Well, I thought that I’d take a quick look at a slightly old-school (and very much overlooked) ingredient in truly great horror fiction. I am, of course, talking about wonder. This is when the reader is left feeling awe-struck by something. When a story goes from being mere words on a page to being something almost magical. And, although this element might seem more at home in the sci-fi and fantasy genres, it can be used really well in horror fiction too.
A brilliant example of this is the horror novel I’m currently reading (“The Vampire Armand” by Anne Rice). Although this novel has some moments of horror and some disturbing story elements, the first half also includes a lot of moments of wonder (such as exquisitely evocative descriptions of Renaissance Venice). Seriously, this novel has a lot more wonder than you might expect in a horror novel.
Another awesome example is Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes“. This novel is written in such a wonderous, atmospheric and poetic way that the reader is left feeling both fascinated and scared by the creepy events of the story. It is difficult to describe, but the writing style is what turns this story from a “silly” story about a creepy funfair into something altogether more memorable, fascinating, powerful and profound.
Yet another example can be found in the horror and dark fantasy fiction of Clive Barker. For example, novels like “Cabal“, “The Scarlet Gospels” and “Weaveworld” will often include delightfully bizarre locations, fascinating distortions of reality, inventively unearthly creatures, beautiful narration etc… in addition to scenes of horror.
But, why is wonder such an important part of horror fiction? Well, there are several reasons for this. The first is that it helps to create atmosphere, which is essential for good horror. Showing the reader something wonderous draws them further into the world of your story. It is such a break from the mundane world that it will linger in their imagination for long after they finish a reading session.
Secondly, it is unexpected. Although good horror fiction relies on surprising the reader with unexpected horrific things, horror readers will usually expect scenes of horror to appear. So, delighting the reader occasionally can really catch them off guard. It means that, rather than just waiting for the next horrific thing to happen, the reader is genuinely uncertain about what to expect next.
Thirdly, it is all about contrast. By including moments of delightful wonder in your horror story, your moments of horror will appear even more horrific in comparison.
Plus, you can also contrast wonder and horror in some really clever ways too. The classic example of this is the splatterpunk fiction of authors like Shaun Hutson, James Herbert, Clive Barker etc… who will often describe horrific, gruesome and grotesque things in the kind of poetic, formal and/or “beautiful” way that you’d expect to read in a scene of wonder. This works really well when you want to gross out the reader 🙂
Finally, it is about tone and atmosphere. Traditional horror fiction is often about “good vs evil”, about “good” characters encountering the forces of evil and emerging victorious thanks to their moral principles, courage, scientific knowledge etc… Needless to say, this type of story tends to be very stern and gloomy in tone.
So, adding some moments of delight and wonder to your horror story shows your reader that you’re telling a more interesting, and less predictable, type of story. By making your reader feel emotions like happiness, joy, amazement, relaxation, desire etc… you are showing your reader that this isn’t a stern old-fashioned horror story. That they’re entering a fictional world where the old “rules” don’t apply and things are about to get interesting….
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