Posts Tagged ‘The Girl Next Door’

Lately I’ve been working on a new story that’s likely going to be a novelette or novella. It’s about ten-thousand words long at the time I’m writing this, and it’s unusual subject matter for me because it’s human-based horror.

I’ve written before on the differences between supernatural and human-based horror stories, and how authors tend to gravitate to one or the other with the stories they write. Personally, I tend to gravitate towards stories with supernatural threats in both what I read and what I write, But occasionally I do like a human-based horror story. In fact, the scariest novel I’ve ever read was human-based horror (The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum, and that novel still leaves me shaking!), and back in college I wrote a human-based horror/thriller novel called Snake that I had a lot of fun writing.

But this is my first time really delving into human-based horror since Snake, and I’m realizing a few things about it that separates it from supernatural horror. Specifically, the mechanics of such stories. Let me try to explain it: in my mind, supernatural horror stories work something like driving into a dark tunnel that you find out has some dangerous structural issues. Now prior to entering the tunnel, you’ve heard of structural issues, but you’ve been told to treat them like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, as in they’re not real and you don’t have to worry about them. Because of that, you may only half-believe in structural issues at most. Until you start driving into the tunnel, and you come to the realization that not only do structural issues exist, but they can kill you if you’re not careful navigating them.

This is how a lot of supernatural horror stories work: people go into a situation pretty sure that nothing beyond the natural realm can hurt them, only to realize there’s a dark, second world all around them that until now they didn’t believe in, and if they’re not careful, it’s going to kill them.

Human-based horror, on the other hand, works more like a downward spiral. At the very top of the spiral, things don’t necessarily start so bad. There’s probably a hint of evil, but nothing to really alarm you yet. But as you get further down the spiral, things start to get darker. Someone starts showing violent or cruel impulses. Someone else may end up grievously injured or even dead. As time goes on, the injuries or deaths may get more gruesome, or be explored in more detail. The person or persons causing the horror may get nastier, bolder, and crueler. This will only continue to escalate as the characters (and the reader) get down the spiral, and things come to its inevitable head.

We need only look at one of the most famous volumes of human-based horror, Misery¬†by Stephen King, to see this in action. At the beginning, Annie Wilkes is only hinted at being the monster she is. But as time goes on, she starts torturing Paul Sheldon to do as she wants. First it’s small stuff: making him drink soapy water or withholding food and medication. But then Annie gets worse, hitting his legs when he complains about the typewriter, cutting off his foot when he leaves the room, and then cutting off a thumb when he complains about the typewriter breaking down. All leading to that fateful night, after Annie kills a State Trooper, where she and Paul have the battle of (and over) their lives.

I’ll let you know how the story goes as I continue writing it, shall I?

This is the mechanic that I’m keeping in mind as I write this new story. And so far, I’m finding it works. This is quickly becoming one of the most disturbing stories I’ve ever tried writing. Hell, I felt a little uncomfortable while writing one particular scene, so I can only imagine what it’ll do to my readers if I get the story published. And I’m learning quite a bit from writing it too. I’m looking forward to how this story develops as I continue writing it.

I’ll let you guys know how it turns out when it’s finished, shall I?

What tips or insights do you have for writing human-based horror?

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Good morning folks, I’m posting from Washington DC today, where I’m again hanging out for a few days for work. But just because I’m working, that doesn’t mean I’m slacking. So let’s get started on Day Six of the Ten Day Book Challenge, brought to you by my cousin Matthew.

Now before we go any further, I have to go over the rules of this thing again:

  • Thank whoever nominated you with big, bold print. If they have a blog, link to the post where you got tagged there.
  • Explain the rules.
  • Post the cover of a book that was influential on you or that you love dearly.
  • Explain why (because I don’t see the point of just posting a picture of a book cover without an explanation. That goes for Facebook as well as blogs).
  • Tag someone else to do the challenge, and let them know they’ve been tagged.

Today’s book is the scariest book I’ve ever read, which I came across last year and have been shaking ever since. What book could that be, you ask? The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum, that’s what.

I didn’t know much about this novel going in. I’d just seen it recommended to me as an audio book on Audible. It was too short an audio book for me to download (as I listen to these mainly at work and have to make them last throughout the month, I have a rule not to get any shorter than twelve hours long), I was intrigued enough to get it as a paperback. The novel follows David, a twelve-year-old living in the 1950s whose next door neighbor Ruth and her sons take in their cousins, the beautiful teen Meg and the sweet disabled Susan, after they’ve lost their parents. However, Ruth is anything but loving to her new charges, and especially targets Meg to vent her anger at them and at life. But because Ruth is so popular with the kids, who see this awful abuse, many don’t do anything to stop it. In fact, some help out with it. And David will have to make a decision about what to do about this as the level of abuse intensifies.

This novel is terrifying. For one thing, the level of brutality isn’t glossed over, but exposed in terms that leave nothing to the imagination. You see every injury, every attack, every bit of indifference to the suffering of others. It was so horrifying and tragic, there were times I had to put the book down just to process it and keep my equilibrium. It’s even scarier when you find out that it was based on a real story. Yeah, that’s true: there was something similar that happened in the 1960s, and it’s just as scary just reading the details about it.

This makes me wonder, was this novel an attempt by Ketchum to make sense of a tragedy he likely read about in the newspaper or on TV while in his late teens? Or did he already understand, and was trying to make us ask and understand too?

I’m going to caution anyone who wants to read this novel. It is intense, it is terrifying, and it is world-shaking. If you do decide to read it, I hope you have the stomach for it.

Next up, I’m tagging my friend Dellani Oakes. Have fun, Dellani! I can’t wait to see what you post.

Well, that’s all for now. I’ve got to be somewhere soon, so hi-ho! Hi-ho! It’s off to work I go. Yeah, I made that reference, and I proudly stand by it. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!