Posts Tagged ‘Brian Keene’

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Lately, I’ve been deep into two very different books of horror. The first, which I finished last night, is What One Wouldn’t Do, an anthology of horror stories around the idea of “what wouldn’t you do for…what? Power? Revenge? Love? Etc?” The other is Ghoul by Brian Keene, a coming-of-age horror novel about three boys who discover a ghoul living in the graveyard near their homes. They’re both very good, very different from one another, and both deal in emotional horror.

Emotional horror is horror that relies more on the feelings the story provokes in the reader than a supernatural/paranormal entity or a serial killer or anything like that. And yes, I’m aware that all horror tries to provoke an emotional response in readers. Namely terror and fear. But this is a much more subtle kind of horror. Emotional horror scares you with the situation the characters are in and their responses, particularly their emotional responses, to the situation.

A good example of this is the 2015 movie The Witch. You may have noticed, but the titular witch is actually pretty peripheral to the story. She doesn’t show up except to maybe push events in the story. In total, I think she’s maybe only in the film for three whole minutes, if even that. Rather, the horror of the story is how each character reacts to the witch’s interference in their lives. It starts with the baby being kidnaped, then with the older son disappearing into the woods and then coming back horrifically changed. The kid has an ecstatic vision before dying, which leads to the family to believe they’re being victimized by a witch, who could possibly be one of them. And you’re terrified not by the witch or what could be her supernatural influence on the characters. You’re scared by their paranoia, their heartbreak and distrust, and how quickly things devolve from here, leading to an awful, irreversible decision on the part of the protagonist.

The true horror of this story may not be from the titular monster

This is the kind of horror both What One Wouldn’t Do and Ghoul deal in. Many of the stories in the former deal with supernatural elements, but the horror itself is what drives the characters to commit heinous acts or to make deals with the devil or go through insane challenges, and then seeing the fallout from those decisions. And for the latter, while the titular monster is scary in its way, it’s no Pennywise. Rather, a lot of the horror we experience is through the main characters, twelve-year-old boys who are becoming disillusioned by the world around them through the adults in their lives. It’s honestly heartbreaking to see the adults around them fail them so spectacularly, and one scene in particular was so upsetting, I had to post about it on Facebook and Twitter just to get my emotions out.

So, how do you write these scenes? Honestly, it’s not easy. I’m not sure you can set out to write a story that deliberately tugs at your heartstrings and fills you with the emotions the characters are feeling. It’s kind of like how you can’t write a story around a theme. Instead, you take a story and the theme evolves naturally from your working on it. Only when that theme has revealed itself can you play with it and the story together to bring out the best in both.

That was certainly the case with Cressida, the story I wrote that was published in Into the Deep (click here to check it out if you haven’t yet). While it’s a horror story and a mermaid story, it’s not a horror story about mermaids, though they aren’t the pretty fishtailed supermodels Disney animated, either. Rather, the mermaid is in herself a catalyst for the true horror, which is what the characters do upon encountering a mermaid who shares an uncanny resemblance to a deceased family member of theirs.

But when I set out to write that story, I never intended that the horror would come from the characters’ emotional and psychological reactions. I wrote the story because it sounded like a lot of fun to work on and I made changes to the storyline along the way to better bring out the horror I was discovering. The result is Cressida, which I feel is some of the best work I’ve written yet.

You know, that makes me realize something: in emotional horror, whatever is happening in the plot, be it mermaids, ghouls, necromancy, witches, etc., is often not the main focus of the story (even if it’s in the story’s title). Rather, they’re plot devices, tools to draw out the horror hidden within the characters’ emotional responses.

My story in this anthology didn’t start out as an emotionally-driven horror story. It just ended up that way.

I guess that makes emotional horror a kind of psychological horror.

Anyway, that’s what’s going through my mind at this time. The fact that I was getting into all these stories with similar kinds of horror at the same time got my brain working, so I decided to write it out. I’d love to hear what your thoughts on this subject are. Let’s talk in the comments below.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I leave for my trip tomorrow, so I likely won’t be around as much as I would otherwise be. However, I’ll be around on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, so check there for updates if you start to miss me.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear, good night, pleasant nightmares, and there’s only a week till Halloween. Prepare to give yourselves to the dance of terror and to raise the old gods so we can all enjoy their infernal gifts. If you do not, I suggest you run.

Bye!