“Fear, at its center, is a perceived loss of control.”
– Max Lucado – Fearless
- At the core of horror, a protagonist (s) will confront tragedy and fear. The story question relates to whether or not the characters can overcome (or survive) those conflicts.
- If a tragedy is real and honest and viewers witness flawed characters, then horror will be at its best.
- Individual choices feed into horror. Sometimes it may be as simple as a character deciding to walk towards weird sights and sounds instead of running away … this very choice could be the inciting incident that leads to the path of the terror to come.
- Horror has a legacy; from Greek mythology to Bram Stoker to Edgar Allan Poe to Stephen King – horror has history for writers and for the audience. Horror is a strand of our DNA narrative. Why? It is because we all have a “fear” of something … even if we don’t admit it to anyone else.
- Urban mythology, campfire stories, creepy fairy tales and fables, and the children’s ghost stories our parents told us; these can be the genesis of shared fears for audiences. The terror of these ages-old characters and situations can feed the extreme recesses of the dark corners of our minds where we may find ourselves afraid to go. Don’t forget that the childhood monster stories or late-night fear-fests we may have in engaged in when we were younger can provide a perfect breeding ground for the roots of horror.
- Horror is best served when an audience and the characters explore the unknown together – walking hand in hand into the dark journey.
- Show me the horror, don’t tell me about it. The audience should never be told to be afraid; they should travel along the path of fear with the characters. They should feel they have as much to lose as the very characters they invest in. This can only happen with compelling characters facing dangerous forces of antagonism.
- When the audience understands the consequences of the actions of the character(s), horror can provide an avenue toward appreciating what is lost or gained by the choices made. We hate to see characters make poor choices, yet we’re strangely drawn into exploring what will happen once that bad decision has happened.
- Horror stories can teach us lessons about life and the consequences associated with actions (or inactions). Horror stories like children’s fables can offer messages worth listening to.
- Dread offers the tension needed for audiences to buy into the horror or terror. With dread, we come to understand that bad things are going to happen … there is no doubt. We see the pending doom, and yet we are powerless to stop it.
- Horror can torture the mind, heart and gut. That is a proven medical fact. Strong horror stories can feed into (or out of) our imaginations and shock us into thinking and asking questions. We try to make sense of what is happening, why it is happening, and how we can stop it from happening. When we are afraid, our bodies react by releasing adrenaline into our systems, which increases our breathing rates, heart rates, and causes our pupils to dilate. We launch into the “fight or flight” mode. True horror, real fear, will actually cause our stomach to ache, churn or tighten. Horror and fear can literally impact our physical condition.
- Horror must exist alongside “Hope” in order to be perfectly relatable. The audience must believe that there is a way out, that a character can defeat a monster, or that even if the world ends –there will be survivors. We must trust that a glimmer of hope (no matter how small) is out there … that overcoming the enemy is at the very least … possible. Even if hope doesn’t win, we must believe that it can
- Ghosts, Vampires, Zombies and Werewolves will always live in horror literature and on screen, but watch out for the creatures in our dreams or those dressed in clown suits. We must remember that monsters can come in any form … human or otherwise.
- The darkness is still the best place to tell a horror story. A couple sits on a lake dock one evening when suddenly odd sights and sounds seem to come from everywhere; a sane woman is trapped in an asylum and searches for a way out; a disgruntled politician is buried alive with no idea how he got there; a young blind orphan walks alone through a maze of monsters – each of these examples offer dark places … real, perceived, or imaginary. The fear of the unknown is sometimes related to the fear of darkness.
- The absolute best horror comes from within you. Think about what really scares you. Imagine what gives you anxiety. Dive into those very things that are absolutely unimaginable. What troubles you and causes you to engage in a fight or flight pattern? Now add a supernatural situational twist to those fears; create dynamic characters facing nearly insurmountable odds, and then provide a possible way out … a ray of light in the darkness. Great horror writers can explore and expand on their own fears, those around them, or those within the world in which they live.
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