If you want to write a post about the first scary movie you watched and why it scared you, I’d love to hear from you! If you’d prefer to write about the art of crafting suspense and horror into your stories, I want to hear from you, too! Submit your guest post here: pgpatey.com/guest-post
Category Archives: Guest posts
Cries from the Catacombs #3: Characters Make Horror Horrifying, by @Matthew_NCC1701
College, Sophomore year. The class was about some of what we call Dead White Guys. Could have been the Beats, but most likely it was the Romantics. Maybe the Modernists. Don’t remember. Anyway, I’m sitting there before class begins, reading Stephen King’s Misery and my arch-nemesis (i.e. a girl I knew since high school and was already trying to out-do me in literary pomposity) saw my book and sniffed audibly. “How could you be reading such pedestrian writers?” she asked.
“Stephen King shows more literary prowess in one chapter than most of these assholes do in an entire novel,” I shot back. I held up Misery and let her know how you can actually feel the tension of this poor writer, and not just when the crazy lady cut off his feet (in the movie version she merely broke his feet with a sledgehammer), but in watching the typewriter keys start to fail. Because if he didn’t finish this book, she would kill him. “That kind of tension, suspended across 300 pages? THAT’S literature!” I said.
She snubbed this slight and I don’t know what she did next. Probably went back to pretending she understood Pound’s Cantos or something.
The point is this: character helps truly create the suspense, and King is a master at that. I forget what book it is (probably Salem’s Lot), but he creates a character on one page and kills the guy off on the next and you, the reader, actually FEEL THE LOSS.
That’s powerful writing, and you should incorporate it into everything you write.
Let me try an example: I could write something like
The werewolf leapt out of the shadows and tore his entrails from his belly, spilling over the ground as the man screamed. The wolf howled and sunk his teeth into the man’s throat.
Graphic. Cruel. But there is something missing here. Hm. Let’s see if we can spruce this up:
Jarrod walked home after closing the diner after midnight. Needed to be up at dawn for his second job at the glass plant, but the apartment was only a block away. He was looking forward to kissing little Charlotte (her four month birthday today!) on the forehead as she lay sleeping in her crib.
He still couldn’t believe he hadn’t wanted her when Mary told him she was pregnant. But now, now he couldn’t imagine life without her. He asked Mary for forgiveness every day for ever suggesting that she go to the clinic.
The werewolf leapt out of the shadows and tore Jarrod’s entrails from his belly, spilling over the ground as he screamed. The wolf howled and sunk his teeth into Jarrod’s throat.
Charlotte, a block away, (four months old today!) heard the howl and the scream in her sleep, but she would never remember. She would never know her father.
Might be a bit much, but I think you understand where I’m going with this. Take the time to make the people real, and the horror will be that much more deliciously horrifying.
By @Matthew_NCC1701 – http://verblegherulous.zenandtaoacousticcafe.com/
Cries from the Catacombs #2: The Difference Between Horror and Gore, by @Matthew_NCC1701
Most people think that Gore is a part of Horror: either an aspect, a device, or a subgenre.
It’s not. It’s distinct. It’s like the difference between Erotica and Porn, which was one best described as the use of a feather compared to using the entire chicken. Take that into the Horror world, and it’s like the sight of Jamal Khashoggi going into the embassy and then seeing men walking out of the embassy with large duffel bags, compared to actually seeing the bone saw cutting through his arms while his screams echoed throughout Istanbul.
It’s a matter of tact, of class. Sure, you can go for your Hostel, or I Spit on Your Grave, if you’re so inclined, but real Horror, I mean the REAL stuff, is the stuff that gets you in your sleep afterward. It’s the Psycho, or the original Haunting of Hill House. You never saw the blade actually touch Janet Leigh, and most of the horror of Hill House is the banging on the walls. THAT’s the stuff that really brings out the true terror.
Alfred Hitchcock once described how to build tension in movies: you have a scene where a man is sitting at a desk, talking, and the camera shows a bomb under his chair. As he talks, the camera cuts to the bomb. You even see a clock winding down. He doesn’t know there’s a bomb there, but you’re thinking GET OUT! GET OUT! … that, Mr. Hitchcock says, is much more effective than simply having a man talk and then suddenly a bomb blows up.
It’s the subtlety of craftfully building up a scene and just dumping buckets of blood all over the floors. Hey, though, I’m not here to tell you what you should watch, or even what is “better.” But I think you get where I’m going with this: I fall on the side of craft, elegance, style, over mere shock and schlock. Every time. It’s not just classier, it’s more effective.
And yes, Gore can be a part of a good Horror movie. When used well, it can truly emphasize the immediacy and the ultimate terror of the film. High Impact is a good example. John Carpenter’s The Thing is another. But when a film (or story, etc.) just uses Gore for the sake of shock, it loses all its true value, and becomes mere overhyped stimulation of the baser instincts of the brain.
It’s like Porn. I mean, the camera opens with two people going at it on a counter top is just like watching two hours of a hacksaw chopping up bodies. Whereas Erotica grows the story where the erotic tension builds between two (or more!) people where they finally just explode in a fit a passion in the same way that a horror movie builds and builds the suspense until the final moment in Paranormal Activity when that thing finally pops out of the ceiling and you’re like holy shi
[THIS IS WHERE THE MANUSCRIPT ENDED. WE FOUND THIS ON HIS COMPUTER AND THE EDITORS HAVE PRINTED IT IN ITS ENTIRETY. WE HAVE NOT YET LOCATED THE WRITER, KNOWN ONLY AS “MR”]
What horror means to me, by @CAnthonyBiron
When I was a kid, we lived in a big old house. Everywhere, there were dark corners and shadowy spaces – just like any place that’s been around for a hundred years. My room had a closet, and I always kept it closed – especially before going to sleep. One night I had a dream about it. I was walking toward the closet door, and I couldn’t stop my hand from reaching forward. I turned the handle and looked inside. There, above my head, beside a naked bulb with a string, was a trap door I’d never seen. I looked away for an instant, and when my gaze returned, the panel had shifted. It was open a crack – just enough to let me see the darkness of an undiscovered attic. Something was up there, and it was looking at me.
That’s what I think about when I write horror.
And I want both of us – reader and writer – to explore that shadowy place together.