Why Do I Write Horror?

Posted: May 2, 2012 in Writing
Tags: , , , ,

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen that I promised a “deep” post for today. Well, you’re going to get one…it’s just a bit late. Technically, I have a little over an hour until it’s officially tomorrow. It’s been a crazy week! Anyway, here you go. Please feel free to sound off in the comments. I’d like to generate some sort of discussion with this, and I can’t do that without you guys. 😉

You’ve probably got a pretty good glimpse of my personality through this blog. We all have our days, but I would say, typically, I’m a pretty happy person. I love to laugh and to make others laugh. I’m a geek. I have crazy ideas and plans. I like to have fun. I’m down to earth. I like talking and I like listening. I usually have trouble not smiling.

So, it’s not a big surprise that when I tell people that I write horror they’re pretty shocked.

My mom is one of them. Well, she isn’t shocked so much as she just doesn’t understand it. She told me the other day that if she were to sit down and write something, she would want it to be inspirational. She isn’t interested in some of the things that I write because she just doesn’t understand why I would want to add to the collective “crap” that’s out there in the world. If I’m going to put my mark on it, why not make it a positive one?

(Disclaimer: My mom is wonderful and amazing and I don’t mind that she has a differing opinion. Actually, I’m glad that she does because it’s made me reflect on why I write some of the things I do.)

She’s got a point. A pretty good one, actually. There’s a lot of horrible, terrible, tragic things that happen in this world. Why would I want to put those things down on paper for other people to read?

I don’t know if there’s a good answer to this. There certainly isn’t a “right” one. I’m not sure what other people have to say – why they choose to write in this genre. But here are my thoughts.

First of all, I’m a pantser (for those of you not in the know, it’s much less scandalous than it sounds – it just means I don’t like to plot my stories and that I’d rather fly by the seat of my pants). I get an image or a piece of dialogue stuck in my head and all of a sudden a story blossoms from this little seed. I start to write it down and, before I can help myself, the entire thing is unfolding in front of me. I’ve always been this way and even though it makes writing novels a little difficult, I really do enjoy my general process. So, the reason why I may write horror stories is pretty easy: it pops into my head and I write it down. Simple.

So, why do these things pop into my head? Probably because I like to watch crime shows. Law & Order, CSI, Criminal Minds, NCIS – the list literally goes on and on. They’ve sparked ideas before and often that spark is all I need to put my fingers to the keyboard. The other part of this is that I am absolutely fascinated by psychology – especially the psychology of the criminal mind. Why do people do the things they do? To me, it’s something so terrible and abhorrent that I just have to get a closer look to figure it out. It might sound strange to some, but without people who have a fascination for this sort of thing, we wouldn’t be able to understand and stop these kinds of criminals.

(P.S. I have to plug Stacy Green here because I live for her Thriller Thursday posts. Here’s one of my favorites.)

And I guess that is sort of where I’m going with this whole discussion. I write horror because it’s horrible. I want to bring light to what has happened in the real world. I can’t do that by becoming a politician or a civil rights activist, because that’s not who I am. I am a writer. I write.

I also write these sorts of things because, believe it or not, there is an underlying message there – a positive spin to these often ghastly stories that I write. There’s a lesson. Sometimes you have to dig for it, but it’s always there. I write to make you think. And if I can make you think, then maybe I can make you talk. And if I can make you talk, well…maybe then I can make a difference.

So, here’s the big question: why do YOU write. And, yes, I want the philosophical answer. Whether you write romance or sci-fi or fantasy or horror or any other genre or combination of those types, I want to know why you write. What are you trying to accomplish? What are you trying to say?

  1. Stacy Green says:

    Thank you so much for the shout out! After reading this post, I see you and I are a lot alike. I’m fascinated by the criminal mind. Are they truly born evil? Are they products of their environment? Like you, I watch a lot of crime (both scripted and true) shows, and I’m constantly getting ideas from those.

    As for why I write, I’d have to say it’s because I’m an armchair psychologist. Part of me wishes I’d gone for that degree instead of journalism, and my writing (and the research that goes along with it) is a way for me to continue to learn and try to understand criminals, etc.

