Yanked from my Live-Journal:
Catching Fish with my Teeth

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… it changes.

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 suspense?

See… 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 horror… 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 a book:

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… I'm not scared.

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 Soylent Green… 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.


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