1. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Horror What makes horror...horror?

    Discussion in 'By the Genre' started by Link the Writer, Oct 23, 2015.

    Something just occurred to me... What makes horror stories be horror stories? My creative writing teacher once told the class that horror stories typically have to instill, y'know, horror into the readers. But here's the thing, I once read Dr. Sleep by Stephen King and nothing about it filled me with any kind of horror. Does that indicate a failing on his part, or just that his brand of horror doesn't really click with me? Yet Voldemort from Harry Potter plagued me with nightmares. Does that make Harry Potter a horror, even though it was clearly meant to be a fantasy series?

    Is horror subjective? What scares the crap out of one person is just another read for someone else? Vampires snacking on ghosts doesn't scare me, but stories about ghosts haunting the living will definitely keep me up at night. What's the kind of horror that sticks with you versus the one that makes you shrug your shoulders? What does a writer of horror have to watch out for?

    Basically, what makes horror stories be horror stories? Thoughts?
     
  2. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am going to discuss film, because I haven't found any horror novel remotely scary.

    I'll tell you what I don't class as horror... fucking jump scares. It is the equivalent of a film saying "boo", it is just the laziest, most inept form of film-making. Everything goes quiet, then someone randomly slams a door open or grasps someone by the shoulder, the music clammers, and it turns out it is just the MC's dad or friend; and all tension is instantly dissolved. I hate the way that modern horror films use this moronic method over and over.

    Secondly, gore is not horror. Watching someone get tortured is a masochistic experience for the audience, in that they vicariously experience the torture... but it is not horror. It is just gore.

    For me horror is a building sense of tension. Every good horror film does this. Jaws, The Ring (not the crap remake), The Shining, The Exorcist, Alien, Audition, Psycho (not the crap remake), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (not the crap remake), The Blair Witch Project, The Thing (not the crap remake). They do not dissolve the tension with needless jump scares or throw gore all over the screen; they build and build the tension to a crescendo.
     
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2015
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  3. Kaitou Wolf
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    Kaitou Wolf Active Member

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    Here's a video that could help:
     
  4. ManOrAstroMan
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    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

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    The scariest horror movies I've ever seen were actually old black and white flicks: Nosferatu, Vampyr, Night of the Living Dead.
     
  5. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    You fucking weirdo.
     
  6. ManOrAstroMan
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    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

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    I'm going to assume that this is you doing your semi-troll thing, but would you care to elaborate?
     
  7. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    Dunno, I was drunk.
     
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  8. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Action stories are stories where you want the protagonist to face the opposition because you want the protagonist to win.

    Horror stories are stories where you don't want the protagonist to face the opposition because you don't want the protagonist to lose.
     
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  9. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    I think to write effective horror is to prey on peoples real fears (aka phobias) and the like. As well as giving off the creepy vibe from the antagonist. I watch one youtuber who is afraid of mannequins. You want the reader to feel a sense of dread and despair of falling into the dark clutches of the antagonizing forces, with little to no odds of actually escaping. If your MC does or not is up to you. Watch a play through of Alien Isolation, it will give you an idea of tension and fear while the one playing has to figure out how to avoid getting killed by the Alien.
     
  10. DancingCorpse
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    DancingCorpse Member

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    Doctor Sleep was alright for me, The Shining is exemplary because the setting reflected the pervasive and vicious gnawing grip of Jack's mental state and the shadow it cast over his wife and kid, you were right there inside the grim funhouse, it's quite a sickening, sublime concept, what is powering that hotel, what is it feeding off? With doctor sleep, we had a more straightforward concept with a mere echo of that disturbing past, don't get me wrong I felt for Danny and appreciated the tunnel kinda link but it wasn't particularly scary as it was nowhere near as intensely focused as the premise of the original story.
     
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  11. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    Horror is very subjective. Stephen King does absolutely nothing for me. Movies like Hostel and Saw I find entertaining but not scary whereas Signs, a 12-rating movie without even a drop of blood in it, terrifies me because of my personal fears. (In case anyone cares, it's not so much alien invasion but fear of the unknown and an enemy we can't even begin to understand.)

