That's how writing horror feels, like I'm trying to catch fish with
my teeth. It's strange, I'm drawn to writing horror, but I'm constantly
searching to define it. It's elusive when I can't catch it and when
I do, it's slippery.
Each project I write seems to be a personal
redefinition of the genre/mood, and even then, it only seems to
work for that one book. Bloody in one story, suggestive in another;
violent, coy, angry, cold
I suppose I love calling myself a horror writer,
but I think I write dark suspense more. I mean sure, I can write
of the horrific, but the horrific isn't horror. Hence the reason
I don't enjoy slasher flicks as much as I once did -- well, not
including the remake for "House of Wax," the sole redeeming
feature of which is watching Paris Hilton die. But, if horror is
suspense, then am I a horror writer because I enjoy writing dark
those are the Star Trek-type dilemmas
that go through my head. Now if only I could reverse the polarity
of my tachyon field and use the holo-emitters to solve my quandary,
I'd be happy (dumb as a herd of grapes, but happy).
I have stumbled across some personal truths to
truths I feel are important to me. They have helped,
but I don't usually analyze them as I write. These seem to be thoughts
on writing with the occasional application finding its way into
1) The audience wants to survive the horror flick.
Thank Mr. Craven for that one, but I love the notion. The reader
wants to participate in the ride and wonder how they'd react to
the situation. Take Tom Piccirilli's "A Choir of Ill Children."
It's really good (IMHO). Unfortunately, the mindset is so strange
and different that I don't feel like I'm reading horror. Certainly
some bits may be horrifying, but between the strange situations
and the protagonist Thomas acting alienated from his surroundings
(a trap many first-person narratives fall into, I believe), I'm
not actually participating in the ride. Therefore
2) Living is scarier than dying. Maybe this is
just me, but as I grow older, I think part of horror is actually
surviving the event; contemplating the consequences and being haunted
by them is more horrifying then just killing someone. This is, again,
why so few slasher flics appeal to me. I was more horrified for
Ripley in "Aliens" because she survived the first movie
then I was of Jason's first victim. I was horrified in "Se7en"
because one of victims (sloth I think) was still alive.
Naturally, you can play with this - killing one
character so the others must live with the consequences of that
- but in the end, I think there must be some survival. I think this
is why Joss Whedon shoves his characters into the meat grinder.
Drama sells, yes, but drama needs the living (or maybe the persistent
dead) to work.
To quote my friend, Stephan Brochu: Drama is like
it's made with people.
3 & 4) I once took acting lessons from
a Polish director who was quite good at his craft. In one scene,
he snuck up on another actress, very much in the classic Nosferatu
vein (one arm outstretched, fingers moving like slow tentacles).
The room was brightly lit, but he told the actress she was in the
dark. We saw them both
her blind and him advancing up behind
her, and yet the scene still had us on the edge of our seats. I
think this works well for horror on two levels:
3) Horror is anticipation.
4) Horror is empathy.