Storytelling In Books vs Storytelling On TV – A Ramble

One of the most surprising things I’ve noticed since I got back into reading regularly a few months ago was how differently I started thinking about the stories of the few TV shows I still occasionally find time to watch. More importantly, I also started to think about why TV and novels tell stories in such vastly different ways.

A few days before I wrote this article, I noticed that a gloriously silly TV show from the late 1990s/early 2000s called “Relic Hunter” was being repeated on TV. So, I set up the DVR and rationed myself to one episode per day. Yet, my reaction to seeing it again was totally different to when I first discovered a few episodes of this show on DVD in 2014.

Compared to the novels I’d been reading, the storylines in “Relic Hunter” seemed even sillier than before. Things often seemed to happen totally randomly, there were lots of fortunate coincidences etc… Yet, it was still really fun to watch.

This reminded me of something that I’d also noticed in the few episodes of a US detective show called “NCIS” I’ve seen over the past few months. Whilst a detective novel might devote hundreds of pages to the careful, logical investigation of a mystery – “NCIS” will often have the clues fall into place quickly, neatly and easily. Yet, it’s still really fun to watch.

But why is this kind of compressed, contrived storytelling so much fun to watch? I mean, books offer much deeper, richer and fuller stories. So, why are TV show stories still so incredibly fun to watch?

In short, TV show storylines are a bit like watching someone speedrun a videogame – you get to see an expert player going through a series of complex, dramatic, challenging events in an impressively quick time. It’s a demonstration of skill. This sort of thing is extremely compelling to watch.

TV show storylines are also a little bit like listening to a heavy metal song called “Bridges Will Burn” by Iron Fire. The lyrics of this fast-paced song tell an epic fantasy story in an impressively concise and fast way. For example, a a single verse might cover events that take tens or hundreds of pages to describe in a novel.

Yes, the novel would probably be deeper, more atmospheric and a much fuller experience. Yet, Iron Fire’s song feels a lot more impressive and spectacular because it expertly runs through all of this stuff in a ridiculously short time. It’s like these epic events are an ordinary, mundane routine to the narrator.

In other words, it expertly gives the impression of a story rather than telling a full, proper story. Television often does something similar to this, and it’s compelling because it not only makes the characters look like experts, but because the audience feels like they’ve absorbed a full story in a short amount of time (which makes them feel like expert audience members). So, storytelling in TV shows is more about evoking the feeling of expertise.

On the other hand, storytelling in novels actually requires expertise from both the reader and the writer. It also rewards this expertise too. This makes, say, grappling with a complex, long novel feel really satisfying. It also makes blazing your way through a fast-paced thriller novel at light speed feel satisfying too. Reading fiction requires you to reconstruct characters, locations etc.. using your imagination and to keep track of more complex stories, themes etc.. too. In other words, it is a skill and you get to show it off to yourself when you read a novel 🙂

In short, the difference between storytelling in novels and TV is that one makes the viewer feel like an expert, and the other makes the reader feel like an expert. It’s a subtle difference, but a really important one. It’s like the difference between watching a video of someone speedrunning a videogame and actually playing the videogame yourself.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Three Reasons Why “Low Fantasy” Is Better Than “High Fantasy”

[Note: Since I prepare these articles quite far in advance, it can be surprising how much my opinions can change between writing and publication. Basically, at the time of preparing this article, I was still a relatively inexperienced reader of the urban fantasy genre (and was perhaps a little less aware that it has it’s own set of tropes and cliches too) .

Since then, my attitudes towards the fantasy genre have become a bit more nuanced (especially since finding books in the dark fantasy and magical realism genres). Still, I’ll keep this article (albeit with a couple of small edits) for the sake of posterity even though it doesn’t really reflect my current opinions and seems a bit naive and simplistic when I read it these days.]

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One of the interesting things about getting back into reading regularly a few months ago is that I’ve ended up reading a lot more fantasy fiction than I initially expected. Unlike some other genres (eg: sci-fi, horror, detective fiction etc..), my relationship with the fantasy genre is a lot more of an ambiguous one.

On the one hand, it’s been a genre that I’ve loved from an early age (eg: I used to watch “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer” enthusiastically, I read “Fighting Fantasy” gamebooks, I played computer games like “Heretic“, I read “Harry Potter”, I collected “Magic: The Gathering” cards and enjoyed the “Lord Of The Rings” films etc.. when I was younger).

