Last time, I mentioned how horror is an emotion (and then argued that there should still be a horror section at B&N). Therefore, it necessarily follows that I should ask the question, “Where does horror come from?”
So, where? A peek into the way that horror has changed over the years might give us some insight.
In the beginning, there were monsters. Werewolves, vampires, Frankenstein’s monster; all of them were creatures that lurked at the edges of our imagination. Then along came a writer by the name of H.P. Lovecraft.
Lovecraft was the master of the creepy setting. In his stories, he would set up eerie worlds and build tension masterfully. Creepy, creeeeepy, creeeeeeepy … BOO MONSTER! But again, there were the monsters.
Then along came a young writer by the name of Stephen King. Again, masterful at building that tension, but now we see the advent of violence. Creepy, creeeepy, MONSTER! GORE! King had seen that people were getting bored with just the same old monsters. So he raised the level of violence. Not gratuitously mind you, but he started to “go there”. Violence with and against children, frightening things from childhood … you get the gist.
Shortly after the explosion of horror brought on by the success of Stephen King, one writer stood atop the mound of garbage on the shelves. His name was Clive Barker. Clive Barker could take what started as a normal setting and twist it into a hellish nightmare world. In addition, we see that he again cranked up the level of violence.
So we have seen that horror went from monsters, to monsters and violence, to monsters and extreme violence. Shortly after the appearance of Clive Barker, we see the advent of … splatterpunk.
Splatterpunk was horror that reveled in wanton violence and gore. Not really my cup of tea, I must admit, but it had taken what was started by Stephen King and Clive Barker to a whole new level.
So where was the horror in all of this? We have all seen the arguments before; that the monsters and violence are a reflection of our own inner demons. Okay, I’ll go with that. But how come we get jaded to these monster and violence if it’s reflecting our own selves.
Because kiddies … monsters and wanton violence sugar coat the truth. Horror comes from showing the reader the horrible things that they are capable of doing. Horror IS the reader. Let me say that again for effect.
Horror IS the reader.
Therefore it is the job of the horror writer to grab the reader by the nose hair and say, “HERE! This is YOU! You could do this!”
I know what you’re thinking. Mmmm … Oreos sound good. But really, you’re thinking, “That’s all fine and dandy Darin, but how do we do that?” Or maybe you aren’t thinking that … think what I want you to think darnit!
Showing the reader their inner demons is a matter of research. Not the kind of what are the origins of werewolf stories kind of research. Not even the A Brief History of Serial Killers. People can distance themselves from psychotics and monsters. A reader can put the book down and say, “Well that monster isn’t in my room. I’m safe.” Or, “Yes, serial killers are real, but I’m not one. I’m safe.”
No, look at what people are doing in the world today. Within your level of comfort, check on the news of what’s happening in Africa and the Middle East. What atrocities are being committed by otherwise perfectly sane people in the name of religion or money? What do we do to each other because of bigotry and ignorance?
When you can point out the failings in the reader, then when they put the book down, they realize they aren’t really safe at all. “I … I would do that if someone hurt my kids.”
Yes you would. The zombie isn’t the monster. The monster is you dear reader. The monster is you.