Three Ways To Survive A Horror Publishing Drought

Well, since I’m focusing on the horror genre more than usual this month, I thought that I’d look at a rather dark period in the genre’s history – because it provides some interesting lessons about what to do when no-one seems to want to publish horror fiction.

Anyway, some context. Between the mid-1970s and the early-mid 1990s, horror fiction was apparently an incredibly popular genre. Numerous authors published horror novels and, from the sheer number of old horror novels I found in second-hand shops/charity shops during my teenage years in the ’00s, they were read a lot more widely than they are now.

But, at some point during the 1990s, horror fiction fell out of fashion in publishing. In fact, it’s only within the past decade that modern horror fiction actually seems to be gaining some vague level of popularity again. Even so, finding a dedicated “horror” shelf in bookshops today is more difficult than it used to be – even when horror fiction was at it’s least popular. At best, horror is often lumped in with sci-fi & fantasy these days.

But, despite this, authors from the heyday of horror fiction kept publishing new books when the genre was in decline. So, how did they survive?

1) Related genres: In 1980s Britain, two of the biggest names in horror fiction were Clive Barker and Shaun Hutson. Although there was apparently some antagonism/rivalry between the two authors during the 1980s, they both wrote splatterpunk horror novels during that decade. And, when horror fiction fell out of fashion, both of them dealt with this crisis in a vaguely similar way.

They looked through their own fiction for any other genres hidden in there and focused more on those genres.

For example, Shaun Hutson’s 1980s horror fiction often has a strong “gritty realism” element to it. So, during the horror drought of the 1990s/early-mid 2000s, he took this element and used it to write several grim, gritty, ultra-violent crime thrillers instead (eg: “Exit Wounds”, “Deadhead” etc..). Since this genre seems to be eternally popular, Hutson was still able to write stories that were similar in tone to his classic horror fiction at a time when many publishers avoided horror fiction.

On the other hand, Clive Barker’s 1980s horror fiction often has a strong dark fantasy element to it. This meant that, when horror fell out of fashion, he was still able to write several novels that included his distinctive interpretation of the fantasy genre (in addition to a couple of general fiction novels) – even though it wasn’t until the 2000s that he was able to reintroduce more horror elements into his fiction (with novels like “Coldheart Canyon” and “Mister B. Gone”).

The lesson in all of this is that, if you write horror, then you’ve probably also got another genre hiding in your fiction too. So, if you find it difficult to publish horror fiction, then focus slightly more on that other genre.

2) Fame:
When I was a teenager during the early-mid ’00s, one thing that I’d always see on the shockingly slender “horror” shelves in major bookshops were several Stephen King novels. At the time, this used to really annoy me (since I expected a wider variety of authors). But, in retrospect, this offers a really interesting lesson in how to survive a horror publishing drought.

In short, fame can be extremely useful during a horror drought. Yes, this is probably the most difficult way to survive a horror drought (since you also need a horror boom in order to get that fame in the first place) but it can work. I mean, thanks to numerous film adaptations, regular publications and being a household name, Stephen King was still able to put out new horror fiction during a time when publishers were apparently reluctant to even consider printing stuff in this genre.

Likewise, the next novel I plan to review (“The Vampire Armand” by Anne Rice) was first published in 1998. This is a gothic horror novel about vampires that was published at a time when horror fiction wasn’t a popular genre. How and why did this book get around this obstacle? At a guess, it’s probably due to both the famous 1994 film adaptation of Rice’s “Interview With The Vampire” and the fact that Rice is a very well-known author with a lot of fans. So, yes, fame can be useful during a horror drought.

3) Smaller presses and/or self-publishing: Although mainstream publishing’s interest in the horror genre can vary over time, there is always going to be an audience for it. As such, smaller presses can help to keep the horror genre alive during publishing droughts. Not to mention that, these days, self-publishing is much easier than it probably was during the 1990s/early-mid 2000s too.

