October is a horror writer’s paradise. For one whole month, everyone is in the mood for something scary.
But what does that mean? Horror should be an easy genre to describe and therefore write, yeah? Consider, though, that there are so many sub-genres and so many different ways of approaching the genre. Some are really graphic, some are really subtle, some are stylized, and some have a healthy dose of humor. Everyone gets scared by different things – what bothers me may not bother you. We all have different thresholds, too. What I may devour you may not begin to stomach and vice versa.
For me, personally, this means that the genre is a giant playground. There are a lot of ways to approach a scary story: historical, true story, real-world setting, urban legends, serial killers, paranormal, religious, creatures, monsters, evil houses, evil cars…and on and on and on. For whatever reason, though, certain things strike chords in people. We’re wired to still obey that fight or flight instinct, even if it’s activated by the words on a page. That’s powerful to me, and is part of why the genre fascinates me so much. But still, that doesn’t quite answer the question…what makes a good horror story?
For me, it has to be plausible, or put me so in the story that my belief is suspended. I want to either feel for the protagonist in an extreme way or feel like what they’re going through could happen to me. I like both real-world and fantastic premises, but i do like stories that get into the minds of the characters, or explore a situation so fully that I have to know what happens next. Beyond that, I think authors are also at the mercy of what certain readers are unnerved by or think are fun premises to read.
I was part of a group of horror readers that got to talking about this subject at Sean Taylor’s blog this week. We talked about a lot of things dealing with horror: what works, what doesn’t, where gore factors in…The variety and similarities of our answers fascinates me, and I hope it will do the same for you, too.
To see what we all had to say about horror, please check out the roundtable discussion at Sean Taylor’s awesome blog!
So what makes a story scary for you? Does it have to involve certain things? Is there a certain style you prefer? Are some cliches acceptable or is it time to move on to new things in the genre? What makes a good horror story?