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Recently a fellow horror author and blogger I admire brought up a good point about horror, one that I’ve made in countless other posts. The point that he made was that a lot of horror out there is actually pretty terrible because of an over-reliance of gore and gross-out elements (blood, knives, etc.). Real horror is made not by grossing people out continuously over the course of a horror story, but by creating a feeling of dread, that feeling that something bad is going to happen and that it is going to get worse. That feeling builds and builds, until (hopefully) the reader is scared stiff by ensuing events.

Creating that dread feeling is difficult, to say the least. Like I’ve said in previous posts about terror (and I’m not yet convinced that they can’t be the same thing, depending on the circumstances), it’s one of the hardest parts of creating a good horror story. Creating that feeling takes time, precision, keen insight, and skill, cultivated over years and years of practice. It’s why plenty of would-be horror writers and filmmakers just opt out of trying to use terror in favor of just plain old blood and guts and gore as a so-so substitute. And when that doesn’t work so well, they add in sex as well (don’t believe me? Watch the Friday the 13th remake in all its crummy filmmaking and see how much dread there isn’t and how much sex and blood and gore there is. And no, I’ll never stop harping on how bad that film was).

Here’s an exercise that can help authors of all kinds visualize creating that dread feeling for your story: close your eyes and imagine yourself in a dark, dank, eerie hallway. This hallway goes on for some length, so far that you may not be able to see the very end. And it also takes many twists and turns, so that doesn’t help. As you walk down this hallway, you get the strange feeling that something horrible is going to happen just around the next corner or right behind that table or from that ceiling lamp with the crackling bulb. And as you get farther along, this feeling that something bad will happen grows and grows. Sometimes the places you think something will happen prove to be harmless, but other times you are correct and you’re only just able to get away with your head still on. Even so, you continue on, even though the feeling of ill-boding keeps growing, and you wish you could turn back or even just stop and stay where you are but you can’t, those aren’t options. The only option left is to continue on, reach the end with hopefully all your body parts still attached, and find a safe room located at the end of the hallway.

That hallway is your horror story. And it can be as long as it needs to be, have as much furniture under which monsters can hide as needs be, and have as many twists and turns as needs be. You just got to find a way to create that feeling of ill-boding, which is the feeling of dread that all the best horror stories are able to create. The exercise above is meant to help give people an idea of how creating that terror and dread can happen and to give them something to work with if they need help or practice creating that dread.

I hope that helps in some ways. Also, if you want to check out some books, TV shows, or movies that do a great job creating that feeling of dread, I highly recommend Stephen King’s IT, The Amityville Horror, and the first two seasons of American Horror Story. They do a very great job with creating dread in the reader/viewer. Trust me, I was afraid to go to sleep after I encountered one or two of these titles. They’re that scary.

All for now. I’m going to try to get some of my own fiction written and full of that dread feeling. Goodnight, Followers of Fear.

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