Monday, June 14, 2021

All Stories are Horror Stories

P.T. Phronk
A post by P.T. Phronk,
of Forest City Pulp fame
I'm reading a book on writing: The Successful Novelist, by David Morrell, the guy who wrote First Blood and thus created Rambo. In it, he describes asking aspiring novelists "why do you want to be writers?" After getting the usual unobtainable goals out of the way (e.g., money and fame—yeah right!), he gets deeper into why writers write, and part of it is because we have terrifying ideas intruding on our thoughts that we need to get out.
"The difference between fiction writers and civilians," writes Morrell, "is that we make it our life’s work to put our daydreams and day-nightmares on paper."
He doesn't even mention the horror genre, but he describes how his process, and indeed the process for all writers, involves capturing vivid waking nightmares, each uniquely traumatic to a particular author.
No wonder writers don't like being asked where their ideas come from.

It's a thought that leads to an interesting conclusion: every great story is a horror store at its core. In order for a story to have the necessary conflict and personal meaning to make it a unique work from a unique voice, it needs to address a writer's greatest fears. Morrell even describes how the idea for his first short story came about while having a sudden waking vision of being stalked in a forest and feeling certain someone was going to kill him. Even when Morrell is not writing horror, his story ideas start with horror, and at their core are about overcoming fear and other types of trauma.

If every story is really a horror story, then what sets the actual horror genre apart? I suppose it's that, while all stories have some terrifying, hungry thing lurking below the surface, the horror genre lures that thing above the surface and lets it take a few nibbles. In the horror genre, fear is the point, not only a driving force.
I need to apply these lessons to my own writing. My writing has been stagnating, partly because of that pandemic thing, but I think also because I've been screwing around with stories that aren't deeply, intentionally personal, and if I'm going to take it to the next, I need something more traumatic. The past year has uncovered a lot of fears in all of us, me included. Fear of isolation, fear of other people, fear of death, fear of losing people, fear of losing time, wasting the limited days we have on Earth pretending the universe is anything other than indifferent to the fleeting lives we spend chasing after little pieces of paper that we can trade for shelter and Starbucks. What a mess. I need to write some of this stuff down, and/or get therapy!
All writers in all genres, from action to romance to children's stories, should look for the horror underneath their stories. If there is no fear being addressed, some waking nightmare that the author and the reader can really identify with, then is the story's conflict compelling enough to drive the plot forward?
Maybe there are exceptions though. Let me know what you think. 

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