Wow, it’s been awhile since my first genre post, where I talked about scifi and touched on fantasy. Well, here’s another stab at, this time with my second less favorite genre: horror.
I have nothing against horror, except that I’m a scardey cat with an all-too-vivid imagination. (Seriously, I’ve agreed to go see Crimson Peak at about the time this is being published, why did I agree to go see Crimson Peak, seriously?!) It’s a long standing genre, however, since a lot of people enjoy being scared. That being said, there are two different kinds of fear–shock fear, and actual psychological fear. Most modern movies rely on the shock fear, rather than building up the terror and the tension the long way. And honestly, I can’t say which is worst. I mean, on one hand, shock fear leaves me jumpy for a little while afterwards, but I eventually relax. Psychological I’m less freaked out until the nightmares stop. Both have their places, and it really just depends on the story you are writing.
There’s also the different kind of creepy/scary factor. For example, do you go the route of the completely and utterly gross, gore fest? I mean, you’ll get my gag reflex going, and I’ll be freaked out, but I’m not sure that it’s necessarily scary. The Underworld franchise tends to be rather gory and involves Hollywood monster types, but it doesn’t scare me in the slightest. Do you go the route of the plausible supernatural, such as ghosts and bad luck curses, witchcraft and pacts with demons? Paranormal Activity franchise has been doing well that route, though they’ve angered some people recently with their marketing plans. But some people look down their noses at it, calling it pure shock scares with no substance, which isn’t entertaining for them.
The general consensus seems to be to balance the shock scares with the actual terror. So yes, have things jump around corners and grab the protagonist. But also have elements of things that inspire true terror–choices between bad and worse, the protagonist being put in a tight place in other ways, struggling with what has happened and what they need to do. I don’t really have an opinion on happy endings or not, it really depends on the story. Sometimes, just surviving is a happy enough ending. I will say that horror films, at least, are really bad about sequel hook endings. Mostly because, if the first one is good, you can usually milk second, third, and maybe even a fourth out of it. This only irks me when they break the rules of their world in order to make the sequels work.
And now, I offer the biggest piece of advise I can in my limited horror-writing experience (and I had a lot of help to get to that point). Keep your monsters, ghosts, killers, whatever you may be using, hidden as long as possible. My short story, Saving Emily, is primarily shock horror, with some deeper moments with worry about what is happening to Emily. And if I could go back, I would keep my monsters hidden longer. The scariest moments in the story are about them, and by the time I get to their source, it’s no longer quite as scary because it’s dragged on too long. Also, the human mind will make something much scarier with a lack of details than they will if you show them exactly what the monster looks like.
For example, I’m currently submitting myself to something that has a black, creepy hand grabbing the female protagonist and I’m scared of finding out what it IS.