For example, even though horror fiction was probably slightly more popular during the late 2000s, one of my enduring memories of that time period was seeing books from a slightly lesser-known publisher/imprint called Abaddon Books on the horror shelves of major bookshops.

Although this smaller press only really seemed to last a couple of years, they mostly published horror novels (with collections like the awesome zombie-themed “Tomes Of The Dead” collection) and it was really really cool to actually see new horror novels in bookshops back then.

So, yes, smaller presses and/or self-publishing can certainly be an option whenever the mainstream publishing industry loses interest in the horror genre.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂


Three Reasons Why Horror Writers Shouldn’t Just Read Horror Fiction

If you’re interested in writing horror fiction, you’ve probably heard the old piece of advice about how you shouldn’t just read horror fiction (and, yes, reading regularly is an important part of being a writer).

Anyway, deciding to have a horror marathon for this month’s book reviews reminded me of this advice. Especially since my reaction to focusing on horror novels rather than my usual mixture of genres (eg: sci-fi, detective, historical, urban fantasy/dark fantasy, thriller and horror fiction) was a bit different than I’d expected. So, I thought that I’d offer a few reasons why horror writers shouldn’t just read horror fiction.

1) It’ll make your stories more interesting: This has been said before by many other people, but it’s one of the main reasons why horror writers shouldn’t just read horror fiction.

In short, many of the best horror stories often take inspiration from outside of the horror genre. They’re frightening, creepy, unpredictable, compelling or dramatic because they also borrow elements from other genres.

For example, one of the scariest horror novels I’ve read in recent months is Nick Cutter’s “The Deep“. Whilst this novel uses a lot of horror genre techniques to great effect, it’s also interesting and unsettling because of the sci-fi elements that it includes.

Yes, sci-fi and horror are hardly a new combination (for a reverse example, read “Blood Music” by Greg Bear – a sci-fi novel with some horror elements) , but it adds a lot more potential and possibilities to a horror story than just the traditional settings of old buildings, gloomy streets etc…

Another example is the novel I’m reading at the moment, “Lifeblood” by P.N.Elrod (the sequel to Elrod’s “Bloodlist). Although this novel isn’t really particularly scary, it’s a really cool blend of the vampire genre and the hardboiled detective fiction of the 1920s-50s (eg: Chandler, Hammett, Spillane etc..). This alone makes it much more creative and interesting than the average vampire novel.

In short, if you want to make your horror novel more interesting, then you need to read other genres. Not only that, reading other genres will also teach you techniques that you might not learn from horror fiction alone. For example, if you want to learn how to write suspense and/or fast-paced scenes, then read thriller novels. If you want to learn how to add atmosphere, then read historical fiction. If you want to learn how to make modern technology terrifying, read dystopian sci-fi etc….

2) Variety is the spice of life: In short, I’d expected this month’s horror marathon to be easy. After all, I read a lot of horror fiction when I was younger. But, it is proving to be a bit more of a challenge than I’d initially expected.

Whilst I still enjoy horror fiction and hope to continue the marathon, reading so much of it in such a short space of time has made me aware of the limitations of just reading one genre. Some things become easier to predict, it’s easier to feel jaded and you start seeing the same types of characters/situations again and again. After a while, it makes you crave some variety.

I mean, one of the reasons why I’m currently reading a detective novel that only has a vague connection to the horror genre is because, out of the three vampire novels I’d thought about reading, P.N.Elrod’s “Lifeblood” seemed the most different from a typical horror novel. I needed a short break.

But, why? Simply put, horror fiction “works” by surprising the reader. It works because it is so different to many other genres. But, if you just read horror fiction, then it becomes ordinary, mundane, humdrum…. So, taking a break and reading something different can make the horror genre feel fresh again when you return to it. In short, reading other stuff reminds you of why the horror genre is so awesome.

