Ok so SHOCKtober is upon us and All Hallows Eve draws near so I think it's about time I got my finger out and did my section for Irishlad's How to Write Fan-Fiction project. First I'd like to say that Horror and what pepole find scary is totally subjective but chances are if you find it scary then so will others, all you have to do is find your scare:
1. Find Your Style:
There is different styles of horror out there, some you might find scary, others not so much but I guarantee you someone will. It's important to pick a style you find the most frighting, if your more invested in your work you will write better storys. To show case different styles of horror I have picked what I consider as the greatest horror writers of all time and I will describe each of there styles in turn.
Stephen King - Lord of Dread
Come on you knew he was going to be mentioned at some point or another. I consider King to be the greatest horror writer of all time and my favourite author. In my opinion the best trick up King's sleeve is his ability to spoil his own book and yet make it that bit more terrifying, a good example of this is in his book Pet Semetery. You know that Gage is going to die because King outright tells you, you know that these are the last days of a small child but what you don't know is the when and the how, so with each turn of the page the dread builds and the mind races as you try and work out how this could happen until it finally does and you almost let out a sigh of relief that it's done.
He uses these same trick in Salem's Lot and The Tommyknockers but on a much grander scale, each town in the aforementioned books is doomed from the getgo, again King outright states that, but what you get is the gradual destruction as one-by-one the inhabitants are picked of.
Making the reader feel dread is a tricky but rewarding story technique, you don't want to give the reader to much information that results in the spoiling of the illusion but by dropping hints in the narrative so that the outcome is obvious and the reader will try to fill in the gaps using there mind and that will all ways be more horrific than what you have down. King put's it best with this quote:
“ Nothing is so frightening as what’s behind the closed door. The audience holds its breath along with the protagonist as she/he (more often she) approaches that door. The protagonist throws it open, and there is a ten-foot-tall bug. The audience screams, but this particular scream has an oddly relieved sound to it. ‘A bug ten feet tall is pretty horrible’, the audience thinks, ‘but I can deal with a ten-foot-tall bug. I was afraid it might be a hundred feet tall’.
Clive Barker -Lord of the Macabre
In almost all of Barkers works of fiction (books, games, films) there is a healthy dose of the grotesque and the macabre, this is clearly evident with the self mutilation of the Cenobites in The Hellbound Heart, the appearance of the Nightbreed in the book The Cabal and just about everything about the Candyman from the story The Forbidden * shivers*. One of the most important things about writing horror is the kind of atmosphere your story gives off, unlike films story's cant rely on the "jump scare" to pull them through instead the story needs to use the atmosphere to affect the reader. Barker uses descriptions of the grotesque and the macabre to make the reader uncomfortable and and uneasy which in-turn causes anxiety. "But what has this got to do with fear?" I here you cry, well if the writer keeps up the feeling of anxiety through the whole book when the big scary set pieces comes around it magnifies the horror.
Edger Allan Poe - Lord of Gothic
Nobody is better than establishing a grim feeling in there reader than Poe, be it the claustrophobic Masque of the Red Death or the maddening chirp of "Nevermore" in The Raven. Much like Barker's use of the macabre, Poe uses a gothic setting to install a grim and foreboding feeling to creep out his readers. A gothic setting is usually a cold, colourless landscape filled with flawed and dark characters that may or may not be insane.
H. P Lovecraft - Lord of the Unknown
Lovecraft is such a huge influence in horror he has his own sub-genre. Lovecraftian Horror focuses on how vast the universe is and how insignificant humanity is in it and when that universe inevitably turns out to be dangerous how hopeless it is to fight against it. Often it is never fully explained what is happening in the story and that sense of helplessness reinforces the horror, this is also the same for the protagonist who is usually driven insane and ultimately trundles towards a horrible end. Lovecraft reinforces the fact that humans are nothing but a tiny speck in a vast and deadly cosmos playing with forces beyond our ken and at any time the cosmos could reach out and snuff us out without anybody even knowing what the hell is going on.
2 Find Your Fear:
I am under the opinion that to be a successful horror writer you have to make your antagonist truly scary "well duh..." ok hear me out! A truly horrific antagonist needs to tap in to a Base Fear, one that subconsciously runs throughout all humans, and make it real. For example the the taking advantage of the vulnerable is a Base Fear that that is evident is such horror fiction like Alien (rape) and IT (paedophilia). To showcase some base fears I am now going to use the famous Universal Monsters and there modern off-shoots and point out what Base Fears they represent and why they work.
On the surface vampires are scary because there super strong, super fast monsters that will drink your blood but under the surface what really makes vampires scary is addiction. Many vampire films fail because they are utilising the wrong type of fear, they try for blood, guts and jump scares but's what really horrifying about vampires is not being attacked by one but if you become one you are no longer in charge of your self, you are consumed by a lust, a full-on addiction, one that you will perform dreadful acts to satisfy, forsaking all others and any human is fully capable of this on there own. Dracula himself had extra powers of hypnotism that played on the "not in control" aspect of vampires.
On the outside the Monster and Zombies seem pretty similar and at times Frank has been portrayed as nothing more than a glorified zombie. Although both are corpses that have been re-animated by some type of dreadful science that's pretty much where the similarity ends. What the film makers of the witless shambling, groaning Frankenstein failed to realise is that he is really meant to drive forth the fear of being shunned, the fear that your inadequate or different from everybody else and that pepole will hate you for it, everybody feels like this at some point in there life and Mary Shelly was trying to latch on to that. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with your bog standard zombie, far from it, zombies represent many fears, you just have to pick one you want to expand on, be it the fear of infections, the fear of the dehumanised mob or the fear or death it's self.
The Wolf Man represents what happens when man gives in to his animal nature, if he's weak and finally bows to the anger inside, hurting loved ones and anybody around him as he lashes out, Werewolves on the other hand serve to remind us that even thought the saying man is the most dangerous animal is true in a sense, we also live in a world filled with things that at are faster, stronger, more relentless and could rip us to shred's on a whim. The werewolf is the fear of the wild that lives at our very door and we only exist because it allows us to do so.
Creature from the Black Lagoon
Have you ever went swimming in a stretch of water so deep you cant see the bottom for the darkness, then suddenly get the feeling that's something's down there, something big, and it can see you but you cant see it? Well that's the Creature from the Black Lagoon. The fear of the unknown is never more evident than in the deep blue sea, we know shockingly little about the things that live in the ocean so much so that we know more about space and that scares the crap out of pepole. Anything could be down there, waiting, watching and we just don't know it.
The Mummy is kind of the black sheep of the Universal Monsters family, it's never really taken off as a horror staple outside misrepresentations in a few b-movie flicks, usually with the Mummy being depicted as zombie with added magic or for just a straight up comedic role and this is a shame because the mummy is a prime candidate for tapping in to another Base Fear, the fear of old pepole. Yep, that's right, old people are scary, they serve as a reminder that we will ALL die, our body's will slowly start to brake down piece by piece till there is essentially nothing left, it's the reason the elderly are hidden away in homes.
So In order to write a successful horror story you need to decide what kind of horror you want to write, do you want the reader to feel dread? Sick? maybe a little nuts? Also you need to find something that personally makes you feel fear and why then try and expand on it, if it scares you then it will most definitely scare others. So ends Jon Anon's rambling advice on HOW TO WRITE HORROR.