.
For this reason I decided to call my blog "The American Horrorverse".
Is it Fan Fiction?
Not strictly. It is more of a homage to the AHS anthology series style. I use original concepts with some references to the existing AHS universe peppered throughout, this could be in the form of either characters or places. All my concepts and characters are original, as in, out of my head - but I do borrow heavily from film, television and real life. I love the way AHS creates a new twist on all the classic horror movies and urban legends and blends them into the series. In the next few blogs, I talk about the films that have been the inspiration behind my concepts.
There are many reasons why people write fan fiction. It might be that they love the fandom so much that they don’t want it to end, they fantasise about being part of the story, or they want to give a character the ending they think they deserve. I don’t really feel the need to screw with the existing AHS story-lines, and as this is a personal creative journey, I will be writing about the types of scenarios and characters that I enjoy and would like to see in a season.
American Horror Story is not the biggest TV fandom for writers of fan fiction, but it is still reasonably substantial. Of the three major platforms Archive of Our Own (AO3) has 3,313 stories, Fan Fiction 2,900 and Wattpad 3,300. Most of the stories on Wattpad are "imagines" where the reader uses their own name as the protagonist in a scene whereas Fan Fiction and AO3 contain works with more of a spin on the narrative.
I’ve chosen to use Wattpad as a platform to upload the actual stories because I find the site easy to use, I can connect it to my blog, and it has tools to make it more visually appealing. Besides, if I were post them here they would get too large and complex for my humble blog site to handle. You will find links where you can read the episodes from the concepts page. You can also read about how to navigate your way on Wattpad from the About page.
Is Fan Fiction Legal, what about Copyright?
Some people argue that fan fiction is not infringing copyright if it constitutes fair use of the original work. If the original work and author are acknowledged, the fan fiction author does not seek ownership of any characters, there is no intention to make money from it, and it is just purely for entertainment purposes – then that is considered an argument for fair use. The fact is, creators of the original work have every legal right to ask you to not publish your fan fiction, after all you are piggy-backing on their brand even if you are just fooling around as an amateur.
Why is there so much of it out there then? It's because most authors of the original work don't bother following up because it's too large and too difficult to police and so is mildly tolerated. There are some authors that are vehemently against fan fiction and do see it as blatant copyright infringement, Anne Rice author of Interview with A Vampire is most notably one. Some authors are flattered, while others don’t really care. J.K.Rowling has approved fans of writing their own but will explicitly request that the fiction remains PG rated in keeping with her universe. Some even dabble in it themselves like Cassandra Clare, author of The Mortal Instruments, who was also known for her Harry Potter fics.
Fan fiction of a TV series is a little different in that it is more widely tolerated by studios and production companies, and even encouraged. Movie and TV fandoms, and subsequent fan fiction writers, can keep a series or movie alive long after its’ release date. Joss Whedon (who created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and the brilliant Firefly) is a fan fiction advocate who encouraged fans to create their own and also read fan fiction when Buffy was finally taken off the air.
Fan Fiction in general has had a bad rap as being a bit crass and at times has deservedly earned that title. It can be sexually explicit, cringey or just plain badly written. At the end of the day, it's only people having a go at expressing themselves. Some of it has actually been good enough or popular enough to launch writing careers and is a safe platform where many writers have cut their teeth.
Hypothetically, if I was ever asked to take anything down because of copyright or because it offended the creators in some way - I would do it in a heart beat.
What are My Favourite Seasons?
My top three seasons of American Horror Story are Asylum, Freak Show and Hotel which should give you an indication of the type of style I am interested in. I particularly love the seasons set in the past, ones with a more complex narrative and ones where you can really get invested in the characters.
There aren’t any seasons that I don’t like, I either like them more or like them less, and it’s just my personal taste. I rate the seasons according to three tiers, the top tier is the seasons I mentioned above. My next three would be Murder House, Coven, 1984 and the next three are Apocalypse, Roanoke, and Cult. I do find that re-watching binge style gives you a new appreciation for a series (many fans on Reddit and Instagram will concur). I wasn't so sold on Hotel initially after the departure of Jessica Lange but upon binge-watching for a second time it soon became a favourite and one of my top three.
There is always something to appreciate in an AHS season – be it the production, a minor character that really steals the show, or the attention to some small detail on the set. So while I have not rated a season as highly as my top three overall, there has been episodes within that season that I have absolutely loved such as episode 3 of Roanoke (which was next level insane). Leslie Jordan as Cricket Marlowe is a perfect example of a scene stealing character, his inclusion was a masterclass of how characterisation can enhance plot.
Why haven't Jessica Lange and Cody Fern been given a character?
The short answer is – watch this space. I am a huge fan of both actors and I think they each have their own unique dramatic style. Cody Fern came along after I put together these first three concepts and I didn’t want to just plonk him in somewhere gratuitously or swap another actor out. I have something special planned for Cody in an upcoming concept as the central character.
With Jessica Lange, she was asked in an Entertainment Weekly interview if she would return to AHS and she said, “I don’t think so. I feel like I got the best of it in those first four seasons.” I don’t know why, but for some reason those words really stuck in my head and I had difficulty conjuring up a character for her. She does pop up in a couple of cameos throughout the first two concepts. In Ritual as Veronica Sinclair’s vitriolic high society mother and in Facility as Commander Burchill’s oversexed wife, a kind of a Mrs Robinson-type character. When I can come up with a lead character that is worthy of her, you will see her then.
....So, thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I really appreciate it. I could really bomb at this, go crazy, give up, or actually come out the other side with some decent skills. Feel free to comment on anything as I begin my writing journey.