1. Boriol
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    Boriol Member

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    Horror = Gore?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Boriol, Feb 11, 2011.

    I've noticed that a lot of recent "scary" movies from Hollywood, and similarly, recent "scary" books contain nothing more than detailed depictions of merciless, uncensored slaughter. Not all movies and books are like that, mind you.

    I learned some time ago that the key to good action was tension, not violence. While I'm one of those writers who tends to become somewhat sadistic with his characters, I feel like cramming in as much blood and violence as possible to a story is cheap. I mean, this is literature and screenplay I'm talking about, not guro.

    With that said, I want to know what makes a good scary story. I don't think it's violence. I could be wrong, though. I want to know things closer to the types of plots that work well in genuine horror, what characters best suit it, how to establish the proper mood, and in some cases, how to kill it.

    I apologize if this is in the wrong section of the forum, or if someone's already posted a thread similar to this. This is only my third post on the forum, so I might have done something wrong.
     
  2. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Noo, it's definitely all a bout the suspense, and not knowing what's coming next. As long as the atmosphere reflects it, and there's a constant sense of dread, then it'll work. Not telling you what the monster is makes it a lot more scary because it's unknown. once you start showing a monster at work, it loses its mystery and you reveal too much - people can start guessing how to kill it from early on. "Oh, it's vampires again... We know how to deal with them!"

    just my opinion. I only write terrible horror. :p But the unexplained is a lot more scary.
     
  3. CrimsonReaper
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    CrimsonReaper Active Member

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    The Horror!

    What kind of horror? Decide on what you want the mood to be ultimately about and work from there.

    Psychological horror is built around the terrors we imagine and/or could do ourselves. That is to say it relies upon the monster within each of us. It also focuses on things that could happen to anyone (what if my children were kidnapped by a serial killer, etc).

    The more mundane supernatural horror involves things like vampires and baby-eating monsters, an external threat that can be survived and perhaps even defeated with the right gear/firepower.

    In Lovecraftian horror the "evil" is really an amoral entity beyond human understanding that can never be truly defeated, only put back to sleep. It relies upon the realization that man is no more important in the grand scheme of the cosmos (assuming such a scheme exists...) than a termite mound in Africa. The dark gods will wipe man out not out of malice, but because we are bugs they will not even notice stepping on.

    I personally subscribe to the notion that horror, fantasy, and science fiction comprise the larger genre of "speculative fiction". The ultimate difference is not the trappings of setting, but the tone/mood.

    Fantasy stories are about setting right what once went wrong. It often references a "golden age" in the past where men were greater than they are now and fell for whatever reason. Good and evil are typically well-defined. The evils in them are DEFEATED. I am currently working on an urban fantasy (supernatural in the contemporary world) and very much believe the story belongs in this category than any other. As horrible as things seem, good CAN win out in the end. Conan is a good example of this. He fights all manner of horrifying and/or bizarre creatures, often not comprehending them, but in the end his strength, will, and human ingenuity can lead to victory. And they often contained lots and lots of gore!

    Science fiction postulates what could be, though stories that focus too much on specific technology tend to become dated. The better science fiction focuses mainly on the human condition and how it could be changed. The golden age is ahead, not behind. The evils in them are studied and better understood. Perhaps ultimately CHANGED. The point is that it is not simply standing up to the conflict that matters, but that one attempts to understand the world and forge a place in it for mankind.

    The evils in horror stories are SURVIVED. The characters may live through the ordeal, but they are forever changed by it. The world will forever be a little darker because of what they have seen. Lovecraft's works were very much this, though most of the writers (Howard's original Conan stories for one) that borrowed elements from them were often not. Most were not what would be called gore-fests either. Much of the terror comes from the character's (and the reader's) imagination.
     
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  4. Terry D
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    Terry D Active Member

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    The problem with writing horror is that one person's shiver, is another person's giggle. What we find scary is very personal and not easy to capture. Shock and the gag factor are easy to do however, that's why you see and read so much of it. The last movie I watched which I actually considered scary was The Ring, and there was very little gore in it at all. Fear is in the mind. It has to be planted there and allowed to grow.
     
  5. Ellipse
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    Ellipse Contributing Member Contributor

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    There is nothing wrong with gore in horror as long as there isn't an overabundance of it. Too much will be counter productive. The reader may grow numb to it.

    For example, watch the first 20 minutes of the film Saving Private Ryan.. (Even though this isn't a horror movie, it does suit my example.) By the end of those 20 minutes you are numb to gore and death.
     
  6. KurtistheTurtle
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    KurtistheTurtle Member

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    Horror is placing your reader in a believable situation they really don't want to be in but can't help engaging in anyway. Horror is not knowing what's going to happen, what you're running from or where it will pop up next. Horror is the lack of control, the tension that builds when things aren't going the way you want and you fear for your life or the lives of those close to you.

    Imagine you're in a dark room and you hear something shuffling around near you. You can't see it, you don't know what it is, you only know it doesn't sound human and you get a whiff of something awful. You try to move quietly towards the door and you're almost there before you loudly hit something. Suddenly the thing in the room with you starts quickly in your direction so you scramble forward, pull open the door get outside the room and slam it shut. As you stand there panting and trying the process you feel something slamming against the door. The thing is trying to twist the door handle and you can barely hold it in place.

    I'm sitting in a dark room as I type this so I'm done. But I hope this post helps you somehow.
     
