Don’t Write That!!!!!

Horror fans, be it books or films, are some of the most difficult people to please. Most “non-horror” folks rely on misconceived perceptions of the genre to shelve it under, “I don’t like all that blood and guts stuff.” Which is what horror is and which, of course, is what horror is not. The challenge with the genre  is that it encompasses far more than any other type of writing. Yes maybe monsters…or psychos…or ghosts…or maybe just the surreal or the slightly crazy or  just the troubled. Which is why I believe it is better served if we just relabel it “dark fiction.” The genre is, after all, the study of the darker side of our world.

The length and depth of the possible things that fit under the heading of Horror is why its fans are so hard to please. Each fan has their own particular sub-genre in mind when they define “good” horror. This alleged “blood and guts” art attracts some of the smartest and most introspective fans of any fiction. They are open to an exploration of fear, but the cost for the creator is very high expectations of content. Unfortunately, this often lends itself to an insistence that dark fiction writers cease and desist with certain story lines. In no other genre will you experience as many proclamations to stop. “Stop writing vampire stories,” “no more zombie books,” and “enough with the psychos!” Horror fans want more, they want new, they want different. To which I very politely answer…eat me!

I don’t rebel against that desire because I don’t agree with the sentiment. It takes a lot to frighten me and I expect horror creators to do a good job at it. I just disagree that any subject, regardless of the number of times it has received treatment should be “off limits” to book or film. Here’s why. I have in my book case Dracula, Salem’s Lot, 13 Bullets, I Am Legend, and The Stake. They are all vampire stories and I love them all. I also have The Cell, The Stand, Monster Island, The Rising, and Ex-Heroes. They are all zombie books and I love them all. In the future I will read more zombie books and more vampire books and of course many other “horror” novels. I’ll write a few myself. The same will apply to the movies I watch and the ones I will hope they will make.

As a horror fan I believe it to be very fair to ask for something new and different. It’s what sets horror fans apart from fans of other genres. Dark fiction fans demand greater creativity than other readers and viewers. The proof? Do people demand that Grisham stops writing “court room” dramas? Or that James Patterson writes something other than “detective stories?”  Go into B&N or look on Amazon. Exactly how many “Police-Detective” stories qualifies as “enough?” How many more James Bond/Government Conspiracy plots do we need? When does Clive Cussler stop giving us the “invincible” hero? Here’s something new, man meets woman, they fall in love, but they cannot be together because somebody dies/somebody is married. It can go on and on in every genre, be it space ships, wizards or chick books.

I’m not trashing these genres, hell I read all of Tami Haog’s stuff because I liked the two characters that appeared as different names in each of her twelve books. My point is that dark fiction is made up of its own story lines – about ten – and that these are the core of the genre ( and most can be traced back to the 1800’s). Dark fiction creators need not be apologetic of their craft. That the masses don’t embrace it the way they embrace spy stories and romance dramas is not because it is necessarily sub par writing, in fact it may be the opposite. Poll the folks who “don’t read that stuff” and see if they’ve read Faulkner, or Hemingway, or Henry James or any of the other classics. I would bet the answer is usually “no.” But most of all “don’t stop writing that stuff!” Give me the next best vampire novel, or zombie apocalypse or psycho or scary clown or monster. Those are the things that live in “our” world and the things we love to be afraid of, so stand your ground and make it count.

I’m not suggesting to throw the same plot line at me…a person is murdered, a conflicted detective must solve the case, but there are behind the scenes elements at work against him/her (oh wait that’s not horror)…what I’m stating is that which we horror fans already know…what makes dark fiction great isn’t the monsters. It’s the opportunity to see our character in action in the most extreme and life threatening situations. It’s where the unimaginable becomes a reality and only the smartest stands a chance at survival. It’s a place where the stakes and the sacrifices are real. Dark fiction is where we stop apologizing for being human and start celebrating the strength and courage of our humanity.

That’s why we love horror, because it is in the darkest places that we can most clearly explore ourselves. So don’t give up our favorite monsters. Just take us deeper into the darkness with characters that we trust to guide us.

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58 responses to “Don’t Write That!!!!!

  1. I like all genres of writing. Horror for me is best when even with fantastical characters they still grip you and make you believe that it may be possible. Not often do the film makers translate this without the corny cliches of horror – music to build tension, numpty people not turning on lights etc., loud noises and anti-heroes always coming back to life. Even so they are still fun to watch and get into our psyche to scare the bejesus out of us…

    • Thank you!!

      For years I’ve been saying the same thing. As a child I grew up listening to old time radio. What I saw in my head, well that was truly horrifying. No one can translate what is on the page or what we hear in those programs in such a way as to have us holdng our breath and really frightened. Movies just don’t do it for me. If I want to feel goose-bumps, I listen to Arch Obler’s plays or Lights Out. They are horror at thier best.

      • The worst fear is that which we cannot see. I like blood and gore but I truly prefer psychological horror as opposed to mindless violence. Monsters are okay but a person makes the best horror villain in my opinion.