It’s also a genre that I seem to drift away from and return to regularly (such as my “Game Of Thrones” phase a few years ago). Plus, a couple of my favourite types of music also have an association with the genre too (eg: symphonic metal, power metal etc..). Yet, I’m much more likely to derisively think of fantasy as “silly”, “over-complicated” etc… when compared to my other favourite genres.

However, a while before writing this article, I happened to read a Wikipedia article about “Low Fantasy” and it was something of a revelation to me. I suddenly realised that most of my criticisms and misgivings about the fantasy genre applied to high fantasy (swords & sorcery, Middle-Earth etc.. type fantasy) rather than low fantasy (eg: fantastical stories set in, or involving, the “real” world).

So, here are three of the reasons why low fantasy is better than high fantasy:

1) Variation and imagination: One of the really cool things about low fantasy is that it sometimes includes a lot more variation and imagination than high fantasy does.

For example, urban fantasy can include elements from other genres alongside more traditional fantasy elements – such as vampire thrillers like Jocyelnn Drake’s “Nightwalker“, horror story arcs in Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics and sci-fi elements in both novels like Lilith Saintcrow’s “Dante Valentine” series and computer games like “The Longest Journey” and “Shadowrun: Dragonfall“.

In addition to this, low fantasy will sometimes use the tropes of the fantasy genre in a much more creative and imaginative way than high fantasy traditionally does. Since these stories can’t rely on the traditions of the high fantasy genre, they have to come up with new and imaginative ways to meld the fantastical and the mundane. They can’t just rely on the old tropes of swords, castles, knights, heroic quests etc.. for their stories.

As such, not only does low fantasy have a lot more variation between stories – but it also means that the fantasy elements have to be imaginatively different too. In other words, you’re much more likely to see intriguingly different variations of the fantasy genre in low fantasy than you are in high fantasy. After all, if a low fantasy writer has to come up with a plausible way to meld the fantastical and the mundane, then they’re going to have to use their imagination…

2) Shorter stories: Yes, some low fantasy novels are giant tomes (Clive Barker’s “Weaveworld” and Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods” spring to mind), but this is thankfully a lot less common when compared to high fantasy.

With the possible exception of Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” (which I haven’t read), I don’t think that I’ve even heard of a high fantasy novel that can’t also be used as an emergency doorstop and/or paperweight. [Edit: Surprisingly, short fantasy novels/novellas actually exist 🙂 Expect a review of Tanith Lee’s “Kill The Dead” in late August.]

Since low fantasy stories incorporate well-known real life settings and elements, and since they’re often melded with other genres like the thriller, horror, detective, romance etc.. genres, there’s more reason to tell gripping, shorter stories. Since they don’t have to spend lots of time building a giant, medieval-style world, they can get on with actually telling the story.

Since a good portion of low fantasy novels aren’t that much longer than the average novel (300-400 pages these days) and don’t require any extra time investment, they are a lot more accessible and easier to impulse-read when compared to giant tomes of high fantasy. Likewise, even when low fantasy novels tell longer stories, they will often be broken up into a series of shorter books rather than a series of gigantic tones. I mean, I’ve even found a low fantasy novella. A novella! In the fantasy genre 🙂

3) Themes, symbolism, meaning etc..: One of the cool things about stories that meld the fantastical and the realistic is that the fantastical elements usually have to be there for a reason. In other words, low fantasy isn’t just “fantasy for the sake of fantasy” in the way that high fantasy can often be.

As such, low fantasy stories will often be a lot deeper, more intelligent and emotionally powerful than high fantasy can be. For example, good urban fantasy vampire stories will often explore themes like belonging, subcultures, civil rights, secrecy, mortality, traditions etc.. in a way that could rival even the most literary of novels.

More fantastical low fantasy stories (eg: Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics etc..) will often use the fantastical as a lens to look at elements of humanity, in a way which often gives these stories one hell of an emotional punch when compared to the typical high fantasy stories of knights going on epic quests etc…

So, yes, since low fantasy has to find a good reason to include fantastical elements, these stories usually mean something in the way that the fantasy elements of a typical high fantasy story often don’t.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Two Basic Differences Between Modern And Older Novels

Ever since I got back into reading regularly a few months ago, one of the things that has surprised me so much are the differences between older and modern fiction. For the purposes of this article, I’ll define “modern fiction” as stories first published in the 21st century and “older fiction” as anything published before then (with a focus on the 20th century).

