Life is always going to be stranger than fiction, because fiction has to be convincing, and life doesn’t.”
~ NEIL GAIMAN
As most of you know, I’m attempting to branch out into horror, and I’m waiting to hear from a publisher who has expressed some interest in my novella, Possession of Blood. I have curtailed all other writing activity while I wait, and if I’m going to be honest, I have to tell you that this enforced inactivity has begun to look pretty attractive. I don’t know where it might lead, but anyone who knows my history might be able to take an informed guess.
But while I’m waiting, I’ll pass the time by starting a discussion on the principles of what constitutes effective horror. Classic horror uses monsters. Dr. Frankenstein’s abominable creation, werewolves, mummies, and of course, the king of the classics, Count Dracula himself. Developments in the 1950s gave us giant bugs, abominable scientific developments, and things from outer space, and the material I’m developing makes great use of interdimensional creatures and entities that at least seem to have roots in the supernatural.
But are these bloodthirsty but imaginary beasts necessary to create good horror? A moment’s thought will suggest that that is far from being the case. There are any number of horrible things in everyday life that can make your skin crawl. Spiders, especially those with exotic poisons. Most reptiles, both the venomous and the large and powerful. Big cats. Hippos. And if you live in Australia, forget about it!
But these are things as foreign as the bug-eyed monsters of the 1950s to most North American readers. Oh, we have black widows and rattlesnakes, but treatments are common and effective. Here in America we see a couple a vicious dog attacks a year, and about once a decade, a bear will get somebody, but in general terms, the “classic” monsters are sorely lacking.
What we do have in vast numbers are people, and are there really any monsters more terrifying than a human being with malice in his or her heart? We’ve all seen that kid who shows up at school with bruises, maybe a limp, and an excuse from P.E. class. How about the wife down the street who seems as terrified as the woman in a slasher movie but swears that everything’s just fine? How about that new friend who always seems to “bump into you” while you’re shopping, gardening, or just relaxing on your patio? You know, the one that nobody else likes. Taken to the far edge of sanity, we have had Charles Manson and Jeffrey Dahmer. We’ve all seen examples like this, and they’re made all the more horrible by their very reality. You might live down the street from one of these horrors, work with one, shake hands with one in a shop, ride next to one on the bus. They’re out here in the real world every day, impacting real lives, and they’re closer than you think.
Of course, the focus of this blog is on the aspiring writer, and the moral of this tale, I suppose, is that if you feel a hankering to write some horror, but lizard men, predatory plants, and articulated blobs of protoplasm seem a bit silly to you, there’s still plenty of ground left to cover in the psychopath-next-door genre. Take a run at that; you might even wind up scaring yourself!
And that’s 30 for this issue. Join me Thursday for the roundup of the usual suspects, writers and bloggers alike, and while you’re waiting, remember to read well, and write better!