Genre tips

Today’s #AtoZChallenge: Occult Genre

A to Z Challenge asks bloggers to post every day except Sundays during the month of April on a thematic topic–nothing else. This year, I’ll be covering writing genres.

Today’s genre:



dealing with witchcraft, spiritualism, psychic phenomena, voodooism, etc., and for works dealing with the mysterious or secret knowledge and power supposedly attainable only through these and other magical or supernatural means]

Tipsa to z

I am stuck on this one. Any tips from you-all on how to write occult fiction?

Popular Books

  1. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
  2. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
  3. The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown
  4. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
  5. The Shining by Stephen King
  6. The Witching Hour by Anne Rice

Click for complete list of genres

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thriller, To Hunt a Sub. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. The sequel to To Hunt a Sub, Twenty-four Days, is scheduled for May 2017. Click to follow its progress.


62 thoughts on “Today’s #AtoZChallenge: Occult Genre

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  5. Wow, that list is weird. I can see how someone could class “Harry Potter” as “occult”, given the whole witchcraft thing, but what in the world would have made them put “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, “The Da Vinci Code” or “Cat’s Cradle”? A core tenet of occult is that the supernatural needs to be involved in some way.

    “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” may feature “Frankenstein”-like science-that’s-so-vague-it-may-as-well-be-magic, but it’s still _supposedly_ science. Likewise, everything going on in “Cat’s Cradle” is science-based. I’ve neither read “The Da Vinci Code” nor seen the movie, but it’s my understanding that it’s purely a conspiracy story, nothing but human beings being vicious jerks to each other in order to cover up a secret. (Can’t speak to the others, but they sound more like they’d be occult, though I generally think of Stephen King as a horror writer.)

    I think a main distinction between occult, horror and urban fantasy is that whatever’s going on needs to look like normal reality to the uninitiated. Hence, most people would put “Harry Potter” in urban fantasy, modern fantasy, or just plain fantasy, because you don’t need to be initiated to see that a flying car or a dragon isn’t normal reality. Though, to be honest, I tend to think of occult as a largely non-fiction (or unintentional fiction) genre; studies of witchcraft (and/or belief in same) through the centuries, that kind of thing. I’ve read some early 20th century studies of vampires and werewolves which would be classed as occult. (In one case, the author actually believed it, in fact. Kind of pathetic, really…)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. My husband has written some horror, which have revolved around things like ghosts, werewolves, and vampires. When I read his stuff, to me, he doesn’t write any differently for horror or occult than writers of other genres probably do. Unless I’m missing something? Which, I confess, is always a probability! lol

    Liked by 1 person

      • He has one that’s my absolute favorite, about a trio of paranormal investigators and the things they encounter. He won’t publish it until it’s gone through a complete re-write because he’s not happy with it. Nine years of waiting, I’ve stopped holding my breath. *sigh* Most of his other stuff – let’s just say, he’s happiest as a writer when a reader says, “oh you scared the hell out of me and I’ll have nightmares for a week!” He actually laughs. *eyeroll* lol 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow! That is a whole lot of interesting contributions by yr readers. I have never read any horror/occult. In my teen years I did occasionally watch horror Hindi movies. But I found them to be amateurish, bordering on the humorous. In fact, there was a series on TV which was occult humour that I quite used to like. The Addams Family.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Jacqui, after reading your list, I’m surprised at how many occult books I’ve read, including many on your list. I’d add Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin, The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty, Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman, everything by H.P Lovecraft, The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike (i have a first edition) and Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak, a beautifully illustrated “children’s” book I would not give to a child – but I do own a copy.

    As for how to write occult, I think you’d have to know a great deal about the dark arts, the mystical aspects of religions, myths of indigenous cultures, legends of ghosts, demons, body changers, and alien invaders, plus much about herbs, potions, and plants like mandrake. Then you’d have to have a lot of sleepless nights and a taste for the strange and twisted plot and the kind of characters we’d turn away from in daylight – or nighttime. Danger must lurk around every corner and fear must cast a shadow over everything. Suspicion and doubt must be second nature, and issues of who to trust should be at the forefront. Even the main character should be suspect. In others, there should be no hard ground on which to stand and no sound truths on which to depend.