3) Your horror story needs other stuff: If you’ve read horror fiction, then you’ll know that it isn’t 100% horror 100% of the time. Yes, more scary stuff than usual happens in a horror novel, but this isn’t 100% of the novel.

Even the most frightening horror novel will also include things like humour, drama, suspense, romance etc.. in addition to scary characters, monsters and/or situations. But, why? Well, a horror story is still a story. It can’t just be a random collection of frightening moments. In order to “work”, a horror story needs to tell a story. And stories usually include non-horror elements too. Because real life does.

There’s also the fact that good horror relies on clever pacing. It relies on the contrast between frightening and non-frightening moments. It relies on making the reader care about the characters (via characterisation, drama etc..). I could go on for a while, but horror stories need non-horror elements. And you’ll learn how to write these well by reading a wide range of novels.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Tips For Making Your Horror Stories Re-Readable

Well, since I seem to be re-reading a few horror novels this month, I thought that I’d talk about re-readability today. After all, a horror story is at it’s most frightening when the reader encounters it for the first time. They don’t know what to expect, so they are more likely to feel shock or nervousness. Fear of the unknown is, after all, one of the most powerful types of fear out there.

But, if you want people to re-read your horror story, then what can you do? Here are a few basic tips.

1) Shock tactics: This is the crudest and least reliable way to get readers to come back to your horror story, but it can work sometimes.

This technique involves including something so shocking that it will linger in the reader’s memory long after they have forgotten everything else about your story. Whilst this will put some readers off from ever re-reading your novel, it may also spur morbid nostalgia in some other readers and make them want to re-read the story years later to see if it is as shocking as they remember.

Again, this is a very crude way of adding re-readability and it will probably backfire with a portion of your audience. But, don’t underestimate the value of “Is this really as shocking as I remember?

2) Atmosphere: A more sophisticated way to make your horror story re-readable is to include things that don’t rely on startling or shocking the reader. In other words, things like atmosphere, creepy background details, thematic elements, unseen horrors and stuff like that.

If you are able to create an ominous sense of dread, then this is probably going to “work” even when your reader already knows how the story’s plot will turn out.

This is why, despite some fairly dated elements, the vintage horror fiction of H.P.Lovecraft not only has an enduring fanbase but has also inspired many other horror writers too. Instead of relying on cheap shocks, Lovecraft tends to focus more on things that are creepy no matter how many times you read them (eg: psychological horror, unseen monsters, atmospheric descriptions etc..).

Likewise, if you create a suitably original, atmospheric and creepy fictional location for your story, then this place is going to linger in your audience’s imaginations. And, with the courage that comes from knowing how a story ends, your reader might even get nostalgic about this place.

A good videogame-based example of this are the first three “Silent Hill” games. Not only do these three game have an incredibly unsettling atmosphere that remains scary no matter how many times you play them, but the nightmarish locations are so creative that you’ll probably want to re-visit Silent Hill every now and then just out of morbid nostalgia.

3) Hidden depths: An even more sophisticated way to make your horror story re-readable is to add hidden depths to it. To add themes, subtext, humour etc… that only really becomes obvious when the reader already knows what to expect. In other words, put something behind the scares and shocks that your reader will only notice when they return to your story more well-prepared for it.

A great example of this is Chuck Palahniuk’s short story “Guts”. This is, upon first reading, an incredibly gross story that will make even the most jaded horror fans grimace and wince with horrified revulsion. It is a story with an inventively grotesque final act that you can’t un-read. It is the kind of story where having the fortitude to finish a first reading of it is probably something worth bragging about.

Yet, when I re-read it a year or two later, I found it hilarious. Because I knew what to expect, I didn’t feel shocked by the story’s events. So, all of the dark comedy hiding in the background was a lot more obvious than it had been the first time round. The immature stupidity of the characters, the common theme between the story’s three acts and the exaggerated nature of the story’s events are extremely funny. But, you’ll probably only notice this when you re-read the story.

