I don’t leave lights on. I don’t double check locks or closets. I suppose this could be my serious stomach for frightening things—and hot food since we’re on the subject (never met a hot sauce or a zombie I couldn’t handle). So, while brainstorming this horror novel—the one that won’t be touched until sometime early fall (draft wise), I have stumbled across the age old question: What do you fear?
I asked this in a post on facebook and received a handful of good answers. Overall, one thing was clear: The most elemental fear is the fear of the unknown. We have some very fundamental ways of dealing with this, which is why I chose to be a psychology major instead of an English major. I may have a harder time structuring sentences than most, but by God, my characters will be solid as stone. We deal with fear by trying to organize, and thus gain control, of what we don’t understand. We’ll make it understandable. Be it through religion, science or a 9mm, we’re going to make sure that whatever we fear is under our ‘not to be worried about’ category. Why do people make the comment, “You aren’t near a hospital” to those living in the country? Because there is a reasonable assumption that the hospital will spare you death or dismemberment or both.
We use religion in the form of ritual; faith by believing in an ‘all good’ higher power; justice by assuming that only the guilty suffer; science by assuming everything has an explanation and even survival of the fittest with an assumed understanding of the human body and its inherent weaknesses. We assume the efficacy of weapons or illness on all sentient beings. Thus, as an author, if we are to psychologically affect our readers, we must systematically take it all away.
I’ve never read a book that made me want to leave the light on. Rarely does a movie really strike me as truly frightening. I want to write a story that not only causes you to leave your light on for a month—I’d love for you to double check every lock in your house, start attending mass again and maybe even memorize a prayer to the patron saint of please for the love of God save my sorry ass. lost causes. My homework: Study the anatomy of fear. Sounds fun, huh?
I don’t like blood and gore—it has its place, but I prefer otherworldly. Consider the barbed wire man in Silent Hill—the dude in the bathroom, for those of you who forgot. The sheer inconceivability of his predicament is what is utterly frightening. How would any sentient being wind up like that? Those things frighten us because if the outcome is so awful, how much moreso must the doer of such an unfathomable act be? Also consider the drawings by Stephen Gammell, for the Scary Stories series. Haven’t seen them? If you call yourself a horror fan and you haven’t, you’d best be googeling. The man’s got talent in spades. I mention him because all of his drawings have roots…I mean this literally. The edges of the objects, even stationary insentient ones, have root-like things growing from them. Ah, hell—I’ll include a thumbnail to save you the google (you’re gonna google it anyway). See what I mean? I grew up reading ghost stories, seeing illustrations like the one below and hearing my mother’s awesome
rendition of Little Orphan Annie and the Goblins. I had no choice in the matter—I was born and bred to love the supernatural and horrific. So, you tell me—what makes your skin shiver and your bones shake?