I’m about to take y’all on a trip. Follow along, if you dare!
So, I’m working on a horror piece about a portrait that moves and takes on a consciousness of its own. I don’t read a lot of Horror. At least, not since I started reading fiction with a writer’s eye. In high school I read Anne Rice with fervor, and I’ve always loved King’s shorter works, though I’ve yet to read a full-length novel from the man.
So yesterday, I’m sitting in my Starbucks with my nose stuck in King’s ‘Everything’s Eventual’ after a losing battle with the free WiFi. So, I’m reading and underlining, and taking all sorts of mental notes because the story I was reading was ‘The Road Virus Heads North’, which is a story about a painting that moves.
One of my regulars comes in, a nice guy who I know due to his job at my local gourmet sub delivery joint. They happen to have Freaky Fast Delivery, and I order from them far too often.
Anyway, he sees me underlining and taking notes and asks, “Book report time?”
On a side note, I find it irritating that just because I read a lot and type away on a computer I must be a college student. It’s frustrating to keep answering the same questions over and over. Anyway.
I tell him that I’m doing a different kind of study for a horror piece I’m writing. To which he responds:
“Why write Horror? Isn’t the world dark enough?”
This rocked me. Not because I thought it was rude, or unwelcome, but because it’s a valid question. It immediately sent my mind spinning. I could tell that, somewhere in the recesses of my brain, I had an answer. But I needed time to research and compose myself.
I think he noticed my sudden pensiveness, and he felt bad. He looked at me, “I’m sorry, Brittany. I didn’t mean to be discouraging.”
I laughed. I laughed and told him that he wasn’t discouraging at all. “I’m a writer,” I said. “I’m a special brand of discouragement, all my own.”
But, in the back of my mind, I couldn’t shake the question. And not just in terms of myself, but on a much larger scale. Why do we write horror? Why do we like being scared?
So, Mr. Delivery Man, I’ve thought up a response. It’s not quite Horror Lit & Film Essay worthy, but there are some nuggets of truth in it.
So, let’s start with the idea that Art Imitates Life. Some people might have a hard time agreeing with this sentiment when it comes to genre fiction, but think about it. Ultimately, you like a story because you can relate to characters and scenarios. A mixture of the familiar and the strange, to quote Brandon Sanderson. So, we like horror because it hints at what we’re capable of, and we write horror for the same reason. An idea has struck us, and we want to illicit a physical response in people, whether our characters or our readers.
But, this is the weakest argument I have for writing Horror.
“Isn’t the world dark enough?”
Yes, it is. And honestly, it’s too dark. So many atrocious things happen on a daily basis. Things that, if you let yourself stop and think about it, shake you to your core. The Sandy Hook shooting did this to me. I felt physically ill if I thought about it too long. Outraged. Heartbroken.
I think Horror fiction helps us cope. We can read about how other people react to horrible things that happen around them. And it allows us to experience fear and pain from the safety of a book.
There will always be Horror junkies. The kids who read Lovecraft and Moorcock, with their long hair and Megadeath shirts, who worship the Evil Dead. But, horror, just like any other literature, is a reaction to the world around us. A side effect of the internalization of the things we see, eat, breathe, and understand in our daily lives.
So, why write horror?
Because, a long time ago, I read stories that scared me. I had physical reactions, and my imagination knew no bounds. Anything is possible in a King story. Anything at all. And one day, a few years ago, I had an idea for a story that startled me. Shook me. And I’ve been waiting to write it all these years.
For more great insight into this topic, check out Author Sarah Langan’s essay on HarperCollin’s website.
Thanks for reading, Blogland.