      • I think that is the beauty of the genre…it can include all of these things as an examination of the unknown and the better not known 🙂

      • Grace, I love those old radio shows! The narrative had to carry the story and like reading our imagination did the work.

      • That’s exactly what I meant. I listened to one episode, that had a body at the bottom of a room with no floor and two witnesses at the door jam watched in horror as it turned inside out. Now how do you translate that image into the movies without losing that terrified feeling?

    • I agree, sometimes it feels as if the filmmaker is “apologetic” in the making of “horror.” Certainly the “campy” approach took off in the 90’s and I hope the trend dies LOL

  2. Thank you! I am SO TIRED of hearing that vampires and zombies need to be done away with. People aren’t tired of vampires and zombies, they’re tired of the SAME vampire and zombie stories. But they’re giving everyone a bad wrap who’s an up and coming author that is writing about one of them. Grrr. Thanks for the encouragement!!!

    • Daphne, I could not agree more. In my humble opinion it is not the horror writers who are over-using the vampires, other writers (YA and Romance) have borrowed the theme so it feels like there is a “lot” of it out there.

  3. I’m not a horror fan. But bits of my YA fiction novels can be ‘scary.’ I do like the idea that instead of horror calling it dark fiction.

    • Celeste, Some writers would of course disagree with us, but I do think Dark Fiction is a nice way to encompass the vastness of “horror” without the stigmatism of “blood and guts.” If we just keep saying it over and over maybe it will catch on 🙂

  4. I magnified this article 200x and could at last read it and was no longer horrified. 😉 Well written and I agree, if horror is the point, then why complain if someone delivers.

    • LOL…yeah the “free” theme won’t let me change the font color and I’m too stubborn to lighten the background. I think some, but not all, complain because they just like to complain 🙂

  5. I’m not a monster horror fan (novel wise, I love monster movies), but I do love dark fiction in a number of forms. Just like any other genre, there are only so many plots that can be written within the genre (I tend to prefer redemption stories personally), and there’s nothing wrong with that. You are absolutely right, no plot or monster needs to be done away with. It is the challenge of every writer to make a given plot or archetypal character their own. Great post!

    • Thanks. I think some of it is driven by the explosion of self-publishing. Readers are seeing a lot more than the traditional publishing houses would have ever allowed. Unfortunately, some of the work is two dimensional and in need of edits. I agree the themes and monsters can remain while we strive to improve the plot and characters.

  6. Finally, somebody who gets it! I’m a fan of horror and someone who would love to write it professionally someday, and i understand the problem of pleasing the reader and being pleased by the writer, especially when a lot of stuff nowadays seems just to be recycled. Hopefully my stories someday will be scary enough for the fans of horror and dark fiction in general.
    Oh, and the Stand’s just post-apocalyptic, there are no zombies in it (unless you count the Trashcan Man near the end of the book).

    • That’s funny as I wrote in the “Stand” I realized that it was “apocalyptic” and not “zombie” but I decided to leave it in LOL – good catch. I think when it comes to fiction what we all want is a good story…and that is about characters we can believe in even when they are in situations that seem unbelievable.

      • true, but what about situations the characters are in that are too unbelievable? i think that’s a bigger problem, because if your setting is unbelievable, your audience will have its eyebrows raised throughout the story. I mean, look at the movie “Priest!”

      • Wait I didn’t have my eyebrows raised throughout priest LOL! I may have miscommunicated my thougths on that. I think the “monsters” are semi-unbelievable…the setting should not be…we leave that to the Fantasy and Sci-Fi writers 🙂 On the Priest topic, although I liked the movie…really what I wanted to see was the war they only eluded to…that happens a lot in film, they skip past the parts that horror fans really want.

  7. Pingback: Caught My Eye « Coyotes Publishing·

  8. I agree, but i find that “Dark Fiction” should be classified more toward films created by Tim Burton, he has many aspects of the darker, more imperfect troubled side of the world, without giving that horror effect. Horror movies are more of a thrill and a adrenalin rush.

  9. A very thoughtful and well-written, passionate appeal. We’ve been inspired to write fun, light campfire stories about werewolves, zombies, monsters and aliens, but on reflecting here, I’m surprised to not yet have any ideas for vampire stories. I wonder why that is? I agree there can’t be enough stories about these creepy creatures!

  10. Reblogged this on curleduptoes and commented:
    I love Horror! Totally! Scary movies and books. Mind you, that should be really scary. And not blood and guts stuff. I enjoy being scared. I love the euphoric sense of belief at the end of it. I trust them characters more that the ones that appear in the sane world!

  11. I like writing too. How scare a gost story depends on the style of what kinds gost or scary things across countries. In my place, no one is afraid of zombies, or vampires because we think that those are jokes.

