All Things Writing

The Attraction of Horror! What I Love About the Genre and A Few Examples

October 18, 2020 Bryan the Writer Season 1 Episode 30
All Things Writing
The Attraction of Horror! What I Love About the Genre and A Few Examples
Chapters
All Things Writing
The Attraction of Horror! What I Love About the Genre and A Few Examples
Oct 18, 2020 Season 1 Episode 30
Bryan the Writer

Why do we like horror? 

One of my earliest memories I had was watching King Kong on the big screen at a local theater. I remember being scared. This is probably the first time I remember being scared while watching something fictional.

I was very young, but later on it would lead me to wonder why it was that something that didn’t really exist could scare me. Consider fear. It’s a natural reaction which hinges on self-preservation. But when you’re watching a movie, it should be clear to your brain that what is happening on the screen couldn’t actually hurt you. And still, you react to it.

For example, every year there’s a new crop of movies which involves a ghost in one way or another. As children we love to watch Scooby Doo which inevitably includes some old guy wearing a ghost costume. We love to go to haunted houses where we are literally paying for someone else to scare us. And yet we know those ghosts are not real.

I’m fond of saying that horror is really an umbrella. A lot of people get the wrong impression that horror is what they see on the big screen. They equate the term to Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers. I do think that Hollywood has been disingenuous to the greater world of horror in that it focuses so much on the intense visual aspects of gore. To me that’s kind of lazy. It also cuts off an entire part of horror that is wonderful. My favorite kind of horror is the horror that just unsettles the reader.

It doesn’t have to be awash in blood and that’s the best kind of horror to me. In my book Crimson Tassels, there is a good amount of blood. However, it’s not so much blood that you’re going to focus on that. It’s the story line that really matters. I want you to feel one of the main characters descending into a sort of insanity brought on by the malevolent actions of another. Honestly, I don’t think I could necessarily do that all that well if I’ve covered everything in blood. The reader would focus on that exclusively and I would lose them.

There is definitely an audience for blood-soaked fiction. I know this because I’m a member of that audience. As a writer, I don’t write that way.

Subtlety is a wonderful device in horror and has been used to great effect over the years. Sometimes, it isn't about getting in front of people's faces as much as it is getting them to squirm in their seats.

Want to read some amazing horror? I can highly suggest this one! I fell in love with it a few years ago and you will too. Read Gutted here!

Thanks for listening! Have a great week.
-Bryan the Writer


Support the show (http://paypal.me/BryanNowak)

Show Notes Transcript

Why do we like horror? 

One of my earliest memories I had was watching King Kong on the big screen at a local theater. I remember being scared. This is probably the first time I remember being scared while watching something fictional.

I was very young, but later on it would lead me to wonder why it was that something that didn’t really exist could scare me. Consider fear. It’s a natural reaction which hinges on self-preservation. But when you’re watching a movie, it should be clear to your brain that what is happening on the screen couldn’t actually hurt you. And still, you react to it.

For example, every year there’s a new crop of movies which involves a ghost in one way or another. As children we love to watch Scooby Doo which inevitably includes some old guy wearing a ghost costume. We love to go to haunted houses where we are literally paying for someone else to scare us. And yet we know those ghosts are not real.

I’m fond of saying that horror is really an umbrella. A lot of people get the wrong impression that horror is what they see on the big screen. They equate the term to Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers. I do think that Hollywood has been disingenuous to the greater world of horror in that it focuses so much on the intense visual aspects of gore. To me that’s kind of lazy. It also cuts off an entire part of horror that is wonderful. My favorite kind of horror is the horror that just unsettles the reader.

It doesn’t have to be awash in blood and that’s the best kind of horror to me. In my book Crimson Tassels, there is a good amount of blood. However, it’s not so much blood that you’re going to focus on that. It’s the story line that really matters. I want you to feel one of the main characters descending into a sort of insanity brought on by the malevolent actions of another. Honestly, I don’t think I could necessarily do that all that well if I’ve covered everything in blood. The reader would focus on that exclusively and I would lose them.

There is definitely an audience for blood-soaked fiction. I know this because I’m a member of that audience. As a writer, I don’t write that way.

Subtlety is a wonderful device in horror and has been used to great effect over the years. Sometimes, it isn't about getting in front of people's faces as much as it is getting them to squirm in their seats.

Want to read some amazing horror? I can highly suggest this one! I fell in love with it a few years ago and you will too. Read Gutted here!

Thanks for listening! Have a great week.
-Bryan the Writer


Support the show (http://paypal.me/BryanNowak)

Welcome to the podcast! I need to give a quick shout out to Olivia and Miriam for giving me the kick in the butt on todays topic. I was kind of unsure what I was going to talk about until they pushed me in this direction.

