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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wrestling "The Bare Bones - The Mechanics of Horror Writing"

A poster over at Absolute Write asked if horror had it's own grammar and syntax. Not only did this promt a response from me, but it also prompted an entire new thread which will have a weekly topic over there.

You can see the thread that started it here,

Here's my response to Cassiopeia,

Cassie, Horror definitely has its own grammar and syntax, I think. However, that grammar and syntax is intended for purposes of holding the reader in suspense and not explaining what is going on to them. In this manner the grammar and syntax of horror is very different from science fiction and fantasy, some might even say simpler.

However, if it is simpler, then it is also more psychologically complex and complicated because the writer must somehow manage to engross the reader in his imaginary world and hold their attention, their suspension of disbelief, and their sense of apprehension and, 'fear' perhaps is the best word, in a much more careful manner. A mere turn of a phrase can serve to ruin an entire story if it is not handled with the utmost deftness. A single word or miswording can throw the reader entirely out of the psychological state they have placed themselves in when reading horror.

Horror writing, however, does not require the command of language that science fiction or literary novels do. The words themselves can be much simpler. There's little or no technobabble of bafflegab in good horror (there is enough in bad horror, of course). The best language is often the simplest. The best words are often the most straightforward just as the best actions by the characters are often the most straightforward.

If the characters speak like real people, it is much easier to get the reader to suspend his or her sense of disbelief and become engrossed in the story world in my opinion because the reader wants to become part of the story world. They want to be scared, to get that adrenaline rush as the hero faces up to the challenge presented by the story's monster (be it human or otherwise).

So, in order to have our characters speaking like real people, we have to use simpler grammar and syntax. That is not to say that real people are simple. But examine the way you use language in everyday conversations or when under stress. You won't find too many characters in a horror story saying "Cap'n, the warp convutranslationers are positively ionized and we'll all die if I don't depolarize the Gable-torsioners within the next fifteen seconds."

Instead, we have a character in a horror story saying "Cap'n, we're all going to die if I don't fix this right now!"

Stay tuned. Our next topic is probably going to be about beginning a horror story. If you're reading this you're also invited over to AW to comment on the ongoing discussion.


slcboston said...

I don't know what a Gable-torsioner is, but I think I need to have one in my next story.

Excellent points, though.

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