Five Questions to Consider Before Writing a Horror Story

Halloween writer It’s October, the month of Scary.

Let’s talk horror.

Today’s Guest Post is by Friend of Fine Lines Larry Leeds
and comes with the caution:
The following may contain gruesome examples of horror
that has been known to offend
the faint of heart, small children, and/or spiritually persuaded.


Why Horror Stories?

In his book The Philosophy of Horror or Paradoxes of the Heart, Noël Carroll offers two Paradoxes of the Heart: “…this is the question of how we can be frightened by that which we know does not exist.” and his second. “It is the question of why. . . anyone would subject themselves to it.” I would like to add my own question: Why would anyone want to tell such stories?

Some say we read horror stories for the adrenaline rush; to satisfy the “fight or flight” situations we rarely have in these modern times. Perhaps it’s for the visceral reaction that others get jumping out of a plane, usually with a parachute. Familiarity, maybe, like the way dad used to turn you upside down and toss you in the air, scaring the wits out of you the whole time you were laughing. I approach a horror story as a controlled nightmare from which I can awaken anytime I want. Others read horror for the reasons some like watching road accidents – so they can say, “There but for the grace of God, go I.”


What Is Horror?

The consensus approach to the word horror is to allow there is more than one kind: natural horror, supernatural horror, and probably others stymied only by the imagination. A useful example of the difference between natural horror and supernatural horror can be found comparing the following stories by Stephen King: Cujo and Pet Cemetery.

Cujo: a rabid dog plays havoc with people’s lives – a horrible event, to be sure, but not unheard of. We are terrified with the mother trapped in the car. We feel her panic and helplessness. But we are not suffering cognitive dissonance at the thought of a rabid dog. It’s a natural part of our world – bad though it may be.

Pet Cemetery: Pets and people come back from the dead and play havoc with people’s lives. We not only suffer though the terror of their behavior, but the insanity driven horror comes from having no way to rationalize, never mind understand. Our reality is shaken, we become paralyzed with fear for we have no rational bases for what to do, how to protect ourselves. We are helpless #OMG #Don’tTouchMe.


What Is A Horror Story?

I imagine a horror story as that which produces in the reader not one, but a combination of the elements of fear, dread, panic, loathing, repulsion, and helplessness by exposing the reader to any combination of acts, things, or ideas that stretch the imagination beyond the limits of reality, and renders vulnerable the reader’s knowledge of safe and sane. Is in not simply hack and slay, guts and gore.

The true weird tale has something more than secret murder, bloody bones or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule. A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible concept of the human brain—a malign and particular suspension or defeat of the fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguards against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. H. P. Lovecraft


Is Horror A Genre?

There’s an argument made that a horror story is not, in and of itself, a genre; others disagree. Some say, for example, science fiction, as a genre, may employ horror, while others say the horror story may be set within a science fiction backdrop. Was Dracula a gothic romance using horror as a device, or was it a horror story set within a gothic romance? Either way makes less difference to me than who’s paying for the coffee after the discussion. I guess your publisher will let you know.


Why Is Horror Hard To Write?

“In the right hands, horror can hold up a very unflattering mirror and show us what we really are: broken, scared creatures flawed and cracked, a species tragically ruled by fear, prejudice, insecurity, pride, anger, selfishness and cruelty. That is why horror is … hard to write. Emotionally, as well as spiritually” – Kevin Lucia

I’m not sure I whole heartedly agree with Mr. Lucia. That is, that horror is hard to write for the reasons he’s given. His thoughts certainly speak to literature in the highest sense, but there are authors out there who write horror stories that have all the messaging of a nightmare after stuffing yourself with spaghetti an meatballs. Still, try to write a nightmare – it’s hard.

-Larry Leeds

What about horror writing challenges you? Do you find it easier to read or to write? Tell us your writing horror story.


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