Writing Horror: open thoughts


Writing horror is hard. It’s easy enough getting the scary thing down: perhaps a monster chasing the main characters or someone trying to intrude in their home. But the idea is not enough to sustain such a story. One must create adequate atmosphere and creepiness to draw the reader in, suspense to keep them, and the horror rests and crawls through that established nest.

But fears and scary things are all subjective.  A killer doll may be terrifying to one where another’s cup of horror is a skinless creature waiting in the shadows. Even worse is when you don’t find things scary.

The written word can be a powerful thing but for me, it dilutes the horror factor. Yeah there’s a monster that has trapped you out in the woods, but, oh, dinner’s read, I guess I’ll get back to that. It’s missing the full immersion fact. What I love about reading is the layer that the reader can add to the story. No matter how much a character is described, it’s truly up to the reader to figure out how that character looks to them. It’s even frowned upon in contemporary fiction to describe a character too much, lest the reader can’t put themselves in their shoes. But it also can keep you distanced from those shoes. I can bypass imagining the scene all together and read objectively.

And this presented a big problem while I wrote myself.

Without knowing what it is to be ‘scared’ from writing, I was unable to know whether I was effective.

The stories are creepy, but would I say horrific? I don’t know. And this nearly derailed my project all together. Advice for writing the genre stresses creating a fearful environment and writing what scares you. So I made a list of not what scares me specifically, but how things scare me and why.

I found that the medium that does scare me the most are video games. While probably the most removed from reality, therein lies their greatest strength. A video game is driven outside influence to work. Unless reading a using cheats or walkthrough, there is no skipping ahead, and even then, it still relies on you to do it. And if a monster pops up on the screen, it’s up to the player to handle the situation, even if that means dropping the controller and shutting your eyes.

Video game characters in the horror genre are made without advantage. Even those that allow weapons, like Resident Evil and Alan Wake, there are limits or using a weapon has consequences. And rightfully so – the minute too many resources are given, the horror gives way to action tinged with horror elements. But weapons aside, horror, especially psychological horror, uses limited viewpoint and darkness to create an atmosphere of helplessness. You can’t see past what level you’re on or know what’s in the next room. You’re stuck where you’re at.

With that in mind, I focused my stories on both the concept of being stuck and completely out of the story, as a gamer or reader can be completely detached from the narrative. And it was a little easier but came with its own slew of new questions as far as how to frame the action and how to end a story that had could so many endings. How to unstick my character. But the learning continues.



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