    There is a lot of darkness in this world, and I am drawn to it. However, I’m also drawn to those people who are able to perserve through the most unimaginable moments. That’s why I love putting my heroines in such danger. I want to see them rise to the occasion.

    I’m babbling. Great post, and thank you again!

    • Karen Rought says:

      Your last two sentences are absolutely flawless, Stacy. Yes!! Because even out of horror comes great things. I think a lot of people – my mom included – can’t get past the surface of the story. Some of my shorts are pretty gruesome, and that’s all they see. They don’t see the message behind it. Maybe that’s my fault, maybe it’s not. In the end, though, I’m not going to stop writing them. Even if the only thing that comes out of them is that I can make sense of the things I write about, that’s good enough for me. Bonus points if I can make other people think, too.

      • Karen Rought says:

        (Um, last two sentences in the second to last paragraph, LOL. These ones: “That’s why I love putting my heroines in such danger. I want to see them rise to the occasion.” It’s late, I need to go to bed!!)

      • Stacy Green says:

        Thank you! I love your response as well. Writing is an incredible way of making sense of the jumble that is my mind, darkness and all. 🙂

  2. Julie Glover says:

    I admit to not reading horror much, so this was very interesting to hear your take. I like psychology and suspense, but I dislike gory detail and the darkness of it all. That said, I find myself curious about the criminal crazies in the world too. What happens to make someone a rapist? A serial killer? A cannibal? Good gravy, something’s gone horribly wrong! I do like that in most horror stories, the evil one gets his/her comeuppance. It encourages us to believe that, even if not today, there will be justice.

    I write young adult and cozy mysteries. I love that the young adult years are a pivotal time in life when people really start making their way in the world and setting the stage for their futures. This time in life is ripe with conflict possibilities to make a great story. I also look back fondly at reading books when I was that age, and I see the impact good fiction has on my kids as well. As to mysteries, I love a good puzzle, and mysteries sate my curiosity. I relate to characters who ask a lot of questions when they see something that doesn’t make sense. There is also the sense of justice when the culprit is discovered, by an amateur detective no less!

    • Karen Rought says:

      Julie, I don’t particularly enjoy the gore either (does anyone actually *enjoy* it? that might be weird), but I find myself writing it because it makes a bigger impact. It’s sort of like a shock value thing. I think the higher stakes, the more profound the story could be. You have to walk a fine line there, but if your ending can really deliver the moral to the story, you could write about flying purple chickens for all that it matters.

      I totally agree about the YA genre. I grew up right alongside Harry Potter (which I know is children’s, technically, but I think it morphed into YA) and that really did alter my childhood in so many ways. I think people who write YA have some of the hardest stories to tell. Teens look all over the place for answers to their problems, and writers in that genre need to make sure that they give them the right ones. I think that’s why I tend to write more in the NA category – much less worrying!

      And I love that you write mysteries! I don’t have the brain for that, but I like reading them. Hats off to you!

  3. Love watching a lot of the same shows 🙂 I’m very much like Julie in that I like the psychology and suspense of horror but not the blood and guts of it that often feel like that sex scene thrown into the romance novel just for the hell of it.

    I write romance because I love that fresh ‘falling in love’ stage of relationships. I explore other genres — or would that be sub-genres if romance is the main theme? — to push myself and offer escapism for readers.

    • Karen Rought says:

      I completely agree, Raelyn! If you’re going to do the blood and guts (or the sex scene) there needs to be a definite purpose behind it. Like I said to Julie, there’s a fine line when you write these sorts of things, but if you’ve got the right punch at the end of your story then you can write just about anything.

      Escapism is one of the best reasons to write because I think that’s one of the main reasons people read. I know I pretty much only read fantasy because I hope beyond hope one day we’ll discover wizards and dragons and faeries living amongst us. Until then, I’ll just keep reading the books.

  4. Fabio Bueno says:

    I totally understand why you write horror, Karen. Your next to last paragraph is not only an explanation; it’s also an inspiration to all of us who write, no matter the genre.
    My reasoning is much less complex: I write YA (and read YA) because I’m a teen at heart (my friends and family would confirm that 🙂
    However, my WIP is a much darker YA, and my crit group thinks I’m writing because I have a dark side. They might be right, but I ask: don’t we all? 🙂
    In fact, I see drama and horror as the perfect genres to talk about redemption.
    Great post, Karen.

