Thursday, August 23, 2012

Writing dark fiction - addendum

I’ve been reading fantasy and dark fantasy since I was a kid. And those have always been the stories I've most wanted to write. Since my focus has been on fantasy, I've spent the most time reading and learning about fantasy writing. But occasionally, I decide to turn my stories more toward horror than dark fantasy. 

And then, when I was researching my previous post, I came across this quote. It captured my attention so thoroughly I felt it deserved its own post. (I can’t find the original quote anywhere, so here’s the blog I found it on.”)
To quote the critic David Aylward, “Writers [of horror fiction], who used to strive for awe and achieve fear, now strive for fear and achieve only disgust.” 
The quote certainly describes a certain type of horror, particularly the Lovecraftian model, where the characters constantly slip into unfamiliar (and terrifying) worlds. I’m not sure awe is always the way to go… but it certainly is easier to end up with disgust. Think of all those serial killer villains whose minds we really didn’t need to linger in, even though they do make really evil villains.

But I have to say, I’ve… never even thought about it that way. So much of the advice I come across is straightforward, designed to rescue words from excessive obscurity, and to bring themes and motivations to the front rather than to the back. It makes me wonder, how could I write the horror elements in my new dark fiction story to be awe-inspiring rather than just aiming for scary?

What do you all think? And have you ever come across anything like this, where in attempting one thing, you end up with something different and better? And when is subtlety the way to go?


  1. You know that I'm not a fan of horror, though I really like fantasy, and when it's well done, even dark fantasy has its merits (mostly I'm thinking about an awesome manuscript I once read that was written by Sabrina West. :) but I think the key might be 'purpose'. The main characters have to be even more heroic and noble than they would be in other kinds of stories.

  2. That quote could have meaning in many genres. I think you can start out with one intention and end up somewhere else, but I can also see it happening most frequently because the writer takes the easy route - hence, in the case of horror, gore for gore's sake leads not so much to horror, but disgust, and eventually desensitization (thinking of the many horror movies I've never watched (: ). Great post.

  3. I haven't read many horror novels, but I like my horror movies to be more subtle. The truth is that they rarely scare me, but I like it when they are eerie and thought provoking.

    I think it is never a good idea to try to evoke a certain emotional response from the reader. This can turn out to feel unauthentic and even manipulative. You should just tell the story you want to tell, and if the readers connect with the characters. The readers will feel the character's pain and the character's horror.

    Great post!!


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