So, yes, hiding a lot of interesting stuff behind your horror story’s more obviously frightening or disturbing elements can be a great way to give your readers some “added value” when they re-read your story.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Horror Movies Vs. Horror Novels – A Ramble

Well, since I seem to be going through more of a horror genre phase than usual, I thought that I’d compare horror movies and horror novels today (albeit with more of a focus on books, because this is what I’ve had more recent experience with and am more interested in at the moment).

I ended up thinking about this topic because, after spending quite a few months reading novels and watching very few films, I finally watched another horror movie (which I probably won’t review fully) the night before I prepared this article.

What can I say? I’d had an extremely stressful day and needed to relax, it was also technically Halloween (yes, I write the first drafts of these articles very far in advance) and the book I’m planning to review tomorrow is a short horror novella. So, for the first time in many months, I watched a horror movie.

If anyone is curious, the film in question was a fairly good one from 2011 called “The Cabin In The Woods“. It’s a clever twist on the monster/slasher genre, which contains a lot of comedy and also stars Chris Hemsworth and Bradley Whitford too. For a modern film, it’s also refreshingly short at an efficient 91-5 minutes in length too. Despite some of the criticisms I’ll make in this article, it’s still a fairly good film. I should probably also point out that this article may contain some SPOILERS for it (and for “Relics” by Shaun Hutson) though.

Anyway, the first thing I noticed after reading several horror novels during the past year is that the film was a bit “lighter” that I’d expected. Everything seemed to lack the intensity that I’d come to expect from a horror novel. The characters seemed more stylised than I’d expected, the moments of gruesome horror seemed more brief and tame than I’d expected and the story also lacked some of the depth/immersion that I’d come to expect from reading horror novels.

So, if you want really intense visceral horror, then horror novels have the advantage here. Not only do horror novels have a lot more space to develop their characters (which makes the audience care about them more), but they also have the space to focus a lot more on things like atmosphere and descriptions too. They also don’t have to pass a film censor either. As such, moments of horror can be more intense and more prolonged than in a horror movie.

Add to this the fact that monster-based scenes and gruesome scenes in horror novels don’t have to rely on special effects (and even the best effects in horror movies often only “work” when shown relatively briefly) and the score at the moment is: Horror novels 1 – Horror movies 0.

However, the film did do something that books can’t always do, it was relaxing. It was a way for me to turn off my brain for about 90 minutes and forget my troubles. Not only that, the general “lightness” of the film when compared to books was also a bonus for the simple reason that it made the film’s moments of dark comedy even funnier. In addition to all of this, some types of dark comedy – such as slapstick humour and rapid-fire dialogue – work better on the screen too. So, the score is one all at the moment.

But, one area where horror novels are way ahead of horror movies is originality. When “The Cabin In The Woods” was released, it was touted as a radically original twist on a stale genre. And, yes, it does do some fairly clever and original stuff. But, the film’s “surprising” ending is the type of thing that was done in a much more effective (and scary) way in a a 1980s Shaun Hutson novel I’d re-read recently.

Not to mention that this level of originality seems to be a lot more common in horror novels than it does in horror movies. Even just looking at horror novels from this decade, you can see this fairly easily.

Whether it’s S.L.Grey’s “The Mall“, a 2011 novel that blends “Silent Hill”-style horror and hilarious dystopian fiction in a South African shopping centre. Whether it’s Edgar Cantero’s 2018 novel “Meddling Kids“, which is a Lovecraftian parody of “Scooby Doo”.

Whether it’s Robert Brockway’s 2015 novel “The Unnoticeables“, which is a punk novel with some really innovative monsters. Whether it is Dana Fredsti’s “Ashley Parker” trilogy (2012-13), which are like “Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but with zombies“. I could go on for a while, but horror novels are more original more often than horror movies usually are.

So, Horror novels 2 – Horror movies 1.

On the other hand, horror movies get all of the fame. If you talk about a well-known horror movie, people will usually know what you are talking about. Likewise, since they tend to get advertised a lot more heavily than horror novels do, it’s easier to find horror movies than it is to find horror novels.

