May 4th, 2016


Writing Excuses 11.18: Elemental Horror

Writing Excuses 11.18: Elemental Horror


Key Points: What is horror? Visceral fear. Your reaction to something bad that has already happened, the sense of dread that your world has changed for the worse and you have to deal with it. The protagonist did something to catalyze it. The reader has to worry that the character is done for, is going to suffer horribly even if they make it through. Horror is a strong metabolic reaction, an invocation of the fight-or-flight reaction. Horror is not about the monster or the scare, it's about the character's reaction to it and what it turns them into. Add in awareness of what is happening, too. And an unhealthy dash of powerlessness, loss of control. What's with the "We won" followed by a sudden reversal that so many horror stories have? In horror, no matter how much they succeed, they are still going to fail. How do you write a horror story? Make the protagonist competent, but the things they can do don't help in this situation. Think of the nightmare where you can't run fast enough to escape, because the alligator can fly! How do you make the reader believe for a while that it might be okay? Give them moments of light, so they can understand how bad things turn out. Remember that the worst possible outcome may not be death. Keep the audience in suspense about what the real horror is. How do you build or conceive a new horror story? Start with the character, and make us want them to be okay. Start with the fear, usually a primal one. Start with the reveal of the horrific disaster, then add layers of obscuring anxiety.

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[Brandon] Well, we are out of time. But we will come back to this in a couple of weeks and dig into it a little bit further. Let's stop and give everyone some homework. Dan is going to give us our homework.
[Dan] Yes. We're going to follow on this principle that Steve was talking about, that in horror, even a victory will feel like a defeat. We want you to take one of your favorite stories, a movie, a book, or whatever, that is not horror. Then, rewrite the ending. Write a new alternate ending in which it is horror, and everything goes horribly wrong, and they're... They snatch failure from the jaws of victory.
[Brandon] All right. This has been Writing Excuses. Thank you, again, to Steve Diamond. You are all out of excuses. Now go write.