Three Tips For Writing Reassuring Horror Fiction

Well, I recently ended up thinking about the topic of reassuring horror fiction recently. And, yes, I know that this sounds like a contradiction in terms – but, horror fiction can be reassuring.

A day or so before I wrote this article, I was stressed out by various things and I also realised that I had to start reading another novel if I wanted to post a review here tomorrow. I’d planned to read a more high-brow novel, but I just didn’t feel in the mood for it.

So, I started reading a sci-fi horror novel (“Aliens: Rogue” by Sandy Schofield) instead. This was the kind of cheesy horror novel I used to read all the time when I was a teenager and it just felt reassuring to be reading this type of fiction again. Like watching a favourite old film or playing an old computer game you really love.

So, I thought that I’d offer a few tips for writing reassuring horror fiction because, yes, horror fiction can be reassuring. So, let’s get started:

1) Unrealistic horror: One of the first ways to write reassuring horror is to make sure that the horrors in your story are clearly unrealistic.

Whether they’re zombies, monsters, vampires etc… the trick here is to come up with a story that will be grippingly suspenseful but, when it is over, your audience will have no reason to keep feeling afraid. This helps your audience to feel tough and fearless and, as such, will make your story feel considerably more reassuring.

And, yes, familiarity helps a lot here too. A classic cinematic example of this is the first “Nightmare On Elm Street” movie. The film itself contains some inventively macabre moments and some nail-biting suspense, but the horror doesn’t linger afterwards for the simple reason that Freddy Krueger is such a pop culture icon. He’s an over-the-top, fantastical monster who is conceptually scary (eg: the idea of a monster who haunts people’s dreams) but, because he’s so well-known, he isn’t likely to shock or disturb the audience too much.

A good literary example is probably Clive Barker’s “The Scarlet Gospels“. This novel is an incredibly gruesome, fast-paced horror thriller – but it isn’t really that scary for the simple reason that the novel’s main villain is such a well-known horror monster (after all, Clive Barker created the “Hellraiser” franchise). So, the reader gets to experience a grisly trip to hell and back without feeling too scared because, chances are, they’ve already seen at least one or two of the “Hellraiser” films and know what to expect.

But, of course, if you’re writing your own horror fiction, then you’ll either have to come up with your own horror monsters (make them witty, over-the-top, slightly silly etc..) or use popular types of monsters that aren’t copyrighted (eg: vampires, werewolves, zombies etc…).

2) Tough protagonists: Real, frightening horror is all about vulnerability. It’s about being alone at night and hearing something approaching. It’s about finding yourself out of your depth. It’s about bleakness, hopelessness and sorrow. It’s about facing certain and inevitable death. All of this stuff is, as you might have guessed, not particularly reassuring.

So, a good way to make your horror fiction a bit more reassuring is to give your protagonists the means and skills to confidently fight back against the horror.

For example, I recently read a novel called “Patient Zero” by Jonathan Maberry. It’s a military action-thriller novel with zombies in it. It was quite a lot of fun to read, but not particularly scary for the simple reason that – even when the main character is unarmed – he’s a well-trained soldier with lots of martial arts experience. As such, whilst the novel is certainly gruesome and suspenseful, you get all of the drama of a horror novel without any of the lingering unease or fear.

The best examples of this sort of thing can, of course, be found in computer and video games. For example, the reason why horror-themed first-person shooter games like “Doom II“, “Left 4 Dead 2“, “Quake” etc.. aren’t very scary is because you’re usually playing as either a well-armed soldier or part of an expert team.

By contrast, a game like “Silent Hill 3” is about fifty times more terrifying for the simple reason that your character is a lone teenager who isn’t very good with weapons (and the game’s combat system is deliberately slow and imprecise to reflect this fact).

So, if your main character is tough and has the means to confidently fight back against the horrors they encounter, then your horror story will be a lot more reassuring.

3) Gory horror: This might sound counter-intuitive but, just because you’re writing a reassuring horror story, don’t be afraid to make it really gruesome. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First of all, gruesome horror is only scary when it also includes other forms of horror too. So, if you don’t include those, then you can make your story as gory as you want whilst also making your audience feel brave and tough because they aren’t feeling too scared by it.

For example, compare the films “Shaun Of The Dead” and “Saw III” – both films contain buckets of stage blood, but “Shaun Of The Dead” is a comedy about zombies. It’s gory, but it isn’t frightening because there are no other types of horror present.