Anyway, one of the things I’ve been trying to do is to read a mixture of older and more modern fiction. This is mostly to give modern fiction a chance. After all, during previous times when I’ve read regularly for enjoyment (eg: during most of the 2000s and the early-mid 2010s), I’ve often tended to focus slightly more on older 20th century novels than on 21st century ones.

So, let’s look two of the most basic differences between older and modern fiction. However, I should point out that these are generalisations and there will be exceptions to everything I mention here. Likewise, I’ve probably mentioned all of these things before too, but they’re always interesting to look at.

1) Complexity: At the time of writing this article, I’m reading a novel from 1962 called “Something Wicked This Way Comes” by Ray Bradbury. One of the surprising things about this novel is that, technically speaking, it would probably fit into the modern “young adult” (YA) category if it was published today.

It bears all of the hallmarks of this genre – the protagonists are teenagers, it is a novel about being a teenager and it seems to be a fairly “PG-13” kind of story (to use an American phrase). Yet, it contains something that the modern novels (in a variety of genres) I’ve read over the past decade or so often don’t contain – linguistic complexity.

To give you an example, here’s a spectacular sentence from “Something Wicked This Way Comes”: ‘Then the calliope gave a particularly violent cry of foul murder which made dogs howl in far countries, and Mr Cooger, spinning, ran and leaped on the back-whirling universe of animals who, tail first, head last, pursued an endless circling night towards unfound and never to be discovered destinations.

This is a long, complex, formal, poetic and descriptive sentence. It has been carefully designed to make the reader feel like they’re watching the endless spinning of a merry-go-round in a mysterious old circus. It is meant to be vivid and disorientating. Yet, unless you’ve had a fair amount of practice reading older novels, it may confuse you. In a modern novel ( whether general fiction or YA), the language would probably be less formal and it would be broken up into several shorter sentences in order to achieve the same effect.

So, older novels are often written in a more complex and formal way. Yes, there are exceptions to this but, even if you look at that most high-brow of genres – paperback action-thriller novels – you’ll also notice that examples from the 1970s-90s often tend to be written in a slightly slower paced and more descriptive way than modern action-thriller novels are. The sentences are often longer and there are more descriptions.

This is kind of a double-edged sword though. Since, although all of this extra complexity really helps to give older novels a sense of uniqueness, personality, depth and atmosphere that modern novels sometimes lack, modern novels can often be a lot more gripping and readable. Because they have to compete with videogames, boxsets, smartphones and the internet, modern novels are often a lot more streamlined, efficient and readable than older novels.

2) Length: Whilst longer novels are nothing new (just look at the Victorians!), one of the really interesting differences between 20th and 21st century fiction is how longer novels have gone from being the exception to being the rule.

When you look at paperback books from the 20th century, the average length often tends to be somewhere in the region of 200-300 pages. This is a length that helps to keep the story focused and helps to ensure that the reader can finish the book without getting bored by it.

In contrast, modern 21st century novels will often be about 300-400 pages in length at the least. Yes, I have found shorter modern novels (in fact, I usually try to seek them out), but they tend to be less common than they used to be.

As with all of these things, there are advantages and…. Oh, who am I kidding? Older fiction has all of the advantages here. Because shorter novels were more acceptable in the 20th century, these stories tend to cram more storytelling into a shorter length – which resulted in better fiction. When an older 20th century novel is long, it usually has to justify this length by telling a story that cannot be crammed into a smaller number of pages.

Still, I find it ironic that, for all of the moaning about how people’s attention spans are getting shorter – books keep getting longer. Still, this increase in novel length seems to be part of a more general trend these days. I mean, just look at films. Back in the 1980s/90s, a film usually tended to be a fairly efficient 90-110 minutes in length. These days, even superhero movies can easily pass the two-hour mark.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Two Terrifying Tips For Writing Extreme Horror Fiction

Well, although I’ve already talked about splatterpunk horror fiction a few times before, I thought that I’d talk about a similar – but slightly different – genre of horror fiction today. I am, of course, talking about extreme horror fiction.

This is mostly because, at the time of writing, I’m reading an absolutely amazing surreal noir detective novel (“Word Made Flesh” by Jack O’Connell) that also includes some brilliantly disturbing extreme horror elements too. Needless to say, this article will contain some SPOILERS for the earlier parts of this novel.

