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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Horror vs Gore-er

I get a lot of the material for this blog, possibly the majority of it, from responding to comments over at Absolute Write's Water Cooler ( so it shouldn't be surprising to anyone reading that this is another one.

The original poster, satyesu, wanted to know about some resources for someone who wanted to write what they called "horror as opposed to gore-er" and stated that they were coming at it from the perspective of someone who was more familiar with the movies than the books.

I responded as follows,
Also, remember that the movies and the novels are often vastly different. Movies made of King's novels often have more gore in them than the books do because the producer and director know that movie audiences want visual "impact". They enhance certain scenes in ways that King never actually did to make the impact more visceral to the audience's experience.

There is a certain implied level of "gore" in the horror genre for novels, but it's not as extreme as it is in movies. Recent audience experience for horror movies certainly revolves almost completely around gore. Movies like Saw, Friday The 13th, The Haunting In Connecticut, The Ring, Final Destination, etc., etc. have gore and death as their central themes. Novels can be completely different. The threat of imminent death or doom in some fashion should be there, but you do not have to be extremely visceral about describing it. You also should not be afraid to directly confront it when it happens. Hinting around or dancing about showing us the actual gruesomeness can be considered a form of "cheating" and a reader will feel cheated for exactly that reason.

Audiences, and readers are your audience, pay good money for their movie and novel experiences. Don;t leave them feeling cheated. When it's necessary, slap them in the face with the blood and guts of a scene. Just don;t do it so often they become immune to the gore.

Gore is there for impact. Use it for that reason.

Psychologically, humans become immunized to the most horrible of atrocities rather quickly. We can, on occasion, walk through buckets of blood and miles of dismembered body parts without really even seeing it or feeling anything while we're on our trip. Just look at the denial that normal German citizens in towns surrounding camps like Buchenwald or Auschwitz had when they knew pretty darned well what the trainloads of people going into those camps and the empty trains coming out of them really meant. Just read about some soldier's experiences on battlefields. Read about Rwanda sometime.

Humans can be pretty darned thick when it comes to seeing things they really don't want to see or acknowledge.

The gist of this all is to use gore only when you have to - and then use it for the full force of impact you can get out of it and then go on. Don't do it too often or your readers will find themselves yawning when the next scene comes up.

It's also important to remember that the poster stated they were coming at their objective from the viewpoint of one who was more familiar with the horror movie genre than the horror novel genre. I'm not entirely certain you can reasonably try to write horror without being familiar with the novel genre. An important quote goes "You have to read it in order to write it" and I believe that is entirely accurate.

Without being well-read in any genre you're likely to have a very difficult time trying to write it. I know some authors have stated that they do not read within their own genres and I believe this really shows in their writing within their genre. Without reading Lovecraft, how could you expect to write like Lovecraft (if you would want to - while I am a fan of Lovecraft, I am not much of a fan of his style or his mindset which was definitely a product of his upbringing and culture)? If you wanted to write about vampires, how could you write about them without being familiar with Brian Lumley, Bram Stoker, and even (shudder) Stephanie Meyers? If you wanted to write about evil clowns, haunted Buicks, and extradimensional entities run amok how could you do that without being familiar with the writings of Stephen King or Dean Koontz?

I'm of the opinion that you could not do it with any skill or justice.

To write it, you must read it.

Being familiar with the movies is not the key to writing the horror novel.

Now, with that said, I hold the opinion that the movies show writers a number of good techniques and methods that can be used to sharpen our writing and our viewpoints, but it's not by watching the movie as part of the regular audience or from the audience's POV.

No, the key, I think, is to watch the movie from the director's POV.

Look at how the scenes were staged, dressed, and managed. Look at the lighting. Look at where the actors were positioned at the start of the scenes. Watch the scenes play through as they were filmed and managed by using your "director's eye". Develop and use your director's eye to visualize your scenes in your mind and write them down such that when you read them back you can see the scene in your mind's eye just as the reader will be able to.

When you've got a scene that springs to life in the reader's eye, you've got a keeper an not something that's going to end up on the editor's cutting room floor.

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