On the other hand, “Saw III” is a scary, shocking, disturbing and unsettling film (people actually fainted when it was shown in cinemas) for the simple reason that all of the film’s gory scenes are accompanied by “realistic” examples of several other types of horror – such as vulnerability, cruelty/sadism, hopelessness, certain death, psychological horror etc….

Secondly, over-the-top gory horror isn’t inherently scary if it is presented in a clearly unrealistic context. In essence, the less likely something is to actually happen in real life, the less genuinely frightening it will be (and the more “fearless” your audience will feel whilst reading it).

This is why, for example, an ultra-gruesome zombie apocalypse novel probably won’t be very scary, but something like a short description of realistic horrors (eg: warfare, disease, violent crimes, natural disasters etc..) will be disturbing. So, if your horror story takes place in an unrealistic context, then you can make it as gruesome as you want without disturbing your audience too much.

So, yes, reassuring horror doesn’t have to mean sanitised horror.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Three Tips For Finding Your Own “Style” Of Horror Fiction

If you’re interested in writing horror fiction, then one of the things that can really surprise you is when the type of horror fiction that you enjoy reading isn’t the same as the type that you are best at writing.

So, I thought that I’d offer a few tips for finding your own “style” of horror fiction.

1) Experimentation and introspection: As any evil scientist will tell you, nothing beats good old-fashioned experiments. Simply put, the best way to work out whether a particular type of horror fiction really works for you is simply to try writing some of it. In addition to showing you what you are good at, it’ll also show you what doesn’t work for you.

And, as I mentioned earlier, this might catch you by surprise. The things that you enjoy as a reader might not be the same things you really thrive at writing. This can happen for a number of reasons – perhaps it was written in a different context to the one you’re writing in? Perhaps you don’t know enough about your favourite genre of horror to feel confident enough about writing it? Is the stuff you enjoy reading too intellectual or not intellectual enough? Who knows?

Once you’ve got over the shock of “I can’t write this, but I really enjoy reading it”, try to work out why. As soon as you work out the reasons for this, then you can either take steps (eg: research, writing practice etc..) to get better at the genre of horror you want to write or, more interestingly, you can use what you’ve learnt in order to find genres of horror fiction that do work for you.

2) Other influences: Another way to find your own style of horror fiction is just to look at your other influences and see if you can find a way to add a bit of horror to them. And, yes, you should have influences from outside the horror genre too. In fact, you almost certainly already do.

I mean, unless you’ve spent your entire life watching nothing but horror movies, reading nothing but horror novels, playing nothing but horror videogames and listening to nothing but the growlier types of heavy metal then you’re going to have other influences, whether you know it or not. And this is a good thing.

Why? If you want to come up with your own unique, distinctive “style” of horror then you’re going to have to introduce stuff from outside the horror genre. After all, fans of the horror genre are already familiar with everything within the horror genre. So, if you want to create horror fiction that’s a bit more unique and a bit more “you”, then you’re going to have to look outside the genre at the things you love for inspiration.

And, sometimes, the style of horror fiction you thrive at writing might be different to the type you enjoy reading. One reason for this can simply be that the greatest influences on your writing come from outside the horror genre. So, try to find a way to add some horror to them rather than just trying to copy the horror novels you enjoy reading.

3) Your own fears and sensibilities: Although the old advice to write about what actually scares you might seem simplistic at first glance, it’s actually really clever advice – if you put some thought into it first. In other words, instead of just copy-pasting your phobias and nightmares onto the page, try to work out why they scare you so much.

Once you’ve worked this out, you can take the basic underlying idea and apply it to much more interesting and imaginative situations. You can give your story a level of personality and depth that a simple monster story cannot.

And, yes, many of the famous tropes of the horror genre started out this way. For example, although zombies might be grotesque-looking walking corpses, this usually isn’t the main source of horror in a good zombie story. In a good zombie story, the zombies will often be a metaphor for some other, more realistic, fear – such as disease, loss of individuality, societal collapse, mortality, bereavement/grief, existential meaninglessness etc…

So, yes, do a bit of introspection and work out why your fears exist – then take that knowledge and use it in a new and imaginative way.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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 🙂

Four Reasons Why 1970s/80s Horror Fiction Is So Cool

Well, although my next book review will be of a more modern horror novel (“Empire Of Salt” by Weston Ochse), one of the cool things that I’ve re-discovered after getting back into reading regularly are 1970s/80s horror novels (like Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus“, Richard Lewis’ “Devil’s Coach-Horse” etc..).