Although there’s a lot of overlap between splatterpunk horror fiction and extreme horror fiction, I’d argue that the two things are at least somewhat different. In short, whilst splatterpunk horror fiction is often “gruesome for the sake of gruesome”, extreme horror takes the unflinching attitude of splatterpunk fiction and uses it in a way that is a lot more insidious and disturbing. In other words, whilst extreme horror might be gruesome, this isn’t the sole source of horror that the reader is confronted with.

So, here are a couple of tips for writing extreme horror fiction.

1) It’s not what is shown, it is how it is shown:
The horror/detective novel I mentioned earlier (“Word Made Flesh”) begins with one of the creepiest and most disturbing prologues that I’ve ever read. It’s the kind of prologue that, due to it’s sadistic, cruel, ultra-violent and grotesque nature, probably shouldn’t be described in too much detail here.

Yet, although this sounds like it would be a typical scene from a splatterpunk horror novel, this prologue does a few things differently to the average splatterpunk novel – which make the horror of this scene about ten times more disturbing.

For starters, the prologue sometimes shows relatively little in the way of gory detail. Instead of spending numerous paragraphs describing the grisly events that happen, the prologue will – for example – spend a couple of paragraphs talking in great depth about how a group of murderers carefully crafted their scalpels in accordance with various traditions. This evokes a sense of deep horror by contrasting beautiful things (eg: tradition, timeless artefacts, creativity) with the grotesquely cruel use that the scalpels are put to.

Likewise, when the scene in question does include gory detail, it will often leave some elements and details to the imagination. In other words, it will describe enough to make you wince with disgust but it won’t always go into the level of hyper-specific detail that a traditional splatterpunk novel typically would. By showing some grisly detail, then leaving some of it to the imagination – it creates the impression that some elements of the scene are too horrific to show. And, since what the reader does see is pretty gross, it makes them think that the details they don’t see are ten times worse.

Finally, the narrative tone of the scene adds an extra level of extremity to the horror. The scene in question is narrated in a casual, poetic and occasionally informal way (with the narrator even making the occasional macabre joke or talking directly to the reader). Although this sounds like it would lessen the horror of the scene, it actually makes the scene in question considerably more disturbing because the narrator is able to be so relaxed, awe-struck and/or happy in the presence of something so cruel and horrific. In other words, it makes the reader feel like they’re listening to someone very, very evil.

So, yes, extreme horror isn’t about what you show, it’s about how you show it.

2) Taboos: One of the other things that sets extreme horror fiction apart from splatterpunk horror fiction is the genre’s willingness to focus on taboo subject matter.

A good example of this is an incredibly disturbing chapter in “Word Made Flesh” where an old taxi driver talks about suffering bigotry and violent prejudice during his youth. Even though most of this chapter isn’t exactly easy reading, it finishes with one of the most unsettling, creepy and just generally disturbing passages of text I’ve read in quite a while.

After the taxi driver has talked about his tragic history, he then gives a chillingly “matter-of-fact” description of the psychology of the people who committed these crimes. Not only does this tap into some fairly disturbing subject matter, but it also examines these taboo subjects in a level of philosophical and psychological detail that is genuinely disturbing. In other words, this scene takes an unflinching look at taboo topics (like the psychology of evil ) that are too disturbing to think about in detail.

So, the difference between extreme horror fiction and splatterpunk horror fiction is the fact that whilst splatterpunk might be willing to take an unflinching look at gruesome fictional events, extreme horror is willing to take the same attitude towards real taboos. And this makes extreme horror about ten times creepier than splatterpunk horror.

Yet, this also makes extreme horror considerably more difficult to write than splatterpunk horror. After all, taboo subjects are usually taboo for a good reason.

So, not only do these scenes have to be written extremely carefully but they’re also likely to provoke strong reactions in audiences and publishers. So, yes, taboo-based horror is probably one of the most difficult elements of extreme horror fiction to get right.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Reasons Why Books Are Better Than Film And TV

Although I’m sure that I’ve written these types of articles before, I felt like writing another one.

This was mostly because, ever since I got back into reading regularly a few months ago, I’ve sometimes found myself missing all of the films and TV shows that I used to watch back when I didn’t read regularly (but don’t really have time for these days, due to reading books).

So, I thought that I’d list three of the many reasons why books are better than film and TV.

1) More freedom: One of the great things about novels is that they have more creative freedom than films and TV shows do. In other words, they’re usually only written by one person, they only use words and they don’t have to pass a censor before they are published. This lends novels a sense of individuality and creativity that films and TV shows can often lack.