Before that, I need to thank all of the listeners out there. I also want to say that I am going to move the podcast to a twice to three times a month format from now on. The reason for the move is that we have the holidays barreling down at us and I know lots of people have stuff going on, I do as well. I may revert back to once a week after the 1st of the year.

I also want to be able to make sure I am coming up with meaningful content and not just phoning it in every week. I don’t think I have been just phoning it in, but it just feels like it is time to make this change since we have a nice stable of shows under the belt. So, going forward, I am going to move to a two – three times a month format.

That makes it even more critical that you like the show so you can get an alert when a new show comes out. Crush that like button and make sure you are a fan!

That being said, onto todays topic.

One of my earliest memories I had was watching King Kong on the big screen at a local theater. No, I’m not really that old to be able to have seen it when it first was released, but this was a rerun of the original movie starring the iconic Fae Wray and . I remember being scared. This is probably the first time I remember being scared while watching something fictional.

I was very young, but later on it would lead me to wonder why it was that something that didn’t really exist could scare me. Consider fear. It’s a natural reaction which hinges on self-preservation. But when you’re watching a movie, it should be clear to your brain that what is happening on the screen couldn’t actually hurt you. And still, you react to it.

Fast forward a few years later when I’m standing in the elementary school library looking at a selection of books which dealt with ghosts. No matter where you are on the argument for or against whether ghosts are real, you have to admit that the topic captures our imagination like nothing else.

For example, every year there’s a new crop of movies which involves a ghost in one way or another. As children we love to watch Scooby Doo which inevitably includes some old guy wearing a ghost costume. We love to go to haunted houses where we are literally paying for someone else to scare us. And yet we know those ghosts are not real.

There’s a function there of the inputs into the brain and the way in which we process fiction. Again, we know it can’t be true. And yet there’s a small part of us that tells us it is. And therein lies the elegant truth of horror. We love to be scared.

When I was in my teens we watched the movie Christine. Years later I would read the book. It is true what they say that the book is always better than the movie. I have yet to find a situation where the movie was better than the book. And that too gives us a little bit of a deeper look into why we like horror. And, specifically why I like to work in horror.

When we read, versus watch, her mind gets to build the world. Our mind gets to see the fantasy for itself. We get to build the characters based on what we think they look like, based on the authors cues. One of my favorite books written by Dean Koontz is a book called watchers. I have a very real idea of what the main characters look like in the story.

The evil company behind the events of the story line is described in a very general sense. However, in order to get the reader to feel genuine fear, they have to build the world around what they know of a scientific laboratory, or hospital, and what they view as an evil corporation. Dean doesn’t force-feed you what he thinks the company looks like. He gives you the details and lets you fill in the rest. I think that’s magic.

I want to read you a quick example, of exactly what I mean. This is directly from Dean Koontz, watchers. ““Closing the door, Dr. Keene said, “bring him this way, please.”

He led them swiftly along the hallway with an oak parquet floor protected by a long, narrow Oriental carpet. On the left, through the archway, lay a pleasantly furnished living room that actually looked lived in, with footstools in front of the chairs, reading lamps, laden bookshelves, and crocheted Afghans folded neatly and conveniently over the backs of some chairs for when the evenings were chilly. A dog stood just inside the archway, a black Labrador. It watched them solemnly, as if it understood the gravity of Einstein’s condition, and it did not follow them.””

Dean doesn’t go into the specifics of the color of the parquet floor, other than to tell you the type of wood, he doesn’t go into specifics of what colors were included in the Oriental carpet. He doesn’t give you any information on the types of reading lamps, books on the bookshelves, or what the Afghans look like. He tells you these things are in the room because he wants to give you the impression that this room is different than any other veterinary clinic you’ve ever been in. He wants you to know that there is something different about this Dr.

He doesn’t insult you by telling you every little detail about the room. Granted, he gives you a lot to work with and not trying to overload you with detail.

I’m fond of saying that horror is really an umbrella. A lot of people get the wrong impression that horror is what they see on the big screen. They equate the term to Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers. I do think that Hollywood has been disingenuous to the greater world of horror in that it focuses so much on the intense visual aspects of gore. To me that’s kind of lazy. It also cuts off an entire part of horror that is wonderful. My favorite kind of horror is the horror that just unsettles the reader.

It doesn’t have to be awash in blood and that’s the best kind of horror to me. In my book Crimson Tassels, there is a good amount of blood. However, it’s not so much blood that you’re going to focus on that. It’s the story line that really matters. I want you to feel one of the main characters descending into a sort of insanity brought on by the malevolent actions of another. Honestly, I don’t think I could necessarily do that all that well if I’ve covered everything in blood. The reader would focus on that exclusively and I would lose them.

There is definitely an audience for blood-soaked fiction. I know this because I’m a member of that audience. As a writer, I don’t write that way. 