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  7. Dandroid
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    Dandroid Senior Member

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    This...the blair witch made me nervous...but heavy gore doesn't remotely phase me...there's this story out there called the magics...apparently it whigs people out by getting them to follow a sequence of instructions to raise a demon or something...it plays on one's imagination...there are actually youtube testimonials regarding it...totally a gimmick...and totally successful on some people.
     
  8. MissPomegranate
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    MissPomegranate Member

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    Personally, I think less is more when it comes to horror. I prefer to watch older scary movies than the newer ones, because I also have noticed Hollywood thinks gore = scary, when really it's the tension and suspense that really captivates the audience.

    Take The Haunting for example. The book is fantastic, and the 1963 movie is equally as chilling. The 1999 remake? One of the worst "scary" flicks I've ever seen. The problem is they tried to hard to make it scary, when the book was already a fantastic ghost story.
     
  9. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Here is what scares me in horror novels:

    1. Keep the horror tone consistent throughout.
    With a few exceptions, I don't like horror novels and much prefer short horror stories. One great collection is "100 Hair-Raising Little Horror Stories" compiled by Al Sarrontonio, by the way. The reason why is because in shorts, the horror and tension continues for the whole thing, while in horror novels there are only a few parts that are actually scary and the rest is stuff I feel like skipping because it's about as scary as doing my makeup for work in the morning (cough, cough, Stephen King). However, one really good horror novel that is the exception to the rule is "The Return" by Bentley Little. I'd recommend you read it to see how good horror is done. I felt creeped out while reading and couldn't put it down -- over 75 percent of the book is a "Scary part."

    2. Give me something I do not understand.
    I've never been scared by the "what if your kid gets kidnapped" stuff - maybe it's because I don't have kids yet, but the crime thrillers about stalkers don't scare me, etiher. Killers and stalkers are a part of real life. I know how they work. It's nothing new (heck I even had a stalker). Because of this, a book about them is not going to make me scared to turn my light off at night. In order to be scared, I need to have something that makes my imagination tick to get that feeling of "I can't face the wall in the dark because a horrible unknown creature will sneak up on me." Therefore I prefer supernatural horror, but something of a unique nature. If you just say "vampire," "Mummy," "ghost," I'm going to think "Edward Cullen," "Cartoonish TP-wrapped guy," "Casper" in that order.

    3. Do not spell everything out for me.
    This ranges from graphic descriptions of gore to what the monster in the closet looks like and does. Once you describe it, the fear of the unknown is gone.

    ------------------------

    Okay now for a few general tips on tone-building:
    1. Remember that the moment where the monster pops out is NOT the scary part. It's anti-climactic. The scary part depends on how well you build up to it.

    2. Doubling. Set an expectation for the reader, and then exceed the expectation when you get to the part they've been waiting for. This goes for romance, etc and just about any genre.

    3. With regards to #2, lead to more imagination-fueling things, not a big spoiler. I.e. if your MC hears strange shuffles in the closet, when he opens the closet, don't describe the monster; give more creepy clues, like residue or a bad smell, and bloody footprints leading to the MC's bedroom.

    Hope this helped at all. :)
     
  10. litchickuk
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    litchickuk Member

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    Im currently in the planning stages for writing a horror story that scares but doesnt have gore or anything too obvious. I want it to be subtle and intense. Thats what makes a good horror story in my opinion.
    Dandroid said that the Blair Witch made him nervous and thats because it works on what you cannot see. Your mind fills in the monster. You make it your own. And thats what I aim to create with my story, and what good horror truly is. (Btw, just listening to, not watching, the Blair Witch project makes it even scarier)
    Gore is for movies, screenplays and drama, not for good horror fiction. But obviously this is just my opinion!
     
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  11. Kevin B
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    Kevin B Member

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    I have to agree with the overall opinion that "less is more", even though my first horror novel doesn't support that thought. Some of my readers have told me that the book was too gory in spots, and I agree with them. I did a better job at keeping the gore to a minimum in the second novel, even though it does have some. The gore addiction has waned quite a bit in my writing over the years, and that's a product of feedback I've gotten from readers, and other writers. Leave the gruesome gory details for Hollywood, that's what sells at the box office. That's what movie-goers expect. To capture the reader, and to keep them through every page of the book we have to keep them expecting 'the unexpected'.
     
  12. Malo Beto
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    Malo Beto Member

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    I think the best way to make a story scary is to let your readers imaginations do half of the work for you. If you give them vague details and only glimpses of the monster at a distance they will assume something 100 times more frightening to them than anything you're likely to come up with. Once you know what the monster is capable of it's no longer scary.
     
  13. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think you job as a horror writer is to scare the reader and put the reader off balance. And i think what tool you use to do it is a matter of intention and taste. Gore can be a part of it, and a just as important part as something else.

    Take the Alien movie, the first one. The scene when the baby xenomorph bust trough the chest. In many simple ways is pure gore. It a powerful scene. We share the victims pain, we share the others helplessness and futile attempts, and the scene stays with us. It creates a nagging fear. A fear of a parasite, a fear of you body betraying you, a fear of pregnancy, of helplessness.

    Gore is a tool among many others. Understand it, and understand that it can play a part part, and chose if, when and how to use it for great effect.
     
  14. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    I read the quote below yesterday, from one of my favourite horror authors, Gary McMahon. It's from a post on how far is too far in horror fiction, and I think this bit is very relevant to this discussion. You can find the whole post here:

     

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