Popping Eyeballs: Something about Horror Writing

So, some friends had asked me to check out their horror stories, which I did, grudgingly. And although many of them had some really good ideas, they fell flat without giving me the slightest flinch. Then, as I commented, they kept interrupting me but neither asked how to improve it nor what they did wrong. But instead, defended it without end.

The first thing that came to my mind was, “Dude, STFU, the work should speak for itself”. Then I thought, maybe I just missed the entire point – and I was sure I hadn’t. Just the same, I thought real hard before answering, trying to remember the horror stories that gave me a real scare.

Apparently, almost anything can give children scares. I remembered as I kid, watching Creepshow 2, the story about the four college kids stuck in a raft because of a black blob in the water. I couldn’t get off my bed for the entire morning, and I had to jump from my bed to the outside of my room, and even after, I ran without looking back. I also couldn’t put my feet down from the sofa, afraid that some black substance might creep out from underneath. In short, I was scared shit.

Another movie, a Filipino horror anthology, Shake, Rattle, & Roll IV (a very popular horror film series that continues every now and then), there was a scene in there with a shokoy (very small version of the Creature from the Black Lagoon), hiding inside a toilet. So, when this bitchy old lady sat there… well, let’s just say it wasn’t pretty. Maybe that old lady deserved to die like that, but the thought of how she died was very disturbing. I couldn’t use the toilet for days after that. Of course, that was 15-18 years ago. All the horrors I see today have brains and intestines being flung here and there, and the best one I’ve seen in years was Woman in Black.

So, it’s because of this I see horror as two things. One that truly tries to scare you, and one that simply tries to shock you, so shocked you begin to develop some frightened symptoms. I believe splatterporn, delivers this shock valued horror.  Most of the stories I’ve written in the 3rd grade were splatterporn, maybe it was a reflection from my first horror film encounter, with a dick-shaped worm bursting out a man’s chest – and yes, Alien isn’t splatterporn, but that scene has left a significant scar somewhere in me to this day. This was followed by Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street, and my horror crusade began from there.

From all those things, I’ve drawn my conclusion to what my friends had done wrong. Their brains were too fucking scattered.

I do not, claim any expertise about horror writing, I’m nowhere near King, Straub, Barker, or Ketchum, I don’t think I’m even half as good as other amateur horror writers out there. But based on all books I’ve read, the single, important thing in horror writing, is the simplicity. There is very little time to become florid in style, the writing has to be concise. Because you are trying to frighten your reader, the action must enter the their minds as quickly as possible without them trying to decipher what the heck is happening.

Let’s take a quick look into King’s ‘Salems Lot, the part where he describes the “sucking sounds”, sure, it sounds very informal, you might even dispel the tension, thinking about a certain bed-time activity (fuck it, it does sound the same). But I believe it gets the job done by sending chills, like a kid drinking his favorite soda from a straw, and there’s nothing left in the cup but ice, you know what it sounds, and you mirror that into something as a vampire sucking your neck, then that’s one creepy shit. It’s all about the atmosphere of using simple, everyday things, and turn them into something macabre and twisted. The more concise the writing, the less noise there is, thus, you get this immediate sense that it’s too quiet, and whatever action the characters do is so freaking loud you wish you could shut them up, because whatever’s out there, would certainly hear you.

Now, my friends asked, so what makes something horror? Simple, it’s a story about people in horrifying situations. It doesn’t always have be about monsters and ghosts, horror stories can be about people vs people. Example, a woman was abducted by three men. But, this might put it under thriller. What makes it horror, is what the men might or might not do to the woman. Her rescue/escape is irrelevant until later, it’s the situation she’s in, is what matters.

The second most significant thing in horror writing, as I’ve noticed, is the exploration of the unknown. A little bit of spoilers from Brian Keene’s awesome zombie novel, The Rising, teases us about why the dead are getting back to their feet. A certain line was spoken about how there came the undead, and how many they were. You will want to ask more but you can’t, so you’re left in the dark, trying to feel your way into comprehension, and when you found it – BAM, here comes insanity. This is where implied horrors occur. Let’s check out the movie, Salt, in the beginning we see Angelina Jolie, obviously tortured, I believe we were shown of her getting beaten – and obviously, I doubt that’s the only thing that has happened. All sorts of torture could have happened to her and we don’t know it, and we are left with our imaginations. Another example, in the video game, Xenosaga Episode III, the game was so violent it was censored in US release. The little girl, held something on the foot of the bed where her recently butchered mother was. This part was censored out and you don’t really know what that girl is holding – me and some people I know, all thought it was a heart, or a brain, or something found inside your body – turns out it’s just blood. Last example, Star Wars: Revenge of the Jedi, need I say specifically what? … Fine. Jabba the Hut and Princess Leia. Exactly what the fuck did that giant worm do to her? Kept her as a pet, humiliated her to all the guest? Sure, seems the thing Jabba would do, exactly what kind of humiliation? Was Jabba into interracial kinkiness? Shit, maybe. Or does he enjoy watching others do the work for him? We will never know. As in, never.

UPDATE. Revenge of The Jedi is the original title for Return of The Jedi.

Point is, our minds are pretty fucked up and we assume the worst of the worst. We have that “need” to know exactly what happened, but we won’t be able to grasp it  no matter how hard we try. So, in response, we imagine the worst, hoping the outcome wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be. It’s only fucked up that we’ll never know for real.

I didn’t mean for this post to be this long. A thousand apologies. If you’ve made it this far, you’re awesome – I doubt anyone will anyway haha. So, to sum things up: horror needs to be written in a concise form, it can be disturbing or thought-provoking in some way, it doesn’t always have to have monsters, ghosts or unstoppable slashers – it just really needs a horrifying situation, and of course, make the unknown as badass as you can.

I’m actually open for discussion about this. So, yeah, bring it, I’ll just be chilling out here while listening to Rolling Stone’s Paint It Black.

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