    I think to fall within the genre, the main purpose of the book/movie must be to instill fear. That isn't true of Harry Potter but it is true of Stephen King's books. Whether it succeeds or not depends on the reader, but its classification as a horror is objective.
     
  12. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I agree. Very subjective.

    I'm reading a book now called A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files, and while the book is not technically horror, the author's writing background is horror, and it shows in the writing. She does one thing that captivates me, a thing that frustrates the jinkies out of me when writers fail to do it. In her writing, everything is. Nothing seems, nothing is kinda' like, nothing reminds you of, nothing hints at, nothing sorta' was like. Every description is the thing described. There's nothing Namby-Pamby about her commitment to the images she is selling you through her words, and I think that's an important part of horror, if we are to relate this back to writing. She is 100% committed to every single image in order to paint things in their most saturated colors in order to tap that limbic nerve.

    ETA: Before my comment gets taken to mean something other than what I mean...

    I'm not talking about when things seem to be things from the POV of the characters. That IS NOT what I'm talking about. Of course things can and will seem to be things at times from their POV. I'm talking about when you, the writer, are describing things directly to the reader through the narrative. That is what I am talking about. Just that. Not the other thing.
     
  13. R.P. Kraul
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    R.P. Kraul Member

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    Horror is more the intention than the result, and this is especially so because a horror fan may have seen thousands of films and read hundreds of novels, which means they are rarely horrified--if they're horrified at all.

    And horror is a mature genre that covers a wide range. You can go from the subtle psychological fears of Ramsey Campbell to the more visceral Clive Barker to the extreme end of horror from writers like Jack Ketchum and Edward Lee. Same thing with film. Compare The Changeling or The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to Audition and Martyrs.

    So I think horror is the intention, not the result. What terrifies some will repulse or bore others.
     
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  14. R.P. Kraul
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    R.P. Kraul Member

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    As far as King goes, he's undeniably the most accomplished horror writer ever. His timing was impeccable, as he walked into the genre as writers like Bloch and Matheson were moving onto television and film. I dig some of King's older work, but as I've gotten older, I find myself impatient with his long-winded style.

    Anyway. It's interesting that in terms of horror, film and fiction seem to be inversely popular, and given how popular the genre is on television and film--it just doesn't do very well in fiction. And no one's come along to carry Stephen King's torch.
     
  15. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    Horror is all about the experience of fear. What the characters face is what we all fear in life. Zombies represent the collapse of society where people have to change in order to survive. Vampires are the rich and powerful who suck life from the weak. And aliens are creatures from the unexplored who cannot be explained. Monsters and situations are what represent what we fear in life. I agree that horror isn't about jump scare and gore. It is about fear.
     
  16. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    You just crystallized what horror stories are for me. Thank you!! :bigeek:

    And the above is really good advice! My writing voice will thank you! :-D
     
  17. NeighborVoid
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    NeighborVoid Active Member

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    Horror is the shock after having a frightening experience.
    Terror is the anticipation before the event.

    Horror is tangible fear. The reader recognizes an obvious danger.
    This doesn't work as well because the danger only applies to the characters in the story.
    Terror is the fear and curiosity of the unknown. The reader will often fill in the blanks with their worst fears. This is more effective with imaginative readers.
     
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  18. LinnyV
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    LinnyV Contributing Member

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    I have no idea how to write horror as shown by my lame attempt at the short horror story, which just had me chuckling at the silliness. But the exercise did have me thinking about what makes something horrific.

    I am definitely a scaredy cat when it comes to reading horror stories. So in reference to NeigborVoid's comment, I'd say that it is definitely the ability to instill 'terror' that makes a 'horror' story work for me. Giving my mind the space to fill in the blanks with my worst fears has had me shaking hubby from his sleep mid sentence when I decided, I just can't read another word without some mental hand holding. Worst fears? Creepy guys appearing at the window, dead people and even worst, dead children animated and anything that resembles a ghost. Done right, the anticipation of any of the those things behind a door or by the window will work every time. :)

    Blood and guts and gore are just gross. Horrible yes, but in no way scary to me.

