I wrote a post last summer called “A Horror Writer’s Dilemma“. In it, I explored the reasons I read and write horror, and today, I’m reposting the majority of it for your thoughts and/or discussion. If you’re a writer, feel free to add your reasons for writing what you do in the comments. Readers, jump in and tell us – why do you read horror?
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why I write horror the way I do – and more to the point, why I’ve been leaning towards serial killers as the main characters. What makes me want to explore that particular psychological make-up? Is it healthy? Is it something I should even subject my mind (and my reader’s minds) to? At what point is it best to just leave the door closed?
I’ll tell you right now, it feels dangerous to even enter some of the places in the human mind that I’ve set out to explore. Sometimes just writing the characters I do, I get the feeling that I shouldn’t be there, shouldn’t be trying to understand someone who would deliberately cause harm to other humans. It’s frightening to think that some minds can justify such horrific actions, and others don’t even try to justify them, but rather simply revel in the fact that they have no conscience.
But what if the real reason we run from what we don’t understand is the fear of a different kind of death? What if understanding the horror means we have to confront the fact that it’s possible for the mind to justify certain things that we know should never be justifiable? The death of our own ignorance and the birth of the ability to identify with certain ways of thinking could lead to very scary things indeed.
Honestly, physical horror doesn’t scare me nearly as much as the thought of being able to identify with how a killer thinks and feels. Being able to understand the thoughts and emotions of someone who preys on other humans and still rejecting it as “wrong” morally and ethically is a fine line to walk – understanding often leads us to give people more leeway than we otherwise would.
It also leads to the consideration that we are all just a twitch of environment or a flick of the DNA strand away from being that sort of person which we so ardently fear and despise. And that is perhaps the scariest proposition of all.
Some of the greatest horror writers of all time have explored this concept in detail – Thomas Harris being one of my favorites (no, I don’t care for the new TV show Hannibal, though The Blacklist is fabulous.). Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs were absolutely fascinating and horrifying at the same time – if you haven’t read them (which rock do you live under again?), I’d highly suggest them both.
It’s taken me this long and several stories to really identify what my goal is for writing horror, and I’m sure the stories I’ve written thus far reflect my own hesitancy to embrace that goal. Why did I stop working on Animal? Because I suddenly knew exactly where the story *had* to go, in order for it to be honest, and it scared the crap out of me that I could possibly write such a horrific thing.
It made me reconsider writing horror altogether.
And that, dear readers, is exactly why I need to finish it. It’s not just why I read horror, but why I write it too – to confront the very things I fear the most, and take control of them, even if it’s just in my own mind. Sometimes, that means acknowledging that control isn’t possible, and sometimes evil will win.