Scaring Myself (It's harder than you think)
Ghosts. Demons. Cryptids.
Once upon a time, there were monsters of all the aforementioned kinds that crept their way into my subconscious and made it hard to sleep on dark mid-2000's nights. Now, my fears are much more realistic.
Or are they?
Currently, I'm tackling a big (but quite thrilling) project in my spare time between classes and papers. This project, as of now, is planned to be a collection of short horror stories, with several groups of these stories centered around similar themes.
I love horror, and I always have— thus, this is not my first attempt at horror literature. Through the years, I've written dozens of creepy short stories; some for school, some for fun, and some that were destined to fail right from the start.
But through my experiences in writing horror, I've learned at least two very important things...
Number one is quite simple: Horror is subjective.
Like comedy, horror is about timing, context, and who's in the audience. Lovecraft's grand tales of existential dread wouldn't frighten most first graders— just like how Goosebumps may not work for a dedicated fan of Stephen King.
Crafting horror within literature is a balancing act, and one must consider their audience, their pacing, and the world within their writing at all times in order to effectively evaluate how “scary” their tactics truly are.
Secondly, I've learned the true definition of horror: Horror is not something that is terrifying; it's something that terrifies you.
Horror is (and should be) deeply personal. So deep, in fact, that I dare say that the average person would not be ready or willing to reveal their deepest and most horrifying fears to any random person, and maybe not even to their closest of friends. I know for a fact that I have a few personal fears that will never leave my lips, and I'll probably never address them directly. I can examine these fears, however, and I can use them as a sort of seasoning for the frights within my writing to (hopefully) tap into the deep fears of my readers.
So where do these two lessons lead me?
So far, they've led me here: the beginning of a daunting writing task. But with these lessons under my belt, I have a few advantages going in that I haven't had in my past attempts. These lessons have made it clear to me that, in order to write a spine-chilling horror story, I first must frighten the toughest member of the audience...
In the past, I've feared that attempting to frighten one's self may be as futile and awkward as attempting a self-tickle or a self-surprise— 'cause those things just don't work.
So I wondered; is it possible to fear my own written creation? As it turns out, the answer is yes.
The key to crafting a formidable horror is to first isolate and confront one of your own fears. Scared of sharks? That's a great place to start— and you've successfully isolated the fear. Now is when you zoom in and ask a tougher question: why are you scared of sharks?
The more precise your answer, the more knowledgeable you'll be of your story's fear factor and how it can be used to scare your readers.
After that, you can use your knowledge to create a monster, setting, or conflict that makes good use of this knowledge and casts a wide net of terror to cover your specific fear from all angles. If you do so while actively balancing your plot (and understanding that your story may not scare everyone), you will at least be able to publish a story that's far more likely to scare readers than a story about trendy horror topics and clichés.
This, my friends, is the task I face. Hopefully I've made the process seem simple for you, but that doesn't mean it will always be easy. Currently, I'm about an eighth of the way through my first short story for my planned collection, and I have a long road ahead.
I'll be posting plenty more updates as I progress, so be sure to stick around. I plan on sharing an excerpt of the story the next time I get a chance.
Thank you for reading!