Wednesday, 18 May 2011

H is for Horror

Or should that be heroes?

Since I'm primarily trying to write about, or at least to hammer some thoughts out about, genre as well as archetypes, then horror it has to be.

There is a lot out there about creating protagonists. Creating heroes. I would be covering old ground. I'll just say that my preference is for the hero with the hidden power, or the moment of self-revelation, where the bad guy has beaten him down, dismissed him, but he rises, dusty, bruised, bleeding, defiant.

So, horror. Horror is difficult for me. I don't know why, but where I can conceptualise fantasy and science fiction, the play of characters and major plot points, it's that lingering dread I find hard to plan. Especially over a longer span, the longer the piece the harder I find it to judge.

Partly because I think you want a relatively mundane opening to contrast with the main event when it arrives, but not too mundane, it is, after all, supposed to capture your readers. (Although part of that is where compelling characters come in.) But also hints of the unsettled, the unheimlich, as freud would have it. It's that tiny build, that subtlety of execution that I have difficulty with. I think I am convinced any gentle hints I try to make will be too obvious, too heavy-handed.

The visceral, gruesome blood-splattering horror I can do, to a certain extent, although it's not really my thing. It's a little easier to pull off as well.

The darker, more blatant horror is perhaps more easily suited to throw into the genre blender too. In fantasy you can have demons and twisted beasts of all kinds, in SF the alien races can be dark, unfathomable things, they can be elder gods, awoken from their ancient slumber by mankind's clumsy blundering through recently discovered hyperspace.

Maybe we consider hyperspace to be like real space, whereas a better analogy would be space as the air, and hyperspace as an ocean: rich in dangerous lifeforms. Lifeforms adapted far better to survival than our own crude vessels. Lifeforms that might get caught, snagged, and pulled back through into our own plain of space, where we would seem naught but krill to them...

Like crime, it's a genre I would like to work at. Not necessarily somewhere I would like to set my hat, but definitely something I would like to incorporate in my writing.

The side I'd really like to work on is the chiller rather than the thriller. The more subtle elements. Alien over Aliens. Don't get me wrong, I love both films, I just think there's more skill and satisfaction to be derived from pulling off the taught, hidden horror than the in-your-face screamer.

I wrote a more visceral fantasy/ horror blend here: Pain's Embrace

The complete Renegade A to Z (so far). Or watch it in progress on Twitter: #RenegadeAtoZ

Coming next: I is for Inspiration.


  1. I also like Alien over Aliens, though even Aliens delivers the Horror to your face when it's time. It's a rare case of excellent build and delivery. I adore The Blair Witch Project, but like Stephen King told John Carpenter, if you've got something phenomenal hidden in the dark, you can create a classic when the lights come up.

  2. Alien and Aliens are two different kinds of horror, both brilliantly done. But I've seen too many horror movies that build the scare right up to the reveal and then the whole thing becomes too fake and loses all of the tension it had built.

    Look at Alien: Resurrection (or, preferably, don't), the creature design was terrible.