“You are an optimistic, nice girl. Where does all this dark stuff come from?” said a co-worker of mine four years ago, after I told him about the sort of things I write about.
Some of my stories wouldn’t be described as pure horror, but all of them contain significant elements of it within them. So, what does make people want to write books that contain graphic and horrific content? It’s probably not what you think.
I am speaking for myself. Maybe other writers will disagree, but this is how I feel about writing horror.
Horror’s sole purpose is not, or should not, be to simply scare the hell out of people. Good horror writing’s intent should be to send a message, to make people think. To use the negative events to set ideas to flight.
There will always be the torture porn and the mindless “Scare them. Kill them. The End!” stuff, but obviously there is not a lot of craft in that. Imagination? Yes. Skill? Not really.
Like any other book genre, a well-written horror story should contain fleshed-out, complex characters (That you will actually care about when they, um, die, or when they suffer from some other terrible outcome) and a well thought out plot (Or, at least a sensible one!). It also needs a unique idea to set it apart from all of the other horror books that have been written in times past.
I’m not going to say that writers who partake in the art of horror writing don’t have messed up, even twisted imaginations (Because we actually do). Perhaps a concept formed in a writer’s mind as a result of some tragic experience, or from reading or hearing about one. Other times, a writer will look inside of themselves and write out some of their worst fears. All of us are afraid of something, and sometimes what we think are irrational or strange fears, turn out to be more widely regarded as scary than we thought.
Writers, if you want to pen a truly terrifying tale, you’re going to have to dig deep into your own psyche to explore your own anxieties and those nightmares that you’ve tried to forget. Writing always needs to be honest, from the heart. Otherwise, the story will seem forced. Forced is boring. And peoples’ attention spans are short enough as it is.
A lot of my stories contain horror elements in them in large part because the antidote to horror is, essentially, hope. I just love the satisfaction of a character overcoming obstacles of a more dramatic scale. I don’t receive much enjoyment from writing romance, because it’s just too simple and linear for me. I want the character to experience a lot of hardships, go on a journey or two, and then develop as an individual. If there is a hint of romance in my books, it will be destroyed at some point.
Sometimes, characters will need to die in order for a point to come across or for the message to really settle into the reader’s heart. While many things do work out for the better in life, sometimes things do not get better. They get worse. Why do they get worse? Because of “evil” in the world – the diseases, the corrupted world leaders, the warfare, the natural disasters, the rape culture, etc.
Horror asks the gripping question: Who will win – the evil forces or the main characters? Hope or fear? Violence or peace? And, why did they win?
Most of my more recent works have an anti-war or anti-violence theme. Ironically, one needs to show the terrible effects of pain, brutality, and lost lives in a story in order for the message to have a full impact. Show people what life in a third world country entails for a young girl. Emphasize the atrocities and their effects on those people who are subject to war crimes, human trafficking, starvation, cruelty… whatever it is!
Suzanne Collins did not write The Hunger Games, a dystopian novel, with the intent of glorifying violence. She showed the tragedy of teenagers forced to kill one another in a sick game of survival as a symbolism for today’s violence-accepting world.
Many genres have horror components in them. Fantasy, thrillers, dramas, etc. can contain their fair share of the nitty gritty reality in the world.
My opinion is that writing containing horror is an excellent way to tell a lesson or a truth. Often when I have something very bold to say, my writing inevitably channels into the realm of horror.