Horror for the Squeamish Author – Guest post by Chele Cooke
Genre, whether in books, or television and film, are constantly evolving. They encompass a range of stories, and as a part of the genre expands through popularity and trends in the industry, new sub-genres are created. One of the greatest examples of this is the horror genre.
We move through different trends, even within a single genre, and horror is no exception. From psychological thrillers to the popularly labelled ‘torture porn’, over the years each subset of the genre gets periods of popularity before dipping again, and each subset of the genre can be broken up into how an author or screenwriter wants to handle the subject.
I don’t know about you, but I am pretty squeamish when it comes to horror and I tend to stay away from horror movies which focus on the gory aspects. However, even though the blood and violence often makes me feel physically sick, I really enjoy the stories behind them. The Saw saga is a perfect example of this. I was fascinated by the plot, but the gore became too much, so instead I had to read the plotlines instead of watching the movies.
Books are very similar, sometimes worse for those like me, as you’re not past a gory scene in a minute or two, but you spend an hour reading graphically written scenes of violence. This is even before you take into account that we often become far more attached to characters in a novel than we do in a movie due to the time spent with them.
However, just because we might be squeamish, it doesn’t mean that we can’t write horror, or add horror into the genre we like to write.
Personally, I write Sci-Fi and Fantasy, but these stories often take a darker turn, and horror is one of those aspects that I had to learn how to write effectively. So, here are five tips to write some effective horror scenes for the squeamish.
1. The Necessary Narrative
Choose the narrative style necessary for the scene, though obviously, this must be consistent with the rest of your novel. If your entire novel is in the third person, you can’t suddenly switch to the first without a valid reason. While first will give a frightening insight into the panicked mind of your character, this can also be accomplished with a great third person limited.
Personally, I much prefer a limited person narrative, especially in instances of horror and thrilling scenes. Not knowing what your murderer/monster/etc is doing or thinking can really keep your audience on their toes. You can also limit how much your reader sees of your victims thoughts, which can also amp up the fear.
2. The Sex Scene Screen
Like horror, sex and erotica can be split into a number of different levels, from those who like to describe every movement and moment of pleasure in detail, to those who prefer to, to use a film phrase, fade to black. There is no ‘best’ way to do it, only what is best for you.
I am one of those writers who likes to keep a steady medium in this aspect, much like those scenes in movies where you see fingers grasping a thigh, hiking the leg higher around someone’s hips. You don’t need to explain every detail for readers to get a very accurate image of what is happening.
The same can be used with horror to great effect. Don’t want to describe those guts falling out of the body in great detail? You don’t need to. Audiences are smart, they will stay with you if you use the right minimalist descriptions.
3. Timing for Terror
Suspense is one of the most effective ways to keep an audience on the edge of their seat when it comes to horror. If the monster jumps right out to grab them, the jig is up, but if you keep the character guessing for a while, your audience will be guessing too. Preferably, your audience should figure out what is about to happen just before it happens. They should know who the killer is right before the moment your character figures it out. Keep the audience guessing too long and they’ll not only be confused when you make your reveal, but you run the risk of them getting bored. Timing is everything when it comes to suspense.
4. Love your Length and Language
The length of a sentence can draw a reader in. Longer sentences often give a relaxed and flowing narrative, where shorter sentences increase pace and are great for action and horror. The more panicked you become, the shorter your attention span.
This is especially great for first person narrative. As suspense and panic grows within your character, shorten the sentences, have their train of thought jumping around. You don’t need gore and violence to truly panic a person, and if you amp up your character’s reactions and questions about what is happening, your readers will follow right along.
Also, if you don’t want to describe gore in detail, a well used simile or metaphor can be extremely effective. Just always be careful not to overuse them.
5. Continually Consistent
However you use the four tips above, remember to be consistent throughout. Surprising your readers is a good thing, as long as the surprises come through the story, not by the sudden change in writing. Your audience should be comfortable so that when you scare them witless it will be much further to jump out of their seats.
I hope that these have been helpful to you, especially if you’re like me, and generally choose to shy away from horror because you feel you can’t write it. Push yourself. When you have those surprising results, you’ll be glad you did.