Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Problematic horrors

Innocence and isolation
I've heard it said that the cornerstones of horror are innocence and isolation. The innocence aspect is supposed to encourage audience sympathy, but personally? I know I'm no innocent and I'm not invested in protecting innocence the way, say, a parent might be.

It seems to me the "innocence" aspect leads to a tendency of horror being inflicted on somebody just because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time: they moved into a haunted house, their car broke down in the boonies, etc. I have never found that particularly compelling because the story is not about the characters, it's about a series of horrible things that happened.

Isolation can be physical, social, or psychological and ensures that the hero/ine faces the enemy alone. Often, they are outgunned by the villain(s) as well. This can lead to Bambi vs Godzilla syndrome, in my opinion, and solutions being handed down by the god in the machine (the author). Those aren't satisfying endings, since the heroine did not "earn" anything in the story.

This may be why I'm not a fan of horror -- on top of any additional writing problems manifesting in bad dialogue, illogical plot lines, and cardboard characters. Horror is as prone to those problems as any genre. Or perhaps it would be more fair to say that any genre is as prone to that as horror is.

A proverbial virgin being chased by a serial killer, or haunted by the angry ghost of some old house? That's just a cosmic misunderstanding. An oversized pain in the ass.

In my opinion, a dab of gore will do ya in most situations. If you've read my stories you know I'm willing to get explicit and horrible when the characters are willing to do that. Horror as a genre is a different beast, though. I'm treading closer to it than usual in my current WIP, which is turning out to be a dark fantasy.

What makes the story dark, in my opinion, is not the gruesome things that happen but why those gruesome things happen. It's also the hero's temptation to let those whys infiltrate him and lead him to begin inflicting horrors himself. The drama of resisting corruption has a particular attraction to me.

If you were going to write a horror story, how would you make it compelling to yourself? What makes you shudder?


Wm. L. Hahn said...

Most-excellent post, very thoughtful stuff and I agree completely about innocence as stereotyped in movies.
In epic fantasy, I often say we veer into all the major genres soon or late- horror, romance, thriller, mystery, it's a world out there, after all, with people in it. And eventually everything happens to real people.
I didn't see it coming, but the elements of horror in my current release build primarily on a sense of isolation. And I think- I hope!- they also contain that element of "why" you allude to, instead of random chainsaws and falling shards of glass. One scene in particular comes to mind in what will be Book 4 next year. Poor Cedrith, such a gentle, erudite Sage, and gets himself dragged along on the worst adventure in recent history... fun! For the reader I mean.

L. Blankenship said...

I agree, everything does happen to real people. And our characters are real people, aren't they?

I suspect that if you made a Venn diagram of all the genres, there would be very little space where there weren't at least two overlapping...

Liz A. said...

I like creepy but not bloody. I don't know if I could ever write a horror story, but then again, if the right inspiration were to hit...

Ellie Garratt said...

An excellent post. Like you, I find a lot of horror formulaic and by the numbers. Actually, there's a lot of that in any genre. What excites me is the why. It's all about character and the reasons.

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