1. Daniel
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    Daniel I'm sure you've heard the rumors. Founder Staff Contributor

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    Horror Diving into the horror genre

    Discussion in 'By the Genre' started by Daniel, Jun 1, 2013.

    Recently I had an experienced, followed by some brainstorming, that concluded in me decided I'd like to create a horror movie. Since that's a large feat, rather than starting with a screenplay, I'll likely start by writing a horror novel.

    The problem is that I've never written horror before. I suspect it's mostly like writing for any other genre, but it doesn't seem that way. Any advice for someone looking to get into horror writing for the first time?
     
  2. muscle979
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    muscle979 Member

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    Read a lot of horror if you haven't already. Steven King of course is the most famous of our generation.
     
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  3. sanco
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    sanco Contributing Member

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    I don't think writing a novel is any less of a large feat than writing a screenplay.

    I think good horror films depend on things like cinematography, tension, performances, sound design and suspending the audience's disbelief. Since a lot of that stuff is out of the writer's hands, the most you could do is try and work all that stuff into the script. To do that you need to understand what scares, intrigues, engages and compels your audience.

    As for horror novels, other people on this site would have some better advice for you than I do. Was there anything specific that you needed advice about?
     
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  4. Daniel
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    Daniel I'm sure you've heard the rumors. Founder Staff Contributor

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    Of course - not sure why I didn't think of this. Will get right on it. Already a Stephen King fan. Any suggestions on horror writing that is more terrifying? This story needs to be something that really scares the reader/viewer.

    Maybe not, but I'm thinking more about future publishing prospects. It'll be a lot more difficult to get a screenplay turned into a big budget movie than to get a novel published. If I succeed in publishing the novel, it's potential for movie adaptation is much larger too. At least, that's my train of thought.

    Good point. I guess I better find an awesome director.

    Not specifically. I guess maybe what is it about horror writing style that makes it scary/suspenseful? What about the writer's style makes the hairs on your arms stand on end?
     
  5. Edward M. Grant
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    Edward M. Grant Contributing Member

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    Much more so, in fact. The downside is that when you complete a novel it's actually complete, whereas writing a screenplay is just the start.
     
  6. Edward M. Grant
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    Edward M. Grant Contributing Member

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    The Horror Writers' Association (who do the Bram Stoker Awards) have an interesting book on writing horror. I borrowed it from the local library to read, I should really buy a copy and read it a few more times.
     
  7. sanco
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    sanco Contributing Member

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    I know exactly what you mean by that. I'm about to graduate from film school and I've decided to write novels alongside screenplays. I guess novels give you, in a sense, more "ownership" of your work and are much more simple for getting your initial vision out there, whereas screenplays go through various interpretations and compromises. But that being said, you're doing much more in a novel than what you're doing in a screenplay.

    On a side note: the most recent horror films I've seen were pretty fresh. They were "Mama" and "Sinister". Both of them rely on beautiful cinematography, convincing performances and a metric fuck-tonne of tension. Not just gore and jump-scares every 5 seconds. Straight after that, we watched "The Grudge", which I hadn't seen in years and it was comparatively laughable.
     
  8. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    I think having a firm grasp on some basic psychology can be very useful in creating a good horror novel. I'm not really a fan of horror but I do think anything with a psychological element and not just the go to of gore/body horror/gorn is always better. Anyone can do shock value but not everyone can scare you on a deep psychological level. Although I guess gore and all that is psychological but it's a lazier way to scare people I think.
     
  9. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm not a big horror fan, but I would recommend against making it just a big gorefest. Please don't do that. For me, the wellspring of truly creepy horror is Edgar Allan Poe. He never wrote gore, but some of his stories will keep you up at night.
     
  10. The Peanut Monster
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    The Peanut Monster Senior Member

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    I'd say reduce gore and focus on tension, imagery. There is a place for gore, sure, but to be truly terrifying, there has to be more to it. Gore is cheap. I'm reading Stephen King's The Stand right now which has this approach. Frankly, at 31 I'm too scared to read it before bed. Amazing stuff.
     