Back when I was a teenager during the 2000s, I absolutely loved reading second-hand copies of novels like these and I considered them to be the coolest genre of fiction in the world. And, even as a slightly more jaded and cynical adult, I still think that these novels are pretty cool. But, why are they so cool? Here are a few reasons:

1) The cover art: One of the awesome things about old 1970s/80s horror novels is that you can always tell when you’ve found one. Why? Because they have some of the coolest and most distinctive cover art that I’ve ever seen. They look like this:

And, yes, the Shaun Hutson cover is a 2000s reprint. And I haven’t reviewed “Cabal” yet – mostly since I already read it twice when I was younger [Edit: Expect a review of “Cabal” in mid-August].

Not only do these novel covers understand the value of good visual storytelling (seriously, something dramatic is happening in each of them!) but they also use lighting in a really cool way too.

If you’ve done any reading into art history, you’ve probably heard of Tenebrism before – this is a historical style of art (used by artists like Caravaggio and Joseph Wright Of Derby), milder forms of this style also are often called “chiaroscuro”.

Anyway, this is where an artist deliberately adds lots of darkness and shadows to their art in order to make the light/lighting stand out much more boldly by contrast. You can also see this technique on some old heavy metal album covers too. And it looks amazing 🙂

As a side note, although I’m painting realistic landscapes at the moment [Edit: Expect ordinary paintings to start returning more regularly from mid-June onwards], if you ever want to know where I learnt my approach to lighting in most of the art I’ve posted here during the past couple of years, then one of the major influences has been old horror novel covers. So, yes, the cover art from these awesome books can be very inspirational:

“Metal Returns” By C. A. Brown

“Haunted Mansion” By C. A. Brown

2) Splatterpunk: I’ve talked a lot about the splatterpunk genre recently and it never gets old. If you’ve never heard about splatterpunk before, it is a term for a trend within horror fiction during the 1970s-90s that involved moving away from leaving stuff to the reader’s imaginations and towards describing all of the gory details instead.

And, yes, these 1970s-90s splatterpunk novels are gruesome. Seriously, some of them make the “Saw” movies look like Disney films by comparison. But, why is splatterpunk fiction so cool?

There are a few reasons. The first is that it was a brilliantly rebellious reaction to the stricter film censorship of the 1980s (eg: the “Video Nasties” moral panic in the UK). The second reason is because this emphasis on gruesome horror often lends the stories a surprisingly timeless quality (again, modern horror movies seem fairly tame in comparison to some splatterpunk novels).

The third reason is because splatterpunk fiction had an influence on the horror genre as a whole. The fourth reason is because they often had a rather rebellious/subversive attitude towards authority. Finally, they combine the atmospheric narration of traditional horror fiction with the slightly more fast-paced storytelling of an old-school thriller novel.

3) Their popularity: If you’ve done any online reading into the history of horror fiction, you’ll have probably heard of the “horror boom” of the 1970s-90s. This was a time when horror fiction was actually a popular genre of fiction.

And, if you ever saw the woefully slender “horror” shelf of a major UK bookshop during the 2000s/early 2010s (or the way it is sometimes lumped in with “sci-fi & fantasy” – both of which should also get their own dedicated shelves- these days, if it even appears at all), then this history will fill you with both sorrow at the current state of the genre and the hope that one day it will return to it’s former popularity, like a zombie rising from the grave.

Plus, it’s just cool to read horror novels from a time when they were almost mainstream literature 🙂 Seriously, I still can’t get over how cool this is 🙂

4) They’re still very readable: Although some 1970s/80s horror novels haven’t aged well, most of them have aged surprisingly well. One of the really interesting things about a lot of old horror novels is that they rarely seem that “retro”. They often read like more modern stories that just don’t include modern technology.

Although a few of them seem either wonderfully retro or horribly dated when read these days, most of them stand the test of time surprisingly well. This is because, at their core, they are often timeless tales of human drama and/or survival. Likewise, they are often structured in a vaguely similar way to an old-style thriller novel (albeit with a few different narrative techniques) which really helps to keep these stories compelling.

In addition to this, the writing style used in many of these older horror novels is descriptive enough to be atmospheric but “matter of fact” enough to be read at a reasonable pace. Although this writing style is probably a little bit “formal” when compared to modern horror/thriller novels, it is still astonishingly readable even to this day.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting

Three Tips For Writing 1980s-Style Horror Fiction

My first encounter with the wonderful world of 1980s horror fiction was during the early 2000s when, as a young teenager, I happened to find a copy of Shaun Hutson’s 1988 novel “Assassin” in the horror section of an indoor market book stall in Stafford.