Add to this the fact that, these days, the horror genre is probably in better health on the screen than it is on the page (yes, modern horror novels do exist, but horror novels are nowhere near as popular as they apparently were in the 1980s) and it’s two all at the moment.

I could go on for a while, but I guess that they are both very different things with very different goals and sets of conventions, techniques etc… So, I guess that it’s best to say that if you want originality, depth and intensity, then read a horror novel. But, if you want to relax and to enjoy something that you can easily have conversations with other people about, then watch a horror movie.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Top Ten Articles – September 2019

Well, since it’s the end of the month, I thought that I’d do my usual thing of collecting a list of links to the ten best articles about writing etc.. that I’ve posted here over the past month. As usual, I’ll also include a couple of honourable mentions too.

Unfortunately, due to being very busy at the time of writing many of this month’s articles (in addition to suffering from a fairly heavy cold for a few days), the quality varied somewhat. But, on the bright side, there are more articles about the horror genre than usual, mostly thanks to the fact that I was reading a few horror novels and was also preparing last year’s Halloween stories at the time too.

In terms of book reviews, I ended up reviewing fourteen novels this month and my favourites were probably: “The Skin Palace” by Jack O’Connell, “Day Four” by Sarah Lotz, “The Deep” by Nick Cutter, “Universal Harvester” by John Darnielle and “And The Rest Is History” by Jodi Taylor.

Anyway, here are the lists 🙂 Enjoy 🙂

Top Ten Articles – September 2019:

– “Three Possible Reasons Why ‘Shock Value’ Was A Major Part Of British Horror Fiction During The 1980s
– “Three Basic Ways To Make Your Horror Story More Or Less Scary
– “Three Reasons Why Modern Creative Works Use Nostalgic Elements
– “Three Reasons Why Horror And Comedy Go Well Together
– “Three Reasons Why Paperback Books Are Awesome
– “Three Differences Between 2010s and 1980s Horror Fiction
– “Should You Use First Or Third Person Perspective Narration In Your Story?
– “Three Possible Reasons Why Paperback Cover Art Was Better In The 1980s
– “Three Basic Tips For Including Character Backstories In Your Story
– “Three Basic Tips For Writing Epic Large-Scale Battle Scenes

Honourable Mentions:

– “Three More Reasons Why Reading Is Better Than Gaming
– “Three Quick Tips For Adding Dark Comedy To Horror Stories

Three Basic Ways To Make Your Horror Story More Or Less Scary

Well, I felt like writing about horror fiction again and, having read horror novels of varying levels of scariness during the past few weeks, I thought that I’d look at ways to make a horror novel either more or less scary.

But, why would you ever want to make a horror story less scary? Although there are a few reasons for this, the main one is that it makes the reader feel more courageous. Plus, if a horror story is less scary, then it is also more entertaining and relaxing too.

So, here are a few tips for controlling how scary your horror story is:

1) Horror types: Simply put, the more different types of horror your story contains, the scarier it will be. Not only does this make the story less predictable, but it also means that you can take a break from one type of horror whilst simultaneously scaring the reader with another type of horror.

For example, you might switch from a scene of gory horror to a scene of suspenseful horror or psychological horror. When done well, this creates a constant stream of unrelenting terror that keeps the reader feeling absolutely petrified. The best example of this type of ultra-intense horror fiction that I’ve read recently is probably “The Deep” by Nick Cutter, which contains at least fourteen different types of horror.

On the other hand, if you want to make your horror story a bit less scary, then stick to just a few types of horror. If you only include a small number of different types of horror, then your reader is more likely to “get used” to them (and feel braver as a result). Likewise, you can also use the scenes between your moments of horror to include elements from other genres (eg: thriller, comedy, romance etc..) rather than as an opportunity for even more horror.