  11. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    You need to properly explore the genre I'd say, and then think about what kind works best for you, What kind of horror really gets under your skin. For example, what kind of horror do you like? Psychological? Slasher? Gothic? Lovecraftian? Also, it's a good idea to try and think why that kind of horror appeals. There is a lot of difference between the satire on Victorian culture in Dracula, and the almost morbidly comic I am Legend (I found Nevile's musings on vampire lore really funny anyway) and those are just in the same sort of horror sphere, and not a terribly long length of time apart (about 50 years I think). If something like ghost stories are more your thing then check out the work of MR James and Sheridan Le Fanu.

    Horror is a pretty big genre, and there is a lot out there. And a lot of it is trite and shite, but the good stuff shines all the more because of this I think. If you want a good solid basis for a workable knowledge of horror then check out and study the essay 'Supernatural Horror in Literature' by H.P. Lovecraft. It's a very highly detailed, very well read study on the development of horror up till the time it was written (late 1930s) and then after that it's easy to find your own way to the good stuff: Shirley Jackson, Richard Matheson, Stephen King, and then the modern stuff that is very psychological in nature, exemplified in my opinion by the novel House of Leaves.
     
  12. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    Pay attention to story structure. The best horror films follow the same structure regarding how the monster is revealed, etc. In the Shining, for example, the relationship character (Dick, played by Scatman Crothers) shows up with a big snow truck and it looks like he's going to save the day, but then he dies right away. This raises the stakes in that now Jack has actually killed someone, and it also provides a method of escape. Paying attention to things like that, how different films play with plot, and judging how effective they are is key.
     
  13. Crimestick
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    Crimestick New Member

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    I am a horror fan, that is I am fanatical about horror. There are many different sub genres to choose from:
    supernatural,satanic,haunted house,slasher,Gothic,etc...immerse yourself in horror;discover what it means to you. Personally I am a fan of Poe and Lovecraft, they are my biggest influences. I enjoy reading, watching and writing horror because it explores a primal, perhaps hidden side of humanity.
    It delves into the duality of humankind. It has to mean something to you (but you're a writer, I don't have to tell you that). There are myriad horror sites that you can go to. Have fun and good luck to you!
     
  14. ProsonicLive
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    ProsonicLive Senior Member

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    As a horror writer myself. Let me give you my opinion
    you have a misconception that writing horror is like writing anything else. That is false. Take Terra's advice, and get some psychology and even sociology (basically psychology of groups)
    most anyone can write about vampires...they are not particularly scary. neither are werewolves. zombies have earned their place not because THEY are scary, but for what sacrifices they may represent. in order to be truly terrifying. Create a semi-likable to very likeable every-man, someone anyone can see themselves being.someone whose safety is not certain. Over-powerful characters that are central to the story (not the plot) a pretty big no-no.
    HOWEVER, the real difficulty with horror is that it is so open. Anything can happen and you as a writer are not obligated to answer the "why?" though, it is very fun to lightly imply it. Now, before cognito has a conniption, let me tell you that muchof what I just said are elements that great horror writers have used, suvh as taking simple common phobias and turning them into stories like "Cujo" Being burried alive is another common phobia, but would be difficult to make a book or movie out of. (I know it has been done and I refuse to call that film a "movie")

    I separate this text to emphasis that breaking the mold in horror is not hard. But it takes a pretty big risk. Do not be afraid to use cliche elements. just use them like nobody else has. haunted houses are a penny a dozen, but you can make one YOURS
    I write one way so my opinion is biased. nobody can give you true "pointers" on how to do horror. Those pointers will just be reflective of the person making the reply. Just like me. My best advice...Find out what scares the hell out of you the most...TRUTHFULY. this IS going to be a difficult task because we often do not even want to realize those things exist/happen.
    getting to know yourself is possibly the most horrifying thing you can do. some cannot admit to themselves that on some level they really are racist. Some deny it, some come to accept there are varying degrees of racism. this is the kind of challenge you will face. (not racism specifically) but hard truths. This makes the psychology of horror.
    I apologize for going so deep. But it is my opinion that horror forces the reader to look inside the most scary place on the planet...inside
     
  15. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    As an avid fan of horror movies, I agree that there has to be something fresh to scare me. Evil Death, Predators, Exorcist and such were all scary because they were fresh ideas at the time.