    And off-topic and also in reference to R P Kraul's comment, I also think Stephen King is long-winded, only I thought that when I was in my teens! I found I enjoyed his ideas but not necessarily the execution of his stories. So not sure about 'his timing' other than he seemed to take a long time getting to the point. In fact, I'd say my favorite book of his is his book "On Writing".
     
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2015
  19. R.P. Kraul
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    R.P. Kraul Member

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    By timing, I meant that he entered the genre when it was a go0d time to do so. The other horror writers with a name had faded or moved on to other disciplines. And the American horror film was in a transitional period, so folks were coming back to fiction. Plus King had some good fortune during his career. Robert McCammon, who was called King's eventual successor, quit for a while. And so did Clive Barker, who was also named a successor. And in so doing, McCammon and Barker lost a ton of momentum. So King was successful for two reasons: 1) He had an entertaining voice (even if his ideas were simplistic in relation to his long-winded style), and 2) He came along at the right time.
     
  20. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    I neither write nor read Horror, but I'll chime in since I've heard this exact point discussed by Horror writer Dan Wells on Writing Excuses - his contention is that a major component of Horror is power imbalance between the protagonist and the antagonistic force. In most genres, protagonists and antagonists are generally set up so that the protagonist can eventually stand up and beat the antagonist. In Horror, on the other hand, the antagonist is often so much stronger than the protagonist that you know that if they ever met, the protagonist is dead. So the goal isn't to necessarily beat the horrifying thing, it's just to avoid the certain death that comes with meeting the antagonist directly.
     
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  21. R.P. Kraul
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    R.P. Kraul Member

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    That may be true of, say, Lovecraftian horror, but it's certainly not universal. There are instances in which the horror entity is not even the antagonist (The Changeling, for instance). Nor is the awesome adversary peculiar to horror. You can find that device in fantasy, mystery, and many other genres. In some cases in horror--Dracula and The Exorcist come to mind--it's the antagonist who wants to avoid the confrontation. Think of a serial killer. There aren't too many serial killers who are looking for a confrontation with police or the FBI. They're trying to avoid confrontation.
     
  22. Doctore
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    What makes a horror story horror is that it is the darkness come to light. It is the darkness inside of us come to life. What makes a horror a horror, it's meant to be scary, it's meant to horrify you. Action stories are meant to be exciting, love stories are meant to be passionate, and horrors are meant to be scary and that's pretty much it. Whether or not a writer is good at it depends on the reader, but that's something of a different subject isn't it? Horror is meant to frighten you and that's the end game my friends, there are stories ranging from nightmare creatures to spiders, and to even sheep. Yes....I said sheep. It's all horror based on the fact that it was meant to be scary.

    Now you ask what is a good horror, that's a little more narrowed down. I think that one of the key points in a good horror is hopelessness. I think that overwhelming feeling of no hope and being helpless is something that scares just about everyone.

    EDIT: I also think that it is too cute and perfect that the person with the Darth Vador avatar mentioned fear. I'm sure that Star Wars fans get the joke at least. lol
     
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2015
  23. nhope
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    nhope Contributing Member Reviewer

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    I don't think horror is as much about the writer as it is about the reader. It's how the reader feels wrapped up in some sheer cocoon inside the story, like the story is happening around him and can include him at any given time, and he must do his best to keep up with it so he doesn't become a victim as well.

    King is a master story teller. His grip is immediate as his characters resemble those you see every day - your cashier, your UPS guy, your hair stylist. I can't tell you how many times after reading one of his novels - which I can't do very often - I have altered my course in the grocery story or mall parking lot because I am certain that one of his characters is after me.
     
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  24. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    Unless it is an action story with horror elements.
     
  25. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    So people are afraid of getting @#$%ed.
     

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