Sunday, January 29, 2012

Horror and Dark Fiction

Talking about horror/dark fiction is akin to watching paint drying…you either love the genre or you want nothing to do with it. I can hear the old lines now…I’m not into slasher blood, I want there to be a story with real characters, not just random killing.

Horror or dark fiction is all about story and characters. These are the backbones of the thrill; the scare; the very reason we don’t want to look over our shoulders or turn off the lights. I’ll go further out on the limb and say these are genres that require even more dedication to story and character than any other genre.

Granted, some horror/dark fiction appears lax…on the surface…regarding these two vital story telling elements. However, when you dig deeper you will find the complexity of a finely tuned tale. Yes, even the movies “Halloween” “Friday the 13th” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” no matter which version.

And what would you say if I stated “Dracula” was a romance. A personal drama of one man turning away from his God only to spend eternity searching for redemption through a forgiving love.

In Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” who is the monster?

Lately, we have a whole new set of dark fiction/horror dreamboats…yes, The Twilight series. While not my cup of tea, this series has many debating: vampire or werewolf.

Where else but in dark fiction/horror do vampires and werewolves belong? They are creatures of the night. Elements of nightmares. Shadows moving in the dark recesses of our world glimpsed only from the corners of our eyes.

Dark fiction and horror create the same heart pounding, page turning, and edge of the seat anxiousness as every other genre does and should do. We happen to look under the bed, behind the door, in the closet, and down the cellar stairs knowing full well the bump you heard was someone…something.

We peel the layers of humanity…figuratively and literally…to delve deeper in the human mind…again, figuratively and literally. We want to know what makes a psycho’s brain tick…again, figu—you get the picture. There’s always something more, something around the corner waiting and we, dark fiction/horror readers and writers, need to know.

We don’t want to play it safe and comfortable. Our genre should never make you feel safe and comfortable, at least not until the end and even then we love leaving a creak, a door, a smile unanswered.

Dark fiction and horror allows us to escape the true horror and fears of everyday life; of reality. It is pure escapism. And in the end, at some point, the perfect horror story will have you laughing. Laughing because the cat pushed the door open, made the cellar step creak, and your loved one’s smile knew all this while you freaked out.

I want dark fiction. I want horror because reality is scary enough.

Chris (Steeves) Speakman
MuseItUp Publishing Editor/Author
Editors Call for Submissions
(submissions check here)


Jim Hartley said...

I do some dark and horror stories, although it's not the major part of my writing. I even admit it publicly, my bio notes that I am a member of the Dark Fiction Guild. When a "dark" idea creeps up on me and demands to be written, I do it ... no problem. When I do write "dark" stories, they are usually dark fantasy.

But I obviously don't draw the boundaries at the same place you do, for instance not all of my vampire stories are "dark". I did one light and somewhat humorous vampire piece titled "Gralic" (yes, that's how I spelled it) which I described as "Ma and Pa Kettle meet Dracula." It's amazing how much fun you can have with something like that.

ChrisChat said...

Hi, Jim.

I'll disagree on drawing boundaries, as we know there are no boundaries in writing...or any creative outlet, really.

My preference for dark fiction/horror is more along the line of "dark." With that in mind, I still enjoy all the Abbott and Costello meet the ______ movies. It, the genre, demands, as with any reading/watching choice, the mood.

I'm still searching for the ultimate reading experience "Dracula" gave me. The gripping voice of another Clive Barker. An author who has turned the face of "monster" back on humanity.

Thanks for dropping by

Lisa Forget said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on one of my favourite genres. Nothing gets my blood racing like a tale of dark fiction - writing or reading it!

ChrisChat said...

Hi, Lisa. You're welcome and thanks for dropping by.

I love dark fiction/horror voices, some may think we're twisted, but oh do I love being twisted LOL

gail roughton branan said...

Exactly. Reality is scary enough. In fact, reality is scarier. "Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte" "Whatever happened to Baby Jane?" The first of the "Wrong Turn" movies was a great example of real dark horror mixed with slasher. Didn't care much for the sequels.

ChrisChat said...

Hey, Gail. Thanks for dropping by.

I have "Wrong Turn" on my to be watched list. Your other mentions...oh yes. Sometimes the best of this genre are the quietest.

Then, of course, we have the creature features..."The Birds" Still my number one pick of freak me out.

There's more to this genre than meets the mind ;)

J.Q. Rose said...

Funny you should mention Abbott and Costello movies. I was a little girl when my mom let my older brothers take me to the movie. She probably told them they HAD to take me or not go. I doubt she realized it was a scary movie. Afterall it was Abbott and Costello, the funny guys! YIKES! I spent the entire movie UNDER the theater intro to scary movies!!

Anne Duguid Knol said...

Never thought of this as a genre I might enjoy but you've intrigued me Chris.
I didn't take to the Twilight series either but I do love Cin Eric's vampires and werewolves in Inquisitor Blues, another MIU publication.
Yep some horrors there, but it's dark fiction leavened with light. Think I need the mix.

ChrisChat said...