    As for writing a horror novel, one has to master the art of using the setting to create the mood which I think is almost equal to cinematography in movies: what images to capture, zooming in and zooming out etc.

    It is said that a writer has to face and write about things which make them truly uncomfortable to produce convincing stories. This is very much relevant in horror writing. Tap the fear in you, only then you will make the readers fear, because all human beings in the core fear the same things.

    I have not written any horror stories, so please take my advise with a fistful of salt. Good luck.
     
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  16. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I've read a lot of horror ( and wrote one horror screenplay. )
    In some ways horror bares a striking similarity to romance. Both have to have a keen handle on describing
    emotions. Horror is not just about scares but about reactions - paranoia, fear, dread, confusion - every facet of fear.

    If you've watched the Walking Dead it's not so much the horror of zombies or being eaten alive or torn apart, it's about the reactions, the ripple
    effects the situation creates. They keep amping it up a notch. It's not just dead people walking around, it's a dead mother/wife circling her
    own house while the husband/son watch. It's discovering they'll turn into zombies too, and so on and so on.
    These things give it deeper pychological links because it relates to the characters personally, and
    complicates their fear.

    Prosonic gives good advice when he suggests starting off with an average character. The most effective horrors have a mix of likeable
    average joes and creeps ( fresh meat for whatever entity they're up against. ) The character arch is actually
    given a boost by the events, as for a reader, it's easier to believe changes - the average joe turned into a hero, the charismatic
    leader dissolved to whimp.

    Tension is key in horror. You want to keep the tension up by continuously complicating the situation. Take a zombie
    situation. It's never enough that the characters are being threatened by zombies. The story always needs more.
    Character's need to be trapped in a house, food is running low ( when you can add something involving a time element - this needs
    to be solved/addressed in such and such a time it's always tense ) , and food is not just running low
    but they discover someone's been taking it - ( this adds a human element betrayal - new feelings emerge complicating their fear ( anger
    , paranoia ) - a situation needing to be addressed) It's not just someone taking the food, but several knifes are missing -
    ( this adds the hint of danger ) Someone suggests they flush out the culprit, and he arms a few angry friends. ( this ups the danger )
    Suddenly the zombies seem to have been forgotten. But you want to bring them back in, so you have someone attempting to
    avoid a war in the house by sneaking out to get food, ( human reaction/ choice opening up the story ) accidentally letting a zombie in.
    ( the danger has become immediate/now. )
    It's a continuos circle of characters reacting to the situation, ( and each other ) and the situation ( ghost, zombies, mutant rats ) itself.
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Horror cinema is very different from horror literature. Cinema can rely on visual shock and gore, with musical accompaniment and scene cuts to play with viewers' emotions. And they play every trick to do so. Alien is one of the great modern examples.

    Horror literature, on the other hand, has to be more subtle. Sadly, King's work is rarely subtle, and of late, more of his writing is horrible than horror. Still, some of his work is worth studying. 'Salem's Lot is a bit dated, but brings modern apathy and reason as vulnerabilities that can be exploited by a vampire. It rambles, but King brings us an ancient evil that exploits the deepest phobias of those with no one to rely on.

    I'm not much of a horror fan, truth be told. Most of it bores the hell out of me. But one pattern that seems to work is when horror is a threat connected with a hidden shameful secret, and that the destruction of the evil is bought at the price of personal ruin.
     
  18. ProsonicLive
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    ProsonicLive Senior Member

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    The whole point was not Kings ability to write, nor was it about his new ...whatever it is. it was the simple philosophy that simple works. In essence, making a mountain out of what is assumed to be a mole hill. King was simply a fast reference, and Frankly, if he was total crap, he would not be a household name. Writing or cinema and not so different when it comes to story telling. It is us who try to watch a movie in our heads and write it that it falls short.
     