    • Karen Rought says:

      Thanks, Fabio! I think there must be another reason to why you write what you write. Even from the little snippets I saw a few weeks ago, it seems like you’re exploring some territories that may or may not be a little controversial. I like doing that too. I’m sure there’s a moral and purpose to all of your stories, you might just not see it yet. 😉

      And, yes, they are both perfect genres for that. I love talking about redemption, especially for people you wouldn’t otherwise give a second chance to. There are a lot of things to be explored there.

  5. Juliana Haygert says:

    To me it’s like some say: I can’t NOT write … I would go crazy. I’m serious.
    There are too many ideas and voices and people in my mind and I want to spend time with them, to see what they have to show me, to fall in love with them, to break my heart, …
    I’ve been reading and writing since I was a little kid. If I stop writing, it’s like stop walking, or breathing …
    Too much? Well, you asked inspirational and I’m actually telling you the truth …
    I get cranky when I don’t write. Ask my husband, he knows … with the moving from Brazil to the US, I spent over 2 months without writing. I was super irritable and snapping all the time. I was terrible … now that I’m writing again, I’m back to normal (reads=only a little irritable lol)

    • Karen Rought says:

      Juliana, I SO get where you’re coming from. Nothing else has ever made me feel the same way that writing does. It’s such a strong pull and it’s not something that I can ignore. I don’t get cranky when I don’t write, but I do get pretty depressed. The same goes for when I don’t read. I guess that tells us we’re doing the right thing. Thanks for sharing!

  6. marcykennedy says:

    I write to bring hope, and I think fantasy is actually one of the best ways to do that. Sometimes the really nasty stuff in life is too hard to face head on. We want to wear blinders to it. Fantasy lets us explore those problems in a way that feels safer somehow.

  7. ddog13 says:

    This post didn’t pop up in my email when it was released, and I’m following the blog. Thankfully, I came here in time. This was a great post.

    Personally, I write because I can convey ideas that I want people to think about or be aware of. If I make a certain issue a main part of a character, it can’t be avoided. If a person is reading about a character with a certain issue, or with a certain set of beliefs, you get to judge for yourself: Hey, is this right? Or, why does he think that way? Good writing can set your reader’s brain haywire in a good way. I guess that’s why I write: I enjoy it and it gives you a voice that you otherwise may not have.

    • Karen Rought says:

      I completely agree! If someone is reading your book and those issues are right smack dab in the middle of your story, your reader can’t avoid them. Writing is an excellent way to start conversations and, like I said, that could change everything.

  8. I write because it’s an emotional outlet and regulator. I write because it feels like the correct thing to do. 🙂

    Like you I can’t plot even if my life depended on it. They spring out of my mind and I just have to write it, but I make it as I go. Fantasy, SF, horror but also anything that strikes my fancy and comes to mind, even if it’s a political post or anything else as long as it’s an idea that feels like it needs to be written. As long as it’s words on a paper (ok words on a screen) I’m happy.

    What I want with it? Nothing. I don’t care about being published or fame or glory or anything. Just write and get it out for people to read. If one person likes it, I’m happy. Simple. 🙂

    • Karen Rought says:

      I’ve always said that too, Natalie. JK Rowling and Stephenie Meyer might have a wonderful life, but I don’t think I could handle it. I just want people to connect with my words and my story. If I can do that, then I’ve been successful. That’s the big picture.

  9. Debra Kristi says:

    Okay. I’ve been thinking about this all week and I think I have the answer I want to post. Maybe I put way too much thought into this. I think I write some dark stuff journeys of the soul. Nothing like horror. But at the end of the day there is always hope. The stories are messages about hope, strength and perseverance. We all go through patches in our lives that are less than pretty. Sometimes it helps to see that others (fictional or not) were able to overcome odds similar or greater. That’s why I write what I write. That, and because those are the stories that speak to my soul.