In addition to all of this, some types of horror are inherently scarier than others. So, if you want to really creep your readers out, then use things like psychological horror, paranormal/ghost-based horror, cruelty-based horror, bleak horror, character-based horror etc… and, if you want to go easy on your readers, then use things like monster horror, gory horror etc…

2) Showing more or less: This one is extremely counter-intuitive but, if you want your horror story to be more scary, then show less. If you want your horror story to be less scary then show more.

But, why? Showing less means that your audience have to use their imaginations in order to piece together the few clues that you’ve given them. As such, they will be thinking about the horrors you’ve described in a much greater level of detail. If it is mysterious enough, they’ll still be thinking about it for long after they’ve put the book down. Likewise, they’ll also get the feeling that whatever you haven’t shown is too unspeakably horrific to write about.

In addition to this, implied horror takes the emphasis away from the gruesomeness of what has happened and places it firmly on everything surrounding the horrific event (eg: pain, despair, sorrow, cruelty, nihilism, decay etc..). This can be much more disturbing than a simple gruesome or violent description.

But, “showing less” doesn’t mean “show nothing”. You still have to create the impression of horrific events through the use of a few grisly, unsettling and/or chilling details. You need to show the reader just enough to tell them that what you aren’t showing is ten times worse.

But, why is showing more less scary? First of all, graphic gruesome descriptions will often seem at least mildly melodramatic or unrealistic. This is usually because they rely on a lot of similes, metaphors and stock phrases (eg: the “stench of decay” etc..) that add a level of stylisation or distance to what is being described. Likewise, the emphasis is placed on the image of something horrific rather than on the emotions etc.. surrounding it.

Secondly, your reader will instinctively picture the vividly-described scene in the way that they feel the least uncomfortable with (eg: they might think about it in abstract, rather than visual, terms. They might picture it as a movie scene with low-budget special effects etc…)

So, if you want to make your reader feel “brave” or “tough”, rather than unsettled, then show more grisly details.

3) Characters: I’ve mentioned this before but, the more badass your characters are, the less scary your horror story will be.

If your characters are fearless heroes who have the skills and tools to fight back against whatever is threatening them, then your story will feel more like a gripping horror-themed thriller than a terrifying horror story. And, if you want your reader to feel courageous or if you just want to give your thriller story a bit more of an “edge”, then this can work really well 🙂

On the other hand, if you want to scare the crap out of your readers, then make your characters more vulnerable. Make them feel afraid or powerless. Make them feel uncertain. Make them be haunted by terrible memories that fill them with unease and uncertainty. Make sure that your characters feel like they are genuinely in danger from whatever is threatening them, or even from themselves. Make them seem more like realistic, flawed people than idealised fearless heroes.

So, yes, your characters play a huge role in how scary your horror story is.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Differences Between 2010s and 1980s Horror Fiction

Well, since I’m reading a modern horror novel (“The Deep” by Nick Cutter) at the moment and have read both older 1980s horror novels and more modern ones (like Edgar Cantero’s “Meddling Kids” and Sarah Lotz’s “Day Four) recently, I thought that I’d offer a few general observations about how modern horror novels differ from 1980s horror novels.

1) Psychological horror: The popular horror fiction of the 1980s (in Britain at least), mostly consists of ultra-gory splatterpunk fiction, grisly stories about giant animals/monsters etc.. This type of horror fiction is really dramatic, wonderfully cheesy and just generally fun to read, but it often isn’t really that scary. In a lot of ways, this is actually a good thing, since it makes the reader feel more courageous/tough than they actually are.

However, with the exception of the zombie genre (which is the last remnant of classic-style splatterpunk fiction 🙂 ), modern horror fiction has moved away from stylised, fantastical ultra-gruesome tales of the macabre. Yes, modern horror novels do still have grisly moments when required, but the focus often tends to be more on psychological horror.

This is mostly because this type of horror tends to be considerably scarier due to it’s realism. After all, we all have worries, uncertainties etc..

