I was just sitting here trying to choose one of my many first drafts to work on for tonight, when I started thinking about the different “approaches” (for lack of a better term at the moment) to horror. By “approaches” I mean a very brief synopsis of a writer’s general outlook on or method of writing horror. Maybe a better way to express it would be to say the way the author approaches his genre (still not quite right, but I am getting closer to the idea).
An example would be to say that Poe’s approach was to bring out the horror in realistic situations (mostly, he did dabble in the fantastic occasionally). “The Black Cat” is about a murderer who unknowingly seals up a cat with the corpse of his victim. Nothing fantastic there. “The Tell-Tale Heart” is about a murderer whose conscience drives him to confession. “The Fall of the House of Usher” is about a family with an inherited genetic trait of hypersensitivity. So forth and so on.
Lovecraft’s approach was to spin tales of the fantastic, especially about a race of elder gods who once dominated the planet millions of years ago and of which mankind encounters remnants on rare occasion.
Stephen King’s approach is to plant an element of the fantastic among ordinary people in ordinary places and watch them react to it.
Clive Barker’s approach seems to be to take something that is fantastic, bloody, cruel, evil and gruesome and either drop it somewhere a single character can deal with it or bring it out of the shadows where a character can deal with it.
Seeing these different approaches in relation to each other makes me think about how do I want to approach an idea or a draft I have of a story. Do I want to drop the fantastic into the real or bring out the horror in the everyday or in realistic situations or can I come up with something else, my own approach, that is none of these? That is the challenge of creativity: to come up with something no one else has done. Maybe I can just go with the purely fantastic. Maybe I can try to find the real in the fantastic.
How many different ways are there to horrify an audience?
There is the real and the fantastic and all those subtle shades of gray in between the two. Can there be anything else?