    • Karen Rought says:

      Absolutely! I always try to twist some sort of message about hope into my stories, too. It’s so important to never give up on hope, even when you think nothing can get better. Thanks for taking such time to think about this, Debra. 🙂

  10. asraidevin says:

    I’m late to the party, but erotica gets the same type of reaction. You write what? Sex, I write sex, I write smut.
    Why? I love it. It’s an extension of romantic (and sometimes not so romantic) relationships. It’s such a part of human nature. It’s also the part of life that I am meant to explore and challenge people with.

    • Karen Rought says:

      Ah, yes! This is definitely one of the other genres that gets a lot of flack. But you’re right, it’s all part of life. It’s not for everyone, but as long as there’s an audience, writers need to write what they see in their heads, be it horror, erotica, or anything else.

  11. bwtaylor75 says:

    I’m not just late, I’m L-A-T-E! The fact that you write horror is what brought me to your blog. I also write horror and most of the time I feel like a fossil or relic of days gone by. There isn’t a horror section in my bookstory anymore. Horror has been enveloped by the sci-fi/fantasy genre, which is a shame.

    As with most genres, there are different aspects of horror (at least in my mind anyway). There is the cerebral (Edgar Allan Poe, Shirley Jackson), the visceral (Clive Barker, Jack Kilborn), and the mainstream (Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Jonathan Mayberry). Those were just some popular examples, forgive me if I’ve neglected anyone. I don’t know about you, but I tend to lean toward the mainstream. When I was a teen, I read Dean Koontz and was instantly entranced. It wasn’t until I read THE DESCENT by Jeff Long that I realized I wanted to be a writer. Mr. Long actually encourages people to write their own stories. So I would write down different ideas and toward the end of my Air Force days, I began to write. Naturally, it was horror.

    Why do I write horror? For me, horror is putting an ordinary person in an unordinary situation and watching them overcome the odds, or not overcoming the odds. Any story is only make believe, just like those old fairy tales. You know, like Hansel and Gretel, where the witch fattens poor Hansel up only to try and eat him? We’ve been exposed to horror our whole lives, even if we didn’t know it at first. I’m all about mixing the cerebral, the visceral, and the mainstream parts of horror in order to share what will hopefully be an entertaining experience with a reader. THE PASSAGE by Justin Cronin comes to mind as an example of this.

    When I queried my WIP and researched potential agents, I found only a handful of them listed horror as an interest. After looking more closely at ther client list and following their tweets, those handful were cut in half. I felt like I was in that scene from Serenity where the Reavers touch down for the first time. Everyone ran for the hills and slammed their doors. It seems like most agents have horror on their list just to have it on there. And forget about finding a critique partner that is looking for horror. It’s next to impossible.

    Sorry for the long reply, but you struck a chord with me. I think horror is poised for a comeback, with shows like The Walking Dead and Being Human being so popluar. Horror movies continue to do well too, not to mention video games like Resident Evil, Dead Space, and Left 4 Dead. It’s crazy that literature still lags behind. It’s always refreshing to find another horror writer out in the wild. Keep writing.

    • Karen Rought says:

      Thanks for the super reply! I really appreciate it and I’m glad to connect with a fellow horror writer. The funny thing is, I really don’t watch horror movies. Or read horror books. I have a Dean Koontz novel on my bookshelf, but it’s been there for years. I don’t even know what it’s about. I sort of just jumped into writing horror head first. I honestly don’t really know anything about it. The way you broke down the different types was very useful to me, so thank you. I completely understand how you feel about not being able to find a critique partner for this genre – I mostly write YA fantasy and most of the time the people who read that aren’t necessarily receptive to the idea of reading slasher short stories, haha.

      • bwtaylor75 says:

        If you ever need another set of eyes for your horror stories, all you need to do is ask. I’d be happy to help. You may be a little more horror than you know. Oh, and YA horror is hot right now! Which is strange because adult horror couldn’t get much colder.

  12. […] I did a similar post a while ago about on why I write horror, but this is something a little different. This person is a relative, a close one at that, and absolutely means nothing against me. But how can I make her understand? How can I explain to her that silly shows like Supernatural or silly books like Harry Potter are important? That they add something meaningful to the world? That we need them? […]

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