Coming up with ideas for horror
I've written before about how much I enjoy horror movies - I was raised on them. My sister and I were loaded into the back of the car in our pyjamas and driven by our parents to the drive in movies where, more often than not, there was a double-horror-something.
And, as you can see in the ad opposite, my parents were probably attracted by the $1/carload 'family night'. Nothing better for us kids than a night on 'Hell's Island' and getting to know the 'Creature with the Atom Brain.'
If you're wanting to write in the genre, 'read lots of it' and get a feel for how these stories are put together and what makes a good one great. And there are so many classics you can read, apart from Stephen King - take the tales of H.P. Lovecraft, Joyce Carol Oates, and 'The Monkey's Paw' an 18th century gem from William Wymark Jacobs (I saw an old black and white movie of this as a child and it scared me so badly I still remember it).
How do you come up with ideas?
Make a list of what scares you. Objects? Animals? Places? And remember, we are hard-wired to fear the dark, an instinct that goes back to our caveman days when a campfire at night was light and safety. Anything outside of the realm of firelight was too dangerous and frightening to contemplate.
So what scares me? Crickets. Not the little ones but those large black shiny ones that can leap and scuttle and seem to be able to fly. So, OK, if I was locked into a dark room full of black crickets, that to me is a horror show. This is a very simplistic example but it's taking an ordinary person (me), confronted with her worst fear (crickets) in a situation where every instinct is on high alert (darkness).
Then throw in a 'what if?' What if, while I'm battling crickets in the dark, I sense that there is something else in there with me .... what if I hear shuffling in the corner of the dark room, a hissing or heavy breathing ...
OK - you get the picture. Have a go. Scare me.
What is it about horror?
What is it about horror?
We kinda know that monsters aren't real (although walking up the stairs to my house late at night, through the bush, I am absolutely 100% certain there is 'something' lurking just beyond the weak illumination my flashlight provides and I think that by walking with purpose, head down, straight ahead, I will deter it from attacking me) and yet after reading a cracking good horror or ghost story, or watching something spooky on TV, we find ourselves double checking the locks and looking under the bed before we hop in.
It's Halloween month and so thoughts naturally turn towards the genre. Writing something that is really scary is not easy and this common advice applies to all who wish to write it: read lots in the genre and learn from the greats like Stephen King, Clive Barker and Anne Rice but more than that, write stories that have meaning for you, think about the things that scare you - tap into your fears because by golly, what scares you probably scares the bejesus out of someone else too.
Stephen King says there are three types of terror:
"The Gross-out: the sight of a severed head tumbling down a flight of stairs, it's when the lights go out and something green and slimy splatters against your arm.
"The Horror: the unnatural, spiders the size of bears, the dead waking up and walking around, it's when the lights go out and something with claws grabs you by the arm.
"And the last and worse one: Terror, when you come home and notice everything you own had been taken away and replaced by an exact substitute. It's when the lights go out and you feel something behind you, you hear it, you feel its breath against your ear, but when you turn around, there's nothing there...”
My personal favourite is the last one, the terror, where the ordinary everyday suddenly becomes the bizzarre, the terrifying, the absolute unknown-stalker-thing-in-the-dark. To me that's the worst and I think King is a real pro at this - turning clowns into monsters, populating a seemingly normal town with vampires, trapping a woman in a car at the mercy of a nutty dog ... and using ordinary people going about their normal daily business adds to the terror of it because we begin to see that the line between everyday life and the unmentionable horror is very fine indeed.
And remember, a little gem from Neil Gaiman - and this applies to whatever you are writing. Read lots and learn from others but remember to "... start telling stories that only you can tell, because there will always be better writers than you, there will always be smarter writers than you ... but you are the only you."
So you may think there is nothing new you can do in the horror genre ... of course there is. You're unique .. your monsters will be too.