Only having one author means that a novel isn’t really “designed by committee” in the way that many TV shows and films are. In other words, a novel is usually the creative vision of one person – they get to shape the story’s world, how the reader “sees” the world etc… in a way that isn’t really practical in film and television. Likewise, because novels don’t cost millions to make, there’s less of a need to appeal to the most mainstream audience possible for financial reasons (which, for example, can lead to films becoming more generic).

Plus, since novels only use words, they aren’t constrained by the practical problems that films/TV shows have. In other words, if a writer wants to write about somewhere spectacular or something spectacular, they can just write about it. They don’t have to build elaborate sets or worry about the special effects budget. As such, there’s a sense that literally anything can happen in a novel. That even the most “low budget” of novels can do things that even mid-budget films or TV shows could only dream of.

Not only that, unlike film and television, novels don’t have to pass a censor. For example, although film/TV censorship in the UK is less strict than it used to be, the censors have been known to enforce bizarre or over-protective rules in the past (eg: they pretty much banned the depiction of various martial arts weapons in films between about 1979-1999).

Likewise, many US TV shows sometimes have to follow absurdly strict censorship rules (eg: even in a “gritty” TV show like “24”, the main character cannot utter any profanity stronger than “damn”).

But, thanks to both the Lady Chatterley trial in the UK and the American first amendment, readers and writers do not have to suffer any of these patronising restrictions. In other words, books are one of the few artforms that respects both the author and the audience enough to let them make up their own mind about everything – free from the controlling influence of a censor.

2) It’s like a boxset, but better: One interesting thing I noticed about the ancient Egypt-themed novel I’m reading at the moment (“Nefertiti” by Michelle Moran) is that, even though it started rather slowly, it eventually started to remind me of when I’d watched a DVD boxset of HBO’s “Rome” TV series about five years ago. It had the same vivid historical immersion, depth and gripping drama.

But, I don’t have to read it in fixed one-hour instalments. The story moves as fast as I can read it. I have the freedom to allow my imagination to work out what all of the interesting locations look like. I can quite literally see what the main character is thinking and feeling. The characters are characters, rather than famous actors. I don’t have to sit through an annoying unskippable copyright warning every time I open the book. I can experience the author’s unique narrative voice. I could probably go on for a while….

I also suddenly realised that one of the reasons why I watched so many DVD boxsets during the 3-4 years that I didn’t read regularly was because they offered an experience that is a little bit like reading a book. However, it comes with all sorts of limitations that books don’t have. So, yes, books are like boxsets – but better. Plus, of course, even second-hand, books are often cheaper than DVD boxsets too 🙂

3) They stand the test of time: One of the cool things I noticed when I got back into reading regularly is that I could occasionally read books (like “The Maltese Falcon) that were written when film was still a developing medium and television was a lot less popular. And the stories are just as vivid as a modern novel. Now, compare this to, say, a grainy old B&W film that could only use whatever limited effects etc.. were available at the time.

Plus, when I’ve bought old second-hand copies of horror novels that were printed during the 1970s/80s, they’re still just as readable today as they were when they were first published.

On the other hand, if I found an old VHS tape that was from the 1980s, I’d have nothing to play it on (so, I’d have to see if it was available on DVD) and, even if my VCR still worked, then the tape would have degraded over time. Whereas, an old book is still just as readable now as it was when it was first printed. And it’s kind of cool to enjoy something that was entertaining people 30-40 years ago and not only still exists but still functions perfectly too!

In other words, books have a timelessness about them that film and television really don’t have. They have more of a sense of history. They run on very reliable technology (eg: paper) that can easily withstand years of use or disuse. Plus, of course, the underlying “mechanics” of books (eg: letters, words, sentences etc..) have remained relatively unchanged for years – compared to the constant changes in technology surrounding film, TV etc…

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Letting The Narration Fit The Story – A Ramble

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about narration. Whilst most writers develop their own unique narrative styles, there’s also something to be said for adapting your style in order to fit the story that you’re telling – or even deliberately using a slightly different style for dramatic effect.

For example, the novel I’m reading at the moment is a vampire novel called “Nightwalker” by Jocelynn Drake. A lot of what gives this book a wonderfully rich, sumptuous, sensuous, dark, thrilling, stylised and gothic atmosphere comes from the narration.