  19. GoldenGhost
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    GoldenGhost Contributing Member

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    I would say that the greatest tool Horror writers have at their disposal is the imagination. Maybe focus on presenting the things that awaken terror, but not fully. You're merely guiding the reader and nudging him a little and scratching the surface with the fear, because he'll take the plunge, if done well, and scare the shit out of himself for you. With that said, maybe do some research on what types of things commonly excite these emotions and take effort to not ever paint a complete picture when actually writing. I'm no horror writer, and I don't have any experience with the genre, but I've read many essays and am currently reading a rather outdated book by Edmond Burke that describes in detail the things that excite beauty and the sublime, and specifically, what he calls "positive pain," which is basically the human attraction to pain and things unpleasant, stating causes for such emotions and whatever. For example, people are entertained and will read about Loss and Death and Scary Things, because it isn't happening to them, and he believes people have this subconscious want to experience them, as long as they aren't really happening, because Curiosity is the most powerful passion we possess. He also talks about fear and terror and describes how Painters often fail when attempting to depict these emotional states, because they present such clear definitions, such boundaries, and once the human eye perceives boundaries, their imagination ceases doing its job, but if you present something that seemingly has no boundaries whatsoever, such as darkness, the imagination immediately conjures worse case scenarios. The origin being this idea about self-preservation. When you present images that on some level, tickle the conscious or subconscious mind, and force the reader to feel threatened, through any means, you open up a world of emotions that fall under the category of fear. In the same sense, bringing it into the modern, if you look at Paintings which have achieved frightful states, they're probably distorted--there is no clear depiction for the onlooker to fixate on. At any given point something is left obscure, thus giving the imagination room to work and fill in the gaps, and given the nature of what's contained in the painting, since it's already urging them toward fearful thoughts, the imagination starts thinking of fearful things... I think the same concept can be applied to words, though in my opinion, you have a much greater ability and flexibility to present things without clear boundaries, because words and consequently images are presented in succession. That doesn't mean you have to paint a picture in one sentence, or even one paragraph, but what would happen if you, let's say, took an entire 2.5k-4k words to paint one whole picture, one whole depiction of something fearful or grotesque or terrifying or horrible or phantasmal, by easing into the completion? I'm pretty sure you'll have a surprising affect on the reader. And in terms of authors to maybe look at, though I'm not a huge fan, Dean Koontz comes to mind.
     
  20. Crimestick
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    Crimestick New Member

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    One thing that I could recommend is reading about Lovecrafts ideas of "cosmic indifference" or "cosmic horror".
     
  21. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Last night I re-watched a Doctor Who episode that is a good horror yarn, and that could work well on the printed page. It's "Midnight", from the fourth series (third David Tennant series), and takes place on a stranded ground transport. The horror comes from the emergence of the darkest side of human nature when fear takes over,

    There is some form of creature involved, never seen, but it is merely the catalyst for the passengers to begin to dissemble.
     
  22. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Suspense! Remember, it's not the BANG that's scary, but the anticipation of the BANG. Frighten the audience with paranoia of what might happen and don't always finish a lead-in with a resolution. That way the reader won't know when you're going to scare them and they'll be on edge for more of the story.

    I wouldn't really consider Alien a 'modern' example of film horror anymore.

    edit: It's one of the classics.
     
  23. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    When you talk about what is scary, it is going to vary from reader to reader. There are many different approaches within the Horror genre, and it is probably worth reading through some select authors who deal in each of them. For psychological horror I'd go with Shirley Jackson's classic "The Haunting of Hill House." Great book. King has been mentioned. You might check some of Clive Barker's early stuff (a bit more on the gory side than King). If you really want to look at some of the more visceral, later Horror, you can read authors like Jack Ketchum. Briane Keene is worth looking at, as well. Dan Simmons has written some nice Horror (Carrion Comfort being one, and a couple of ghost story-type novels he did as well).

    I do think Alien is a good example, still. Tension builds nicely, and it makes good use of the psychological (in this case, how the characters deal with things) and the straight-up gory/visceral.
     
  24. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    lol. It's a great example, still. I just personally wouldn't class a 1979 film as 'modern'. ;)
     
  25. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Ah. I misunderstood :)
     

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