How Horror Handicaps Your Writing – Don’t Do This (New Article Series)

I'm starting a new series of writing-craft articles called "Don't Do This", taking an in-depth look at some of the more dubious choices made by published authors and TV/film writers/directors/editors, and the reasons you don't want to copy them without knowing exactly what these elements will cost your story.

I want to do this without any nastiness towards my fellow authors - so, where the examples in question come from books, I am going to block out identifying details and show only the actual issue I'm discussing. I would ask commenters to please avoid shouting out the book title and/or author if they recognise the material (and I will censor comments that don't abide by this request).

I will, however, identify commercially-successful Movies and TV shows I use as examples. These have a slew of professionals working on every aspect of production and therefore I think it is fair game to call them on their weaknesses. Secondly, there is greater likelihood that popular shows/movies have already been seen, so spoilers are less of an issue, and there is more chance to learn from specific examples. I will attempt to create a non-spoiler generic summary, though.

First up is Horror. Kristen Lamb wrote a blog post explaining How Horror Fiction Can Make Us Better Writers. I both agree and disagree with Kristen's theory. Horror handicaps a story, by distancing the reader/audience. So, yes, it can make you a better writer because you have to work harder.  But a writer who doesn't understand this handicap can get stuck in a cycle of attempting to increase the body count and the gore level, more graphically describing violence, and inventing new and improved ways of shocking their readers.

I explain my reasoning in detail using the TV show Fortitude as an example, here:

The Problem with Horror - a Critique of Fortitude

and here is the spoiler-free summary:

For Drama's Sake, Don't Write Horror

How Horror Handicaps Your Writing – Don’t Do This (New Article Series)
Tagged on:                 

2 thoughts on “How Horror Handicaps Your Writing – Don’t Do This (New Article Series)

  • Wednesday at 5:24 AM

    I think writers who use a lot of gore and shock and body count really are not good at writing horror, though. Those are the tools of the amateur. Some of the best horror really has no gore. King’s 1408 is just TERRIFYING and it’s with small things like the toilet paper or the clock radio.

    But alas every writer is different. If you love horror, then you can study how it is done well and use it in your own work.

  • Wednesday at 9:40 PM

    Thanks for visiting, Kristen 🙂

    The proliferation of hard-core gore confuses new writers into thinking that’s what they have to compete with, and they try and one-up each other. Actually the same thing happened with crime thrillers – they became more and more violent and depraved, and back then (more than a decade ago) I, as a new-ish writer hoping to make thrillers my genre, stopped reading them and gave up on the genre thinking I couldn’t bear to write the level of gratuitous violence it seemed was required. And it’s spilt into Fantasy now, too, with Game of Thrones leading the way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.