When I read it, I was amazed that literature could be that gruesome, shocking and controversial. It showed me that books could be rebellious. Needless to say, I read lots of old 1980s horror novels (in addition to a few 1970s and 1990s ones) when I was a teenager. They were also the thing that first really made me interested in writing fiction.

And, when I briefly got back into writing short stories last year, I had a lot of fun writing stuff that involved this type of fiction. For example, this story includes an “extract” from a fictional 1980s horror novel.

As such, I thought that I’d offer a few tips for writing 1980s-style horror fiction. I’ll mostly be focusing on British-style horror fiction (eg: Shaun Hutson, James Herbert, Clive Barker, Graham Masterton, Guy N. Smith etc..) here, since I’ve had much more experience with reading this type of 1980s horror fiction.

1) Splatterpunk: It is impossible to talk about 1980s horror fiction without talking about splatterpunk.

In short, this is a cool-sounding term for horror fiction that is more gruesome than even the most extreme modern horror movies. Although 1980s Britain was notorious for strict film censorship (eg: the “video nasties” moral panic) – thanks to the Lady Chatterley trial, horror literature had none of these silly over-protective restrictions during the 1980s.

But, splatterpunk fiction is more than just page upon page of gory descriptions – it has a very distinctive style, atmosphere and set of narrative techniques that are worth learning.

One of these techniques is how the genre handles side-characters. In short, splatterpunk novels will often include a few chapters that introduce new background characters… only for each of them to die horribly at the end of their chapter.

Not only does this allow for more shockingly macabre moments, it also gives the story a greater degree of scope – since we get to see what is happening outside of the lives of the main characters. In addition to this, when these types of chapters are placed near the beginning of the book, it adds some suspenseful uncertainty about who will (and won’t) be a main character. It also creates an ominously chilling atmosphere where life is cheap and death can lurk anywhere.

In addition to this, 1980s splatterpunk novels are often written in a more descriptive, formal and slow-paced way than you might expect. For example, even though Shaun Hutson was considered a “low brow” horror author during the 1980s, his 1980s novels are often written in a way that would almost be considered “literary” these days. So, don’t try to write a 1980s-style splatterpunk story in the fast-paced style of a modern thriller novel. The descriptive, slightly formal style is there for a reason. It helps to add atmosphere, vividness and suspense to the story.

Since it includes the word “punk”, splatterpunk fiction also displays a gleeful contempt for authority too. Most of the time, this takes the form of shadowy government conspiracies (eg: the military sealing off a town is a favourite trope) but it is also shown through things like the police being useless at preventing horrific events and/or hindering the main characters in some way etc…

Finally, another defining feature of 1980s splatterpunk fiction is the choice of mundane – often rural- settings. Most classic British splatterpunk novels will be set in ordinary small towns and feature ordinary people. This is mostly because one of the defining types of horror in 1980s splatterpunk fiction is contrasting the ordinary with the grotesque.

2) Creatures and monsters: It is impossible to talk about 1980s-style horror fiction without talking about creatures and monsters. This trend started in 1974 when James Herbert’s “The Rats” was published, but it only reached peak popularity during the late 1970s and the 1980s.

This was when novels like Shaun Hutson’s “Slugs” novels, Michael R. Linaker’s “Scorpion“, Guy N. Smith’s so-bad-that-they’re-good “Crabs” novels and Richard Lewis’ “Devil’s Coach-Horse” (which is on my “to read” list) were published.

I’ve written a more detailed article about this genre. But, in short, these types of stories typically involve some kind of animal, crustacean or insect that becomes mutated and attacks the population a small town.

Usually, the government’s response is to cover up the incident and/or obliterate the town. This genre also overlaps quite heavily with the splatterpunk genre, with the mutated creatures often devouring or killing many characters in a variety of inventively grotesque ways.

From all of the background reading I’ve done online, some theories as to the popularity of this type of horror fiction include things like it being an expression of Cold War anxieties about nuclear war (James Herbert’s “Domain” is a genuinely chilling exploration of this theme) or possibly a hangover from the “invasion literature” genre that was popular here in Britain during the early 20th century.

But, regardless, if you want to write a “1980s Britain” horror story, then including mutated creatures is one way to do it.

3) Don’t be too “retro”: One of the surprising things about 1980s horror fiction is just how… ordinary… it is. Yes, it often doesn’t age well. But, for the most part, there’s very little of the modern, stylised “nostalgic” version of the 1980s that you might expect when you think about this genre.