Although this is also something of a move back to the classic traditions of horror fiction (eg: mysterious ghost stories, H.P.Lovecraft etc…), it often tends to have a more irreverent, quirky and/or “realistic” tone to it these days. This lends modern horror novels a level of chilling relatability that more stylised 1980s novels may not have.

This focus on psychological horror also extends to stories about monsters too. For example, both Edgar Cantero’s “Meddling Kids” and Nick Cutter’s “The Deep” both include some kind of mysteriously malevolent antagonist. However, more emphasis is often placed on how the presence of this affects the characters psychologically rather than just on “Boo! A scary monster!“.

Likewise, a lot of the horror in Sarah Lotz’s “Day Four” and Nick Cutter’s “The Deep” comes from the bleak and desolate nature of the settings. In both stories, the characters are cut off from the rest of the world by the sea and this is used to create a lot of realistic suspense and tension. Yes, isolated settings are a traditional feature of the horror genre (and turn up in 1980s novels like Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus” and “The Skull), but the focus on how this isolation affects the characters is slightly more prominent in modern horror fiction.

So, modern horror fiction often tends to focus more on psychological horror than 1980s horror fiction does.

2) Nostalgia:
Although 1980s horror novels are wonderfully “retro” when read these days, they contain considerably less nostalgia than modern horror fiction does.

In 1980s horror fiction, the world of the novel is often just the “ordinary” world of the 1980s. Although some ’80s horror novels do contain historical flashbacks (eg: Whitley Strieber’s “The Hunger” and James Herbert’s “The Jonah), the tone of these segments is often anything but nostalgic.

On the other hand, modern horror fiction tends to focus a lot more on nostalgia. For example, Robert Brockway’s “The Unnoticeables” has lots of atmospheric segments about 1970s New York. Likewise, Edgar Cantero’s “Meddling Kids” is not only set in a vaguely “Twin Peaks”-like version of the early 1990s, but it is also a bit of a homage to the 1960s TV show “Scooby Doo” too.

There are a lot of possible reasons for this. First of all, contrasting the nostalgic warmth of the past with horrific stuff is one way to unsettle readers. Secondly, the past was a less technologically sophisticated time (allowing for the use of classic pre-internet/mobile phone horror tropes).

Thirdly, readers are likely to either have their own nostalgic memories of the 20th century or be curious about this part of history. Fourthly, it’s often a bit of a homage to the historical heyday of the horror genre. Fifthly, it’s kind of fun to see writers doing new things with established horror tropes.

3) Complex protagonists: Whilst the horror fiction of the 1980s did sometimes feature morally-ambiguous, complex and/or flawed protagonists (Strieber’s “The Hunger”, Clive Barker’s “Cabal” and Nancy A. Collins’ “Sunglasses After Dark” spring to mind), they weren’t really as common as they are these days. Often, the main character would just be an ordinary person who heroically stops the world from being overtaken by evil forces (or at least tries to do this).

Following up with my earlier point about psychological horror, modern horror protagonists tend to be a lot more complex, “realistic” and flawed. For example, the main character of Cutter’s “The Deep” is haunted by a terrifying past. The main characters in Sarah Lotz’s “Day Four” are a realistically complex and/or flawed assortment of people. Likewise, the main characters in Cantero’s “Meddling Kids” are a group of misfits whose lives have been ruined by one terrifying week during their youth.

But, why? Simply put, by making the protagonist a bit more conflicted, uncertain or vulnerable, the audience is less likely to assume that they are going to win or survive. It instantly adds extra suspense to a story. Likewise, making the protagonist less “authoritative” or confident also adds an unsettling element of unreliability to the story too.

It’s kind of like the difference between, say, “Resident Evil 3” and “Silent Hill 3“. In one of these horror videogames, your character is a confident and well-armed ex-police officer. In the other, your character is a frightened teenager. One of these games is considerably scarier than the other…


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