“Nightwalker” uses first-person narration that allows the story to focus intensely on what the narrator is thinking, feeling and experiencing. This narration often uses longer, slower and more descriptive sentences in order to add atmosphere and to reflect the fact that the narrator is a centuries-old vampire. But, during more intense or violent scenes, the narration will switch to shorter, faster, simpler and more “matter of fact” sentences in order to speed up the story and give these moments more impact.

This narration (which uses techniques from the horror, thriller and romance genres) is an absolutely perfect fit with the story that accompanies it.

Another good example of a novel where the narration fits the story really well is “The Watchmaker Of Filigree Street” by Natasha Pulley. This is a whimsical steampunk magic realist novel that is set in the 19th century.

As such, Pulley’s narrative style will often evoke 19th century fiction by using more formal language and longer sentences. However, since the story is designed to be accesible to modern readers, some of the more obtuse elements of 19th century style narration have been deliberately left out.

For example, whilst the novel uses a fairly formal vocabulary, it usually sticks to words and sentence structures that modern readers will be familiar with. Likewise, the story’s dialogue is also designed to sound fairly “natural” too. The novel also creates a slightly whimsical atmosphere by describing strange or unusual things in a slightly witty, formal and “matter of fact” way.

On the other hand, novels like “Erebus” by Shaun Hutson will deliberately use a narrative style that you wouldn’t expect in order to achieve a particular effect.

“Erebus” is a splatterpunk horror novel about a rural village being overrun with zombie-like vampires. So, you would expect the story’s narrative style to borrow heavily from the thriller genre (eg: shorter sentences, brief descriptions and simpler “matter of fact” vocabulary). But, instead, the novel will often include lots of long words, longer sentences and elaborate descriptions.

This contrast between style and story works really well because it turns the story into a subtle parody of more “aristocratic” stories set in rural England, whilst also creating extra horror by using “beautiful” narration to describe ugly things (eg: death, violence, decay etc…).

But, unlike the three novels I’ve described, there are also novels where the narrative style is too close to the subject matter of the story. Ironically, this can make the story less readable because the narration gets in the way of the story that is being told. Two notable examples of this are Anthony Burgess’ “A Clockwork Orange” and Russell Hoban’s “Riddley Walker”.

Both of these novels are set in dystopian futures and are narrated from the perspective of young men who have grown up in these worlds. In both novels, the narration reflects how the dystopian surroundings have altered the English language (by using lots of made-up street slang, phonetic spellings etc..).

In principle, this should immerse the reader into the story, but it often just leaves the reader feeling confused. This is because the reader is left to work out the meanings of the many unfamiliar words in these stories from the context that they are used in (although, apparently, the American edition of “A Clockwork Orange” actually includes a glossary).

This interrupts the “flow” of the story and places more emphasis on the narration than the story itself. In fact, I actually stopped reading “Riddley Walker” after about twenty or thirty pages because the confusing narration annoyed me so much that I just didn’t want to read it anymore.

On the other hand, a cyberpunk novel like “Neuromancer” by William Gibson can make something like this work really well. But, why?

Although the narration in “Neuromancer” bombards the reader with lots of futuristic jargon, this is combined with a much more readable and “matter of fact” style of narration that is inspired by thriller novels and old “hardboiled” pulp novels. In other words, most of the novel is narrated in standard English, but with the occasional futuristic word added every now and then.

This standard narration gives the reader a familiar reference point to cling on to whilst trying to work out what the futuristic words in the novel mean. The novel’s narration is also rather fast-paced too, which holds the reader’s interest and also allows them to quickly gloss over anything that they don’t understand.

So, yes, it’s important to think about how the narrative style you use relates to the story you are telling. Whether you use a style that complements the story or one that contrasts with it, you need to think carefully about what you are trying to do and what effect it will have on the reader.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Differences Between Thriller Fiction And Horror Fiction

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about some of the differences between thriller and horror fiction. This is mostly because I tried to read a thriller novel called “The Storm” by Clive Cussler & Graham Brown a few days after re-reading a horror novel called “Erebus” by Shaun Hutson.

Surprisingly, I ended up abandoning “The Storm” (despite really enjoying Cussler & Brown’s “Zero Hour) after about forty pages and started to read a gothic vampire novel instead. One reason for this was probably that my expectations had changed after I’d got back into reading horror novels occasionally.

