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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Horror Writing & Writers

A friend of mine over at Absolute Write Water Cooler made the following comment to which I responded,

dgrintalis wrote, I think people sometimes are ashamed they write horror, as if by writing dark things, they are somehow less of a writer.

It's quite possible that some people are, were, or used to be. Horror was, for awhile, the dark cousin of scifi or fantasy that was kept locked in a cage in the basement that everyone heard the cries from late at night, but no one talked about. King and others like John Saul, Peter Straub, V.C. Andrews, and a few more really dragged horror fiction kicking and screaming out into the bright light of day where, prior to the advent of these writers, it had really languished as something that only seriously disturbed people wrote and normal people only admitted to reading as a kid in Weird Tales or Vampirella (and we all know why we boys were reading that mag, right?), or Blood of Dracula (this may not be the right title, but it was actually a pretty darned good B&W comic in its time), or something.

I think one of the things that really kicked off the whole horror craze of the 1980s-90s was the success of the movie The Exorcist. Only rarely before had audiences been so deluged with a sort of "in your face" kind of horror and the kind of images that did not hesitate to offend, to really put you right there in the room with a peasoup vomiting, demon-ridden, head-twisting little abomination and the horrors of demonic possession. It was unheard of at the time. Hollywood discovered that the audience craved the thrill and demanded more and more.

What we got was splatter-film after splatter-film. Today, the audiences laugh when Jason comes out with his machete and butchers the hapless, stupid college students trying to get some up at the lake. I've actually heard people cheer the murderer on because the characters/victims in some movies are so freaking stupid. Theres a even a commercial that openly pans a movie that shows a character going down into a darkened basement against the viewer's judgement "Girl, do not go down into that basement!"

Today, as horror writers, thriller writers, SF writers, etc., etc., we have to be smarter than the average Hollywood script writer because our audience today knows a helluva' lot more than they used to. They know they speak Farsi in Iran, they know there's these things called cell phones that people can use to call for help or which can be used to locate them in an emergency. They know that going down into a dark basement on a stormy night when the lights have suddenly gone out without a flashlight (and maybe a weapon) is just stupid.

Today, we have to be smarter than the average bear, I mean reader. The audience wants more than just (sub)standard slasher-film drek and schlock from our fiction writing.

Yes, they still want to be scared, they still want to be involved in the chase, but they want smarter characters, braver characters, more ingenious characters, more diabolical plots, more evil villains, and more insidious and devious plans than just "kill everything that moves or looks like it's going to get some".

Oh, look - I just wrote my blog for today, I think.



Anonymous said...

I'm only ashamed of my bad writing. Which, at the moment, seems to be the only stuff that is coming out.

Horror is as much a state of mind as it is a genre. If a story isn't invested with the right emotional gravity, then all the monsters in the underworld won't save the words from being a shallow pose.

The sense of dread and uncertainty which good horror maintains can be pulled out for any genre. A horror novel isn't limited in geography or time, and there are still new places to go.

A writer should never be ashamed of giving in to the demon on their shoulder.

fotsgreg said...

I don't think you should be ashamed even of your "bad" writing. Remember, everyone has permission to write crap.

It's the writing that's important, not necessarily the content of that writing or the quality of it.

Every first draft is absolute crap.

What matters is that you try to perfect that crap and turn it into a fine-edged weapon of wordage.