There is a body of works out there which most certainly speaks to the beauty and the staying power of horror. One of my most favorite books on my shelf is a collection of works by Edgar Allen Poe. Their beautiful. When I was in high school I had this English teacher by the name of van Van Pillsom. She was amazing. One of the things she did for me was to read to our class the poem the bells. I loved it.

It is unsettling without being deliberately gruesome. It goes from the perspective of different types of bells from one side of the spectrum to another. You to send into different levels of thought on bells. The very first stanza of the poem starts out this way. 

Read First Stanza

That first stanza is very much full of symbology. Silver bells points to something joyous. The idea of merriment being foretold by a melody presages something positive and great. It’s glorious it suggests something positive. Let’s examine the final stanza.

READ Stanza

just taking those two stanzas out of the context of the stanzas around them, you can already see some of the symmetry. It’s also easy to see how those two stanzas are so completely different and have a different feel. That’s what makes them amazing. Poe didn’t simply write a poem, he wrote a poem that took you from the heights of something positive to the depths of something that is inherently negative. And that, is Poe’s brilliance. But that’s also the brilliance of good writing. I think it might actually be fun to do live readings of some of the Poe stories. 

But as I have said horror is an umbrella. Under it you can find all kinds of different things. A few years ago I was fortunate enough to find a wonderful anthology entitled Gutted. I truly believe this is one of the greatest anthologies I’ve ever read. Edited by Doug Marano and D. Alexander Ward, it contains a collection of horror stories that at their base contain an element of love. It is, beautiful horror.

I’m going to read you a short section of the story, The Morning After, by Stephanie M. Wytovich. “My bed held an imprint that I wasn’t ready to sleep with so I stood in front of my bathroom mirror applied my favorite shade of red lipstick to my teeth, teeth that were locked in a permanent smile that held nothing but words shaped by broken liquor bottles with empty ashtrays, by unfinished poetry in the hundred and 57 sleeps filled with nightmares and the blankets made of your memory.” I use example here because what Stephanie has done is created a beautiful and wonderfully horrific scene using this almost lyrical story dripping with detail. It is a feast for the reader. And to me, that’s a very special thing.

In this story, in fact in most of the stories in Gutted, nothing is going to jump out at you. But that’s not the point. It shows you horror that is underpinned with love. And that’s what makes it amazing.

Needless to say, I am always going to recommend the book gutted. It is, what I think is one of the truly best anthologies out there.

I have one last example I want to share with you. An example of my own creation. This is from my novel Crimson Tassels. “The woman grabbed Elizabeth by the arm and led her across the grass toward the house. The images in the window were gone. She wanted to stop and look for Jack. Her instincts told her she should do everything to resist the woman who filled her with terror. It was like being in the presence of someone you knew would want nothing more than to kill you.

Elizabeth recognize the interior, but all of the old furniture they had removed was back. In the dining room, the two boys sat at the table, eating cereal. Elizabeth stared at them for a moment before the other woman broke the silence.

“Jack wants to kill them, you know.”

“I’m sorry, what did you just say?” Elizabeth asked.

“Jack wants to kill my boys. Don’t act so surprised, you know they all do. All husbands do. I can’t really help it.”

The two boys seemed ambivalent to the women standing there they were transfixed on the cereal box it said something about a prize or toy. The woman handed something to Elizabeth and she took it reflexively without looking at it.

The woman said to Elizabeth, “here, try it out for yourself.”

It was heavy in her hands. Just based on the feel of the object, she knew what it was. She glanced down to the acts. The head was dripping with blood. Each drop spattered on the floor.

Drip … Drip … Drip

“I can’t kill anyone. I’m just not capable of that.”

“You will, or they’ll kill you. You know it’s true. All men want to kill their wives. It happened to me, it’ll happen to you. The kids, there’s no need for the kids to die. Their innocent. I need you to save them, Elizabeth. If you don’t, no one ever will.””

What I want to point out is that this section builds a bit of insanity. It is a piece of a process which takes the protagonist from the point where everything seems perfectly normal to insanity. Elizabeth is ultimately going to accept that she needs to kill her husband with an ax. I can’t just tell you that’s what she’s going to do. I have to show you how she gets there step-by-step and walk you to that eventual end.

That’s the beauty of a scary story, and perhaps what is most unsettling about it. In reality everything that you read along the story line is logical in terms of word and sentence construction. It’s ultimately taking you someplace insane. And you would have it no other way. Because that’s why people like horror, and scary stories that go bump in the night.

Well, that’s it for this week’s show. I want to remind you that I am going to switch to an every other week format, or three shows a month format. However, if you enjoyed this podcast, remember to hit like so you can be informed when a new show comes out. And as always you can consider a donation to the show which will help me cover some of my expenses.

Catch you on the next podcast, this is Bryan the writer signing off.