    For an occult movie, The Sixth Sense by M. Night Shyamalan is a classic probably everyone has seen, though there are lots of occult movies. We like to be scared by our entertainment, don’t we?

    This was more fun than I expected. Hoping someone can name a funny occult book.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I appreciate the comments and explanations you got here, Jacqui. I don’t like scary occult (which I think of as horror), but I do enjoy mysterious/wichcrafty/psychic stories that are part of the plot, but not the entire thing. One of my favorite ‘occult’ books is A Discovery of Witches (and two more after that in the series by Deborah Harkness). I also enjoyed the entire Harry Potter series. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • The movies were good, but I did tire of them. Nothing new happened.

      I hope I didn’t just upset Harry Potter fans. I’m sure it’s because I prefer cozies and thrillers to occult and fantasy!


    • I can see this appealing to young readers (well, young adult). The world is still such a mystery where anything can happen. I do believe in miracles so maybe the right occult book would really appeal to me.


  10. I learned as a teenager that I had the ability to predict things. It was always in a negative way, if i thought something it happened usually shortly thereafter. In one case a person died. I don’t know if I had anything to do with that or not, so I stopped predicting things because of it, it ran in the family. I never told anyone about this ability of mine until now. It is scary to know what you think and say then it happens.


    Liked by 2 people

  11. I don’t read occult fiction but my library is filled with metaphysical books and a friend and I founded the first Metaphysical Library in Northern California about 10 years ago.

    Research, when writing, is intense. Written one with a friend who has since passed.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I can only comment on how to read – avidly – writing is another matter altogether. Have read HP, actually 4 out of 6 today, so almost passing grade! 🙂 Seriously though, does that make Tolkien Occult? Since The Shining is on the list, would Rosemary’s Baby and Exorcist make the cut as Occult also? very illuminating and interesting entry!


    Liked by 1 person

  13. I am working on one right now. My advice is to not make the occult aspect the center of everything. In fact, do not have it always hovering around which ever character it involves. I, also, think the occult aspect should be there to help or hinder the progress in the plot but not be the plot, itself.

    [Of course, this is just my opinion. 🙂 ]

    Liked by 2 people

    • I like books that make their magic or occult or paranormal part of the world, not the focus of the plot. Heather Graham does that with her paranormal. I really enjoyed the books because I could accept these differences as just part of some people.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Yep Jacqui, you’re not getting help from me on this one either, I’m afraid. My full extent of “the occult” stops at Harry Potter Book 1. Never read any further. Hae a great day!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. There are darker versions of this. Harry Potter is the light fluffy version. In general I avoid occult stories and books as I find think “psychologically disturbing” to my sensitive brain. Except for Harry Potter.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. According to Goodreads:
    “Occult Books – literally meaning “hidden,” the occult is generally taken to encompass mysticism, magic (or magick), supernatural occurrences (such as ghosts), and other esoteric spiritual topics.”

    It’s a subgenre of contemporary fantasy, though it’s usually on the dark side, and fits into dark fantasy (Harry Potter), grimdark fantasy (Dr Jekyll and Mr Hide) and/or Gothic fantasy (most of Anne Rice’s books fall here – it’s a combination of dark and Gothic fantasy with elements of grim dark) – however you wish to write it, check out the genre rules for each.

    Start with lots of research into folklore and mythology (#FolkloreThursday on Twitter is a great place to look). Some things can be found all over the world – like water horses that drown children. The creatures from folklore and mythology thrive in the hidden places of the world…

    Decide if you’re going to use a specific culture (e.g. Norse mythology and everything attached to it) or a mixture of everything in the world (like Harry Potter was written).

    Is your protagonist even human? (Doesn’t have to be a witch/wizard/scared non-magical human: can be a Faery, Immortal, Elf or whatever you fancy.)

    There’s a lot of world building involved here, so keep track of it in a system you can easily remember how to use. (Pinterest is a great place to pin articles, pictures and other helpful stuff for your story.)

    Figure out what your hero wants and what stands in his way (different magical races/countries/etc. in a war over something while hiding it from humans?).

    And when you get stuck while writing, go read in the specific genre you wish to write in (next to which book on the list above do you see your book?). There are expectations that have to be met (from merely strange to really creepy).

    I hope this helps. Happy A-to-Z-ing.

    Liked by 3 people

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