This then made me think about the differences between thriller fiction and horror fiction. Since, on the surface, these two genres have a lot in common with each other – they revolve around creating suspense and evoking strong emotions. They rely on clever pacing and good plotting. They rely on being a little bit “larger than life” in different ways. Plus, thriller stories will often contain horror elements and vice versa. Yet, there are differences.

1) Characterisation: Simply put, horror fiction will often devote more time to characterisation than thriller fiction will. This allows the horrific events of a horror story to have more of an impact on the reader because they “know” the characters and can empathise with them more.

Even splatterpunk horror fiction, which will often feature lots of grisly background character deaths, will still give those background characters a moderate amount of characterisation because their fate is more shocking when the audience can empathise with them.

On the other hand, traditional-style thriller fiction will often sacrifice characterisation in order to place more emphasis on fast pacing, gripping events and thrilling action. Although this may sound bad, it is one of the things that gives thriller novels their characteristic speed and energy.

Because the main characters in thriller stories are often a variation on the traditional “action hero” character, the audience knows what to expect – so the writer can spend more time on describing their thrilling exploits. This focus on events rather than characters also means that the violent events of a thriller novel will often come across as “thrilling fast-paced action” rather than “horrific brutality“. So, there are good practical reasons for the slightly less detailed and more stylised characterisation in thriller novels.

2) Mystery: Although “solving a mystery” is the engine that drives many thriller and horror novels, this is used in subtly different ways in each genre.

In thriller fiction, it is used to propel the characters into action and, in horror fiction, it is used to create a sense of unease and dread. In thriller fiction, the mystery is a puzzle to be solved and, in horror fiction, the mystery is an unknown threat to the characters.

The difference between these two things can be seen perfectly when comparing the early parts of Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus” and Clive Cussler & Graham Brown’s “The Storm”. In both stories, the solution to the mystery is made obvious to the reader (either directly or indirectly) fairly early on. But the effects that this has on the story couldn’t be more different.

In “Erebus”, it’s obvious to anyone who’s ever seen a horror movie that the story’s mysterious chemical company probably has something to do with the horrific events that are happening in the local village. Yet, this doesn’t really lessen the horror elements of the story. After all, the focus of the story is on the effects that the chemical company’s actions have and the chilling fact that they can do things like this. The only real mystery is “could it be worse than I imagine it might be?“.

On the other hand, almost directly after a rather mysterious horror movie-style scene during the third (?) chapter of “The Storm”, there’s a chapter where the novel’s villains gather together and explain exactly what happened and why it happened. This completely sabotages any sense of thrilling suspense that the story has.

After all, the main attraction of a story like this is watching a highly-skilled protagonist uncover and prevent a nefarious plot. Since the novel is part of a series, we know that the protagonist will prevail. So, the only remaining attraction is watching him find the solution to the mystery. And this only works if the audience doesn’t already know the solution…

3) Narrative style: Although I’ve talked about this before, it’s worth repeating. The narration in horror stories, even “low-brow” splatterpunk stories, vampire novels etc.. has a surprising amount in common with the more complex narration found in more “high-brow” literary fiction.

Both will often use vivid descriptions, emotional descriptions and pithy observations. They will also use a reasonably varied and complex vocabulary too. This also usually means that the pace of the story will be slightly slower.

Thriller novels, especially streamlined ultra-thrilling modern ones, don’t do this. Their approach to narration is much more “matter of fact” and has more in common with the classic hardboiled pulp detective fiction of the 1920s-50s. This isn’t “better” or “worse” than horror fiction, it’s just different.

But, why are they so different? Simply put, it’s because they need to achieve different things.

For a horror story to work properly, it needs to build atmosphere and suspense. It needs to create vivid, disturbing images in the minds of the audience. It needs to immerse the audience in the story, so that they feel like the horror is happening to them. In a splatterpunk novel, the writer also has to contrast beautiful narration with ugly events for dramatic effect. To be able to do all of this well, you need to use fairly “high definition” writing that may be slower to read, but has a lot more depth to it.

On the other hand, a good thriller novel needs to focus on speed. It needs to be something where the reader is furiously turning the page to see what happens next. It needs to be something where the writing doesn’t get in the way of the action. It needs to be something that the reader can’t put down because it’s really easy to read another chapter. It’s kind of like an older computer game running on a more modern computer – yes, the “graphics” might not look as good, but the game will run ridiculously quickly and smoothly! And, in a thriller novel, this is what you want to achieve.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