The other day I watched a Chinese film called Aftershock. It’s very good, if you get the chance to see it. It’s a heart rending story of a family torn apart by an earthquake and it stirred some strong emotions in me. And, as usual, that got me thinking.
It’s a long time since I’ve read a book or seen a horror film that has scared the pants off me. After all, that is what we’re about, us horror writers. I’ve seen gross-outs a plenty and a million blood spattered doors (okay, a slight exaggeration, read of ghosts and dippy serial killers but come across nothing that’s really engaged me.
I yearn for some dark creature to reach down into my core and rip up my inner terrors by the roots.
Horror, or what we call horror, has been largely toned down for mass-market appeal over the years. Filmmakers use the same old clichés and writers seem only to want to put out the next version of Twilight. Some of it, most of the stuff I’ve read, is all very twee and that’s a little depressing.
So my question is this, for all you scare lovers on the supercallifranchelistic super highway, what is it that we’re missing? Or is it just me?
Have I become so desensitized by over exposure that I have simply stopped reacting, or is it that my current terrors lie snugly in their bed, just waiting for some unknown writer to tickle their feet and bring them up into the light?
Let me ask you another question: When you write, are you purposefully trying to scare the pants off your reader or just writing? I mean, do you have that as your main purpose? Isn’t that our raison d’être? To scare the bejeezus out of as many people as we can?
Yes, writers make us think and question the world. But the best writers, certainly the best horror writers, are masters at evoking emotion. They spill their terrors onto the page and we lap it up and shiver. They take the mundane and make it scary. They weave fantastic tales that set off chemical reactions in our horror hungry brains. They make us bleed inside.
I read something recently, can’t remember where on the blogosphere, that good writers should always write with the kind of emotion in mind that they are trying to evoke in their readers. Plot and nicely formed sentences are fine. But the words we use and the atmosphere we create are truly important.
Without them you can’t scare.
So be careful of your choice of words. Be mindful of your reader. They picked up your book because they wanted to be entertained in that time honoured fashion of having the shit scared out them.
Don’t let them down.