Genre writing is something to think of as a safe bet. Reading fantasy? You’re going to find either magic, swords, and most usually both. How about sci-fi? It’s almost definite that you’ll get at least one spaceship.
Of course, this isn’t always the case, but these well-worn tropes give you an idea of what to expect. Now, tell me what defines horror?
An unstoppable murderer in a mask? A gruesome creature attacking in the dead of night? Or perhaps zombies slowly marching towards an outpost of humans? All great answers, and all great examples of what could be called ‘gore horror’.
But what about psychological horror too? Less of the bloodletting but more shadows lurking in doorways? And what about…
This is the crux of what I’m getting to. People find different things scary – which can make scary writing difficult in itself.
For example, when it comes to what I find scary, it’s the great unknown – the Lovecraft style indescribable horror. On the other hand, my other half is terrified of clowns. There even people out there who are terrified of buttons. I could go on, but I think you get it. People are as varied in their fears as they are their personalities.
With some stories I’ve put out I’m the past, I’ve had some people tell me they were genuinely terrified and wished they had not read it (Hooray, job accomplished!), and I’ve had others simply say ‘That’s not scary at all.’ – that one always sucks. But then you have to think, maybe it is scary, just not for them.
I tell myself this when I write the next story. The best way to write horror, in my eyes, is to write what you find scary; really wrench and pry out your own fears, and there’s guaranteed to be someone reading it who feels just as terrified of it as you. Sure, you could Google (other search engines are available) ‘Top Ten Phobias’ and write a story for each, but if you’re not scared of something, how can you make others scared of it too?
Technique and writing prowess obviously come into the mix (bad writing is a terror in itself), but with emotions, as with any writing, you can really hook the reader. Using your own genuine emotion from your own fears will come across as much more authentic than simply writing ‘He was really, really scared of the bad thing.’
Of course, as with anything, some lucky people can get away with anything (I’m looking at you, Stephen King, with your ability to somehow make horror out of everything).
Now, I must get round to writing that great button-horror I’ve been thinking of.