Three Shocking Tips For Writing 1980s-Style Splatterpunk Horror Fiction

Well, I thought that I’d talk about 1980s splatterpunk fiction today. This is mostly because I’m re-reading an old 1980s horror novel called “Erebus” by Shaun Hutson that I first discovered when I was a teenager during the early-mid ’00s. Back then, old second-hand splatterpunk novels from the 1980s (or, more accurately, the mid-late 1970s to the early-mid 1990s) were the coolest thing in the world. Or at least I thought that they were. Alas, I was a little late to the party.

But, having refreshed my memory about this awesome historical genre (which, for some reason, I lost interest in a few years ago), I thought that I’d offer a few tips about how to write 1980s-style splatterpunk fiction. And, yes, some of these might shock you. Because…. *organ trill*… old splatterpunk fiction has more in common with high-brow literary fiction than anything else. Allow me to explain…

1) Characterisation!: Whether it is more visceral “video nasty”-style stories by Shaun Hutson, poetic and sophisticated splatterpunk stories by Clive Barker, the supernatural drama of Graham Masterton or the classic stories of James Herbert, old splatterpunk novels had one thing in common – Characterisation!

A classic splatterpunk technique is to start a chapter by introducing a new character. The writer will then spend a couple of pages showing the character going about their daily life, whilst also giving the reader a bit of information about their backstory and personality. Usually, the character’s life will be slightly mundane, unusual and/or miserable. The audience is given a while to get to know this character. Then the character dies horribly in some kind of ultra-grisly way.

This technique works because of the characterisation. Because we get to see the ordinary life of the character and learn a bit about them, their inevitable grisly demise is more dramatic and shocking. They aren’t some generic background character, they’re an actual, relatable character. This technique is especially effective in the early parts of a splatterpunk story, when the audience can’t quite be certain which characters will be the main characters and which characters won’t survive to the next chapter.

But, regardless, characterisation is more important than you might think in 1980s-style splatterpunk stories.

2) Eloquence: 1980s splatterpunk fiction is more sophisticated than you think! In order for the genre to evoke the emotions of foreboding, disgust, suspense and/or horror that it is known for, it has to be well-written. In other words, splatterpunk fiction is a genre that involves painting with words, poetic descriptions and all sorts of sophisticated stuff that you might not expect.

For example, whilst you might not think of him as a “high-brow” writer, Shaun Hutson’s narration is often a lot more eloquent and complex than you might initially think.

To show you what I mean, here’s a quote from Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus”: ‘In the high street, one or two half-timbered houses sat almost reluctantly alongside red brick shops and small offices.‘ This sounds a lot like something from a literary novel. Not exactly what you’d expect from a novel that looks like this

This is the cover of the 2002 Time Warner (UK) paperback reprint of “Erebus” (1984).

…And contains more blood & guts than ten horror movies. But, why do 1980s splatterpunk novels include such eloquent language?

Simply put, it has to do with the contrast between beauty and ugliness. A lot of what makes 1980s splatterpunk fiction such a distinctive genre is because it describes ugly things (eg: death, decay, violence etc..) in beautiful ways. Classic splatterpunk fiction renders grisly scenes of horror with the skill and finesse of a poet describing a beautiful sunset. If you don’t believe me, then read Clive Barker’s “Books Of Blood” for some expert examples of this.

So, if you’re writing a 1980s-style splatterpunk novel, then you need to paint with words. You need to be eloquent. Your writing needs to be sophisticated.

3) The mundane: Like with “high brow” literary fiction, splatterpunk stories will often focus heavily on ordinary, mundane, dreary everyday life. The characters will be ordinary people. The locations will often be ordinary towns, suburbs and cities. But, why?

Aside from making the settings and characters more relatable to the audience, and contrasting the ordinary and the grotesque for dramatic effect, the main reason why old splatterpunk writers do this is because of the “punk” part of the splatterpunk genre.

In short, the crappiness of grinding, dull, mundane everyday life is part of the horror. It is shown to be something inherently oppressive, bleak and menacing. The world isn’t shown in some stylised, idealised way – but with the bleak cynical clarity of a nihilistic punk song. The world is shown warts and all. And this is before the giant rats, zombie vampires, deranged serial killers etc… begin to appear.

So, if you’re writing a 1980s-style splatterpunk story, then focus on the mundane.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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