Hi, JQ..Thanks for dropping over.

Sorry, have to giggle. I can't remember my intro, but I do remember Psycho being on TV and the sitter watching it...I fell asleep right after the shower scene.

I still cannot read King's book "Gerald's Game" The very idea of being in the main character's situation at the beginning...nope, no way, can't read it further than that. Sadly, I'm as big a fan of King as I used to be. Although, "IT" and "The Stand" are my favourites still

ChrisChat said...

Hey, Annie...come on over. We're very friendly here in the Shadows ;)

Some of the best scares are in the light...hehehehehe

Paruparo said...

Great post, and on one of my favorite genres. Psychological thrillers tend to be my weak spot. Actually, anything that the average person would call twisted. -shrug- To each their own, I suppose. :)

ChrisChat said...

Hey, Enita. Glad you dropped in, thanks.

Yes, Psychological thrillers, anything that plays with our minds and emotions. For all the gore in the SAW movies, I found the first couple to have this element in them. They freak me out...does that show my generation, LOL...but that underlying mind game is well thought out.

Twisted is good ;)

Jodi said...

May I recommend Stephen King's latest, "11/22/63" -- mind-blowing! But then, dark fiction/horror is the genre of my choice. Twisted artistic escapism -- OMG, when done well, I love it!


John B. Rosenman said...

Loved this post, Chris. Yes, good horror and dark fiction like all good fiction, must have a good story and well-developed, intriguing characters. I love such fiction and have published quite a bit of it myself. Matter of fact, I was once Chairperson of the Board of the Horror Writers Association.
Holy Moly.

Horror and dark fiction as you point out, are often discriminated against. I once published an article called "Literary Racism" about this exact topic. Horror fiction is perhaps the chief literary minority but science fiction and romance are also shown considerable disrespect.

Two of your statements I would mildly question. One literary authority has said that horror is not a genre but an emotion. You find horror and darkness in all kinds of fiction. Second, I don't think that horror is always an escape. Often it is, but sometimes it cuts to the bone and makes us bleed. That's why so many people are afraid to read it and turn away at the movies when events turn too gruesome.

ChrisChat said...

Hey, Joelle. Thanks for dropping in. I still have King's "Under the Dome" haven't cracked the spine :(

Yes, when done well, this emotional genre is such a ride.

ChrisChat said...

Hi, John. Thank you, always look forward to talking this emotional genre with you.

Is romance still an underdog? Would think it's more accepted now, given the volume of readers and demand? Or is it more the secret guilty pleasure?

Yes, I can see horror being considered an emotion. But, do we not re-define our word usage to fit what we don't want to admit? We can feel horror, as well as romance, and even the other genres can evoke their own emotions. Does it make it easier for some to say horror is more emotion, because they're uncomfortable saying they read the genre?

I'll stick with the escapism. We may shudder, turn away, cringe, and have nightmares, but reading/watching dark/horror fiction always has the knowledge of not being real. Our reactions are, but we know at the end, it's "just" a story.

Now the horror of real life, there's little escape from that; however, could the escape aspect of the fictional horror help strengthen someone to escape their reality horror?

But, that's a different imitates art or art imitates life.

M. L. Archer said...

Your post made me think of Stephen King when he said that people who love the Old Testament tend to like horror. As an former Old Testament History major I can vouch for this.

Some 'highlights': In the OT the earth is invaded by an alien race, the Fallen angels, who give birth to these giant, flesh eating monsters called the nephilim. This opens the door to world-wide destruction via the Flood.

Some people think the bloody Joshua Wars after the Exodus are over the top with violence, but it's mankind's struggle to survive against the remaining nephilim tribes.

At one point, in Judges, a woman leaves her home only to be captured and raped so violently that when she staggers home the next morning she collapses on her doorstep and dies. Her enraged husband hacks her body apart and sends the piece on donkey-back to all four corners of Israel.

King Saul consults a medium who conjures the ghost of the dead prophet, Samuel. Things don't go well.

There are incidents of cannibalism, witchcraft and lot's and lot's of blood. 17-year old David cuts off Goliath's head and thinks nothing of it.

In the Apocrypha there are records of vampire and zombie-like creatures.

And there is always the underlying theme of, 'stray from the path and bad things will happen.'

My point: it's the home of our horror archetypes, concepts handed down for thousands of years. Much like the 'Saw' movies, the O.T.'s unspoken question often is, 'How much do you appreciate your life?'

We read, tell ourselves, 'good thing it's just an old fable,' but like any good horror story you still wonder 'or is it?'

No, our genre shouldn't make people comfortable, it shouldn't reassure. But in a way it is and will remain a "lesson genre." If the past five thousand years have taught us anything it's that we the people take the light for granted. We need the questions that writers like Mary Shelley and all the great authors have posed. People who will send us into the dark and ask us to decide if we really want to stay there.

Hey, proud to be a horror fan!

ChrisChat said...

Thanks for coming in ML...hmm, never looked at the Bible in this light (dark?) might need to revisit.

Loads to digest, thanks again.


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