horror philosophy

On WritingThe funny thing about horror–or, at least one funny thing about it–is how absolutely hit-and-miss it can be. What’s terrifying to one person is yawn-inducing to the next. I’ll give you an example.

In my opinion, The Shining is one of the scariest movies ever filmed. I couldn’t tell you why, which may be part of what freaks me out about it. Maybe it’s the ambiguity.

I mean, is little Danny possessed? Just what kind of imaginary friend is Tony, anyway? And Jack–is he psychotic? An alcoholic? Just cabin-fever nuts? All of the above? Would he have gone kill-my-family crazy anyway, or was it the hotel? And if it was the hotel, why the hell would anyone (like, say, for example, Dick, the friendly cook) let anyone stay up there, let alone a man with a family that includes a small child?

And what’s with the blood flooding the hallway? Or the guy in the beaver costume?

There’s just so much about it that’s deeply unsettling, and yet the story pulls you in. By the time we get to the part where Wendy discovers Jack’s “book in progress”, it’s thoroughly creepy that he’s just writing the same sentence over and over again. I mean, it shouldn’t be, but I’m getting chills right now just thinking about it.

And yet, Nimue thinks its an incredibly bland story. It doesn’t frighten her at all.

But, that’s horror. What scares one person will put the next to sleep.

“Yeah yeah, Dex,” you say. “What’s the point?”

My point is, if you write horror, never recruit just one test reader. Gather several, if at all possible. Just one person won’t be able to tell you reliably if what you’ve crafted is truly terrorizing. And, if some people don’t think it’s scary at all, that’s okay.

With horror, one man’s nightmare is another man’s weird-but-not-particularly-upsetting dream. The goal isn’t to scare everyone. Just a lucky few.


PS. (Can you ‘PS’ a post? Never mind. I’m doing it.) Okay, so…PS, the same applies to other genres, too. We all find different things moving in different ways. Don’t try to craft fiction that affects everyone. You can’t, and any attempt to do so will only produce weak, watered-down stories. Try to write stories that move you, and you’ll move others along the way.


About Ash Martin
Ash Martin writes dark fantasy and horror, has a thing for classic monster legends, Nordic mythology, coffee, and sarcasm, and is currently working on multiple books.

7 Responses to horror philosophy

  1. diannegray says:

    The most disappointing ‘horror’ I know of is Stephen King’s ‘It’ – what was that thing with the giant spider in the end? LOL!

    But I get what you’re saying here. Not everyone has the same taste and there isn’t a book on earth that is loved by all (although, it would be nice to be the first one to write it!) ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

    • dex says:

      I never read “It”. I’ve read plenty of King’s books–enough to appreciate his mastery–but far from all of them. That one never really appealed to me, maybe because I’ve seen some of the TV mini-series and it looked incredibly lame. :/


  2. Okay, get this. As a child, I was not allowed, alright, forbidden, to watch horror movies. Why? Well, because a mere flash of scary meant I’d be spending the next month in my parent’s bed. I was incredibly easily terrified.

    So…at approximately age 12 and alone in the house, a seemingly fortuitous thing happened – THE SHINING appeared on my 18″ screen. I squealed with joy, rubbed my hands together and hunkered down for a thrill.

    Can you guess what happened? You won’t believe me. But, I swear it’s true.

    The. Power. Went. Out.

    There I sat on my blue velvet couch, swallowed in what felt like the blackest of nights, Jack’s face through the busted bathroom door, the last thing I’d seen.

    After some time had passed, I managed to shift my stiffening body into a horizontal position and slowly pull the blanket up over my head, elbows creaking like an old wooden floorboard.

    And. I Froze.

    (Don’t worry. I can confidently use that word literally here, Adam)

    All but for the shallowest of breaths, I. did. not. move.

    When my parents returned home after what seemed like a month of dreaded Sundays (I hated going to church) they found me in the same position, utterly drenched in sweat and mumbling redrum.

    Okay, the redrum part isn’t true.

    But, I’ve gone off on a tangent. What was my point? Oh yeah – don’t let me be the judge of your horror stories. I’m much too easy a mark.

    Liked by 1 person

    • dex says:

      LOL. I hated horror as a child. I was too easily scared, as well. When I was little, the Wicked Witch of the West was enough to send me running to the next room, squealing. It wasn’t until fairly recently (within the last 10 years) that I fell in love with horror, at long last seeing the value it brings.

      And you know what’s funny? Even as an adult, horror movies and books used to give me nightmares. But since I started writing horror, that doesn’t happen any more. I let the beasts out of their cages in my own head and they didn’t come back. (Per Stephen King, they only come back sometimes.) Writing horror has benefited me in more ways than I could count, believe it or not.

      Also, I really enjoyed reading about your The Shining experience. The same thing would have never happened to me, though. I would have been too afraid to start watching it to begin with!


  3. P. C. Zick says:

    You are so right in your assessment that if we write what moves us, others will be moved as well. But we all must find what it is that moves us. And Hazy’s story is hilarious.

    Liked by 1 person

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