In short, 1980s horror fiction is just like ordinary literature – but without smartphones, the internet or stuff like that. So, if you’re writing “1980s” horror fiction, then don’t go overboard with the retro nostalgia.

For example, if your character is watching a VHS tape on a CRT television – then just write something like “she turned on the TV and played the video” rather than including a long description of the old TV and the VCR.

Remember that these novels were originally meant to be current novels about horrible things happening to ordinary people in ordinary places. As such, they don’t focus obsessively on anything that is distinctively “80s”. They just tell stories about ordinary people in ordinary places in an ordinary way. They weren’t written for nostalgia.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Silly Tips For Writing “Creature Feature” Horror Stories

Well, since I’m currently reading a “so bad that it’s good” horror novel from the early 1980s called “Scorpion” by Michael R. Linaker (after reading this review of it made me morbidly curious enough to get a copy of it), I thought that I’d talk about a sub-genre of splatterpunk fiction that has been pretty much forgotten these days. I am, of course, talking about “creature feature” horror novels.

During the 1970s and 1980s, these horror novels were relatively popular here in Britain – and I remember reading at least five or six second-hand copies of them when I was a teenager during the early-mid 2000s.

The “creature feature” genre started with James Herbert’s “The Rats” in 1974, which was a novel that revolved around London being terrorised by giant, flesh-eating rats. Although Herbert followed this up with two sequels (“Lair” and “Domain”), he also started a new sub-genre of horror fiction.

This resulted in novels like “Slugs” and “Breeding Ground” by Shaun Hutson (about giant, flesh-eating slugs) and several hilariously terrible novels by Guy N. Smith about giant crabs (And, yes, I’ve read at least two of these).

So, from what I can remember of reading these books and from what I’ve seen so far in Linaker’s “Scorpion”, I thought that I’d offer a few silly tips about writing in this forgotten genre:

1) Choosing a creature: When choosing a creature for your creature feature story, it’s usually a good idea to go for pests and/or vermin. James Herbert chose rats, Shaun Hutson chose slugs, Guy N. Smith chose crabs, Michael R. Linaker chose scorpions etc…

But, why? Simply put, many types of pests and vermin are inherently creepy. So, making them slightly larger and more bloodthirsty is a very easy way to tap into this instinctive feeling of horror. In addition to this, some types of invertebrates already contain natural weapons (eg: a scorpion’s sting, a crab’s claws etc..) and these can easily be increased in size or potency in order to present a terrifying threat to your story’s characters.

But, if you want to make your story more funny than creepy, go for creatures that aren’t inherently “icky”. For example, although seagulls steal food, fill the air with screeching and leave a mess on people’s shoulders (almost as if they were aiming for them), they aren’t exactly frightening. So, if you tried to use them in a horror novel, it would be hilariously terrible:

Like this.

Then again, “hilariously terrible” is kind of the whole point of the genre. Even so, if you want to at least make your story vaguely scary, go for commonly feared and/or reviled pests or vermin (eg: beetles, spiders, flies, leeches etc..) when choosing your creature.

2) The reason: Simply put, the creature feature genre is very similar to the zombie apocalypse genre. However, there usually has to be some kind of reason (however silly) for ordinary creatures and/or insects to turn into ravenous, bloodthirsty beasts. The typical cause tends to be something like radiation, genetic mutation, ancient curses and/or science gone terribly awry!

The main reason why you have to include this in creature feature stories is to give the main characters something to do. Whilst any vaguely sensible person would just run away from the ravenous three-foot mutant dung beetles, this doesn’t really make for a very compelling story. So, you need to come up with some reason for the creature attacks that the main characters can investigate. Even if it’s really obvious, it still has to be there…

Hmm… I wonder why that dung beetle is so large?

3) Characters and numbers: Finally, even if you’re writing a parody of this genre, you still need to put some effort into characterisation. Without it, your scenes of horror will lack drama.

No matter how elegantly or graphically you describe a character being devoured by a swarm of rabid guinea pigs, this scene won’t have much of a dramatic impact if your readers don’t know who rabid guinea pig victim #7 is, why they are being devoured by guinea pigs and what their life was like before this happened.

Likewise, one thing that sets 1970s-80s creature feature novels apart from the monster movies of the 1950s is the number of creatures. In other words, you can’t just have one evil creature. You need a large swarm of slightly smaller ones. As I said, this genre has a lot in common with the zombie genre. One zombie isn’t particularly dramatic, a thousand zombies on the other hand….

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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 🙂