Oh, the Horror

Posted by on Jun 7, 2011 in General Chaos | 1 comment

One of my horror-writing pals who you may remember from a few months back, Alan Ryker, posted on his blog recently about taking horror back. It’s a great post and I encourage anyone with even a passing interest in horror to check it out. A few of us went on to have a lively discussion in his comments, and that got my grey matter churning.

I don’t write much horror, but it is a genre that I love. Stephen King might even be the first author that I picked up of my own volition, although I can’t remember for certain. Whenever I went to the library (yes, back in the days before the interwebs) I would spend several minutes making sure that he hadn’t released anything new before I wandered off to other sections. (My favorite of his is The Stand, by the way, I think that’s where I get my love of all things post-apocalyptic.)

Why don’t I write horror if I love it so much? It’s hard. One of the topics we discussed was how horror really lends itself to shorter pieces. The degree of tension required in a good horror tale is extreme, and keeping the reader that terrified for extended amounts of time is difficult.

With that in mind, I’m going to offer up one of the greats. Feast your eyeballs on Vincent Price reciting “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Poe.

*fangirl sigh* Does it get any better? Nope, I don’t think it does.

What’s so great about Poe? There’s a long list, but number one has got to be edge of your seat, breathless suspense. The irresistible desire to find out what happens, as much as you dread what’s coming. Poe was a master of this, and he did it so well in small spaces. His short stories are inspiring.

Part of the problem with writing in our fast-paced, action-hungry society is that appreciation of suspense is nonexistent. People want instant gratification, and they put down books if they don’t get it. Suspense stories do make it today, but I think going that route with a horror story makes a writer’s already difficult task even harder.

So what’s the key to horror these days? I think we touched on it in that discussion–pushing toward the literary. I know, you probably think I’m talking crazy, but just give me a minute to get this out. Literary fiction concentrates on character and internal struggle. King has used this framework to extraordinary effect. His stories are pushed forward by characters. Though terrible things happen in his worlds and conflict comes from outside as well, the emphasis is always on what happens inside the character’s mind.

Honestly, I think this is the way to go if you’re going to tread on the perilous paths of horror. Use your characters. Show how the horrific events impact and change her. Make the reader feel the trauma and writhe in their seats a little bit.

One Comment

  1. “Show how the horrific events impact and change her. ”

    You nailed it right here. I think it’s really the key. A writer shouldn’t rest only on a cool concept. That’s throwaway fiction, in my opinion. Read it as distraction for a few hours, then forget it.

    Yeah, give me a cool concept, then show me how that concept affects a person. Use it as a way to explore aspects of humanity that are otherwise difficult to illuminate.

    Good stuff.

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