1. Slammoth
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    Slammoth Member

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    Horror Horror: How to?

    Discussion in 'By the Genre' started by Slammoth, Jan 24, 2011.

    Hello dudes and dudettes.

    I've recently began writing again, and decided to pick up a new element to go alongside the familiar element of fantasy in my writing: horror. I got to wondering, how does one scare people through writing?

    So people, what makes a scary/creepy/dark story for you? I'm looking for ideas to give me a general picture of what to include and avoid. A how-to if you will.

    I'm particularly interested in what people think about violence, graphic or otherwise, as a medium. Personally, I'd prefer to keep the levels of slashing down as a whole, but squeeze the scenes that include violence dry of every drop of scare. So, how should it be included? When/If graphic, how can one get the most creeps out of it without crossing the line of good taste?

    At the other end of scary, psychological horror, how do? I get helplessness as a good one, any other ideas?
     
  2. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Hi!

    For me, the most important thing you need to know to write good horror is when to describe, when NOT to describe, and what's the balance of each.

    I don't get scared by overly detailed descriptions. This is the case whether we're talking about gore/violence, monster descriptions, or flat-out giving away the secret of what's in Room 101 (read "1984").

    Readers get scared by what they don't know. "What you don't see is scarier than what you do see." Think of movies like Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, Hide and Seek, etc. Sure these movies had some cheesy aspects, but one thing they all did well was NOT give too much info about the bad guy. We had to use our imagainations. The cheesy horror movies are the ones that make fully depicted CGI monsters with nothing left to the imagination -- and, trust me, writing works the same way.

    On the flip side of that, you don't want to just keep repeating "Something's out there. Something's out there." with absolutely no information whatsoever.

    You need enough details to fuel the reader's imagination, but not so many details that you take away their ability to fill in the gaps.

    Give lots of details about things like footprints, residues, noises, scents, shapes of shadows, etc. Things that will set off the reader's thought train of "What might cause this?"

    To see a book where this is well done, I highly recommend you read "The Return" by Bentley Little, and the short story "The Beast in the Cave" by H.P. Lovecraft (it can be found free online if you google it).

    If we're talking about realisticly possible events and not supernatural horror, I get the most disturbed when it's the police, lawmakers, and people in charge who are doing the perpetrating. Government conspiracies and police officers who abuse their power are much worse, in my opinion, than a rapist off the street. With the latter, at least the law's on your side and you can get help. With the former, you are truly helpless and lacking in control -- and it's even worse when the victims' exact fates (and perpetrators' motives) are not entirely known.

    Hope I helped!
     
  3. Slammoth
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    Slammoth Member

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    Thanks for the swift reply.

    Good stuff in that post. Especially with the use of the senses, will have to keep that in mind.

    Also, regarding the issue of balance, it's something that I now realize to be a bit of a problem for me - Many novels I've read tend to leave me high and dry because they don't describe enough. I get angry when the monsters have no features because the author has left all the work to me! I suppose I have a bad imagination. :)

    As such, I'd like to lean towards a more descriptive style. BUT, I very much realize the value of the advice given, and this presents the dilemma: How to describe without losing the capacity to tap into the imagination & without holding the action back unnecessarily? I'm thinking short sentence structures, but what else?
     
  4. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Hi again,

    No problem. :)

    Short sentence structures work really well to create a choppy, chaotic tone. This is called asyndeton, and it's a great tool for mood-setting.

    You're right on the note that it's a bad idea to say "There was a monster," giving it no features. On the other hand though, if you describe it too much, it loses its power.

    Believe it or not, the moment where the MC finds the monster and sees it is not the scary part. The scary part is when there are creepy, unexplainable sounds outside her house; when she hears someone breaking in and shuffling around in the living room, making nonhuman sounds; when she discovers creepy, rituatlistic evidence of some kind and doesn't know what it's from; when she can tell something is being affected, but isn't sure by what.

    Amp up the descriptions on those things, and you'll get true horror.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that if you're writing a horror novel, make sure the whole things has a scary tone and high suspense. Bentley Little's "The Return" has fear amped up the whole time. I'm not a fan of most horror novels (i.e. Stephen King, etc) because usually there's only a few parts that are actually scary. Beat the pre-existing writers at this aspect, and you'll be ahead of the game.
     
  5. Edward G
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    Edward G Banned

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    I think Mallory has given the best advice possible in this regard. I would only harp on the point that it is the suspense leading up to the event that is the true horror, and of course a good short sharp shock of gore when the event occurs helps seal the deal.
     
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  6. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Another point to keep in mind:

    (Credit to Steerpike for emailing me a link about this awhile back)

    There's a technique called "Doubling." It works for any genre be it horror, romance, humor etc.

    There are two steps involved:

    1. Set an expectation for the reader.
    2. When it comes time, exceed the reader's expectation.

    For example, with romance, let's say your MC has been dreaming of kissing her crush for a long time and there's been lots of sexual tension between them. This sets the expectation for the reader. Give some time to build up suspense. Then, for part 2, when the two characters DO hook up, made it exceed the reader's expectations. Don't let your reader down by trivializing something you've built up or by making them think "C'mon, that was it?"

    Same goes for horror, too. Once you've built up on something, the Big Revealing Moment had better not be corny, or "it was all in the MC's head," or something that completely ruins all the suspense building you worked so hard to achieve.

    Best way to avoid that pitfall is to not "describe the monster." Okay so your MC has heard bad noises coming from the closet. Opens the closet door. Instead of showing the monster (anti-climactic and kills the imagination's horror power), describe some really creepy clue that amps up the suspense even more.
     
  7. Slammoth
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    Sound advice all around that I shall have to ponder on. This has been most helpful, thanks ever so much!
     
  8. Edward G
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    Edward G Banned

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    I like that concept of doubling: building up to a moment and then exceeding expectations upon execution.
     
  9. Fiona
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    Fiona Member

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    I love writing horror myself, and I think you've already been given some good advice here.

    I think Edward's comment about suspense is spot on: build towards something, subtly, slowly, then really hit the reader with something unexpected or shocking. You will find a lot of what creeps a reader out will be events leading up to the real shocking moments.

    In Apartment 16, (a great book, by the way!) I enjoyed the first half more than anything... what is in that room? Why are noises heard there at night? It's the suspense that does it.

    Trust me, a reader can scare themselves more from what they don't know than from what they do :)
     

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