But there is something about horror writers that I unequivocally respect, and it’s something I think all writers regardless of aimed audience should consider: instilling a sense of fear and dread into your audience.
I’m not just talking about visceral fear and dread in the typical sense, mind you. If you’ve read any book that has you turning the page for sheer fear of the character’s lives and wellbeing, because you have this instinctive sense that something big, something not quite known to us yet, is about to make it all go horribly wrong, then that is what I’m talking about. Even good children’s books do this: just look at The Gruffalo.
Even then, picture books and graphic novels have a headstart on word-only novels, because they have the added angle of using pictures and visuals to instil that fear. And a layer above that are games and movies, which can harness an even wider array of the audience’s senses to wrap that blanket of cold and creeping dread around them. And the movie has a huge amount of power over the viewer in that regard: it can control the colour palette, the visual tone, the pacing of the narrative…and beyond simply pausing the movie or walking away, the viewer is effectively strapped in to the rollercoaster and will experience the horror exactly as it was intended.
That sense of powerlessness and vulnerability is exactly what makes the horror and fear so powerful. And that is why I have full respect for masters of written horror: when it comes to reading, a certain amount of power is handed over the reader, far more than the viewer of a movie. Readers can bring a certain amount of interpretation to the table, and can pace the reading as they see fit. Giving readers that little bit of power can take the edge off of the fear, and that’s why you will see a great number of horror writers aim for different angle. That of the horror within.
Think back to the last time a truly horrific story lingered with you. Not just jump scares, but the kind of horror that stayed with you long after the story had passed, echoing through your thoughts a great deal longer than you ever expected it to. Why was that? There’s a good chance that it was because the story resonated with you personally. It spoke to a deep part of your psyche, shook you to your core, and made you ask questions that you never thought to ask yourself before.
And isn’t that the biggest horror of all? Not of external fears and unwelcome influences, but that which lies within. That is why, although on the surface horror novels may appear to have a disadvantage, when done well can invoke the deepest and most horrific reaction of all: that of making the reader look inside and not liking what they find.
Happy Halloween everybody!