  12. Really enjoyed reading your Blog, I’m a massive horror fan both in terms of movies and fiction, I haven’t seen anything that has really seen anything that I have majorly liked since Midnight Meat Train but hopefully by following your Blog I’ll be able to get some new ideas about what to watch and read!

    http://www.revolutionwriter1.wordpress.com/

  13. I like horror books (monster stories in particular) because the monster can act as a metaphor for something that might be harder for the author to talk about otherwise. Unfortunately, I can’t watch a lot of horror movies because I think I have Jumping Frenchmen of Maine Disorder.

    • I think what I enjoy most is not only the “monster” but stories where the character overcomes whatever the internal issues is they face…provided that issue is not a cliche used a hundred times in a hundred stories LOL

  14. Horror is such a broad genre that I hate when people say stop writing X or Y. If you aren’t interested in vampires, then stop watching vampire horror. There’s so much more out there to find that it’s unduly limiting to say what can and can not be put into the genre.

    • I agree Katie. What I find interesting or funny is that by the nature of the genre, Horror writers are the literary rebels and rebels don’t usually respond to directives on what they “can and cannot” do.

  15. Love it! Very interesting. I love the suggestion of calling it “Dark Fiction” instead of horror, because as you so correctly point out, it encompasses SO much more than “blood and guts”.

    I didn’t know that horror writers had such expectations placed upon them to not write the same thing over and over! I actually really enjoy reading “horror” series, although, to be fair, it’s been a while since I’ve found some.

    The last two horror series I read were R.L. Stine’s “Fear Street” books (a bit more serious than his “Goosebumps” series and usually involving college kids and psychos), and Diane Hoh’s “Holland Hall” (same type of story, college kids V. psychos).

    I never grew tired of the stories, because I liked the style of writing. Although, maybe it takes a writer to know one. ;0)

    I enjoyed this very much. =0)

    • Hey, glad you enjoyed the post. I think that Dark Fiction writers face a difficult task and that leads to criticism…fear is a strong emotion and difficult to elicit consequently we fail at it more than achieve. One reason you will have difficulty in finding a good “horror” book (at least in the U.S) is because there is no “horror” section in bookstores anymore. It’s pushed into Sci-Fi or Fantasy or just along with the other fiction. Maybe that’s okay, but I think us fans would like a well organized place to find our genre and subgenres

  16. As a non-horror fan I have to say can’t see the appeal of the genre full stop. Why do you want to dwell on that which is disturbing?

    As to vampires and the like- there does sem to have been a dearth of fiction relating to that sort of thing in recent years, though perhaps it’s abating somewhat. Just like whilst people might not get sick of James Bond style spy stories, there was a particular dearth of them in the ’60s. Which might well prompt some to wonder what the heck the obsession is.

    • I think dwelling on the distrubing is interesting LOL. Perhaps also the nature of some humans to be intrigued by the sometimes train wreck of humanity. While I love horror though you will not see me standing in line for a rollercoaster ride and I do not understand the attaction. But to answer your question more directly: in my opinion “horror fans” tend to find human behavior somewhat disturbing in general 🙂

  17. I love horror. I think the best is psychological horror. When you leave the reader to fill in the gaps, they can sometimes scare themselves more. A truly good horror book is one which kicks in in scariness once the lights go out. I have only managed to write one short story that does thisb

    • Hi – I absolutely agree. I believe “horror” writers strive with every story to capture or elicit that “fear” and it is so hard to do. I can write “gross” but to write “distrubing” and “scary” is the challenge and the goal.

  18. I absolutely love the horror genre – and Stephen King is one of my favorites. I read “Pet Semetary” in one night! One thing though, when was “The Stand” a zombie story? End of the world story, sure, but zombie-free. Congrats on FP!

    • LOL I will never live down the “Stand” reference. I too love Stephen King although (and not to criticize the master) he does let us read horror and depart with our hands “clean” so to speak.

  19. I have loved horror since I was ten years old and I used to want to to write horror films. Though, now my love is for science fiction and fantasy, I still plug in some horror element into my works.

    I can only speak for myself, but I rather a writer create a story that is gripping and engaging without the use of profanity, nudity, gore and disturbing violence. I remember, my little pony used to terrify me. That witch who lived in the dark woods was very petrifying.

    • Henna it is an interesting quandry when a writer considers profanity, gore, nudity and violence. Stephen King certainly did an excellent job of telling stories that minimized those elements but remained creepy. On the other hand, fiction reflects reality and the world is often filled with those things so they have a place in horror fiction. I think it is a matter of “treatment” in other words we know characters use the bathroom but we don’t miss it, if they never do in a story. So any element needs to make sense…my opinion of course.

  20. i’m having trouble doing a reply-comment, so here’s a regular comment: I just don’t get the reservations in Priest. I mean, if there your natural predators, why are they not killed off?

  21. OMG! This I need to take this a paste it over my door, facbook page, twitter, home, car and every where else where people look at me twisted for being a girl and liking horror stories. I personally love the “blood and guts,” vampires are my fave mythological creature (and not just the sparkly kind) and the need to have a bit of controled fear in your life is paramount!

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