What scares you?

Every Day Fiction recently popped out a new horror story of mine, and I’ve got a few other horror pieces already out there. Some of my sword & sorcery tales have strong horror elements, too.

So, I’m asking: What scares you?

A lot of my horror tales, published or not, depend on plausibility. I don’t often go for the straight-out supernatural thing, at least when writing present-day stuff. I’ll hint at otherworldliness, but usually I’ll leave room for the reader to wonder while I go for the scare with something entirely plausible. Indeed, it’s the plausible thing that scares me. Ghosts and goblins I know aren’t real, but a crazed killer or ensuing madness … those I worry about.

I suppose it’s a bit like H.P. Lovecraft’s position, although this isn’t something I necessarily intended to stake out when writing these stories. Lovecraft, convinced that vampires and such could no longer provide true chills in a world where science was pushing such things to the margin of human memory, decided to mine the vast cosmos and find his horrors across the void or in the depths of time. Not that his stuff was particularly plausible, but it was more plausible than say, “Dracula,” and it seemed more plausible because he leaned on science and archeology and history. Don’t get me wrong; “Dracula” is one of my favorite books — but it hasn’t scared me since I was, like 8 or 9.

I like horror stories that make the reader say, “Oh, crap. This could happen.” That’s usually the case even if I’ve tried to immerse the reader into a mood of spectral suspense along the way. Indeed, the supernatural vibe provides the hook and misdirection that makes the whammy work, in my opinion.

What’s your opinion?

— Steve


8 thoughts on “What scares you?

  1. Hmmm.

    When I write “dark”, which is rarely, I write it with the fantasy element in plain sight — and when I’m in the mood to read that sort of thing, those are the kind of stories I seek, too… So the more subtle treatments, or straight horror without any discernible fantasy element, is something that I don’t prefer and have had little occasion to explore at the keyboard.

    I am on board with your comments about suspense. Fantastical elements or not, I like Hitchcockian stories.

    Bottom line: I want my horror served on the side, spicing the dish, not being the reason for it.


  2. I keep meaning to write a post here, but my main ideas seem too ambitious and long for a blog comment. However, I might get around to posting about this on my own blog.

    That being said, the short answer is: what frightens me isn’t the same thing as what I find interesting in horror fiction. Heights frighten me in real life, but they don’t do much for me in movies or literature. Not sure why that is.

    In an attempt to keep this simple without getting into all kinds of definitions and the like …

    “Dark” stories tend to come in a lot of varieties, but two of the basic ones are the “horror” story as compared to the “terror” story. To use cinematic examples, the Saw movies are “terror” stories whereas Hitchock’s Psycho is a “horror” story. The difference isn’t so much the plot or characters or any internal elements of the story as much as it is the emotional resonance that’s left upon the reader/viewer. Stephen King usually writes horror, while guys like Joe R. Lansdale and Clive Barker and Brett Easton Ellis are more your terror writers (though not always). An easy (though not perfect) way to think of it is like this … what horrifies you? And what terrifies you? There’s a difference. The difference might simply be your personal circumstances at any given time, or it might depend upon your own emotional/spiritual makeup and/or background. As a personal example, the idea of serial killers horrifies me, but it doesn’t terrify me; however, I’m sure if I fell into the clutches of one of these fiends, I would become quite terrified.

    Drat. I know I’m not explaining this well, all because I’m trying not to be longwinded. Which I’ve already become.

    I’ll have to think, read and blog on this. Dern you, Goble! You ‘n’ yer fancy writtin’ question-a-bobs!


  3. I didn’t post a reply earlier today because it was long winded. Your reply, Ty, is quite short by comparison.

    I was attempting to say something similar to what Steve, TW and Ty have said. Most horror fiction and movies are boring to me. I am unable to suspend belief with the genre. I think for me it is because I don’t terrify easily. I have a good startle reflex, but that is more humorous than frightening.
    There are things that upset me, anger me, like serial killers, natural disasters, security investors who foreclose with one hand while begging for a bailout with the other–things like that.
    But it takes a very big personal connection to horrify me or terrify me.
    I climbed aboard a plane the first day they were back in the air after 9/11. People at the Chicago work office treated me like I was either the craziest or bravest person they knew. I never understood that. I was angry–not terrified nor horrified by 9/11–just angry that a group of humans could be so flippant with the lives of others.

    It rarely happens, but I have been horrified, and it was a Stephen King movie of all things. “Pet Cemetery” gave me nightmares. Not the part of the movie that had everyone else screaming or jumping; those parts were laughable. My terror was the little blond boy that got hit by the truck near the beginning. I had a little blond boy of my own at the time, and in the nightmare I too failed to rescue him from being hit by the truck.

    I like dark fiction. But if it goes for the cheap “scare” tactics, which I equate with poorly executed slapstick comedy, it falls utterly flat for me. I love suspense, but would rather read a scientific journal than most horror novels. Now if the novel explores some dark aspect of the world or human condition, then I can get into it.
    So toss me in the camp that has to be able to say “oh crap, this could happen!”

    It has been a long time, but now that I’ve been reminded of it, I will likely have that “Pet Cemetery” nightmare again. You see, my little blond boy grew up and I now have this little blond grandson toddling around… and logging trucks have been rumbling past the house…


  4. I guess I’ll buy that King’s books (and I’m not much of a fan — haven’t been able to get into his stuff since “The Green Mile”, which others panned but I liked) are suspenseful enough, but the cinema versions tend to lean more toward Ty’s definition of “terror” versus “horror” (I find those too close for my pointy, li’l head, so I’ll stick with “suspense” versus “horror/terror”.

    I guess what scares in reading stories or novels is, well, nada. I think I have a fairly active imagination, and there’s stuff (like Clive Barker, who I don’t read anymore, or Dean Koontz, who I do) that makes me wince, but if it’s in print, it doesn’t give me the creeps. Can’t remember the last time that happened.
    Film versions, though…
    So, while reading about acrophobia doesn’t trigger anything — given how lily-livered I am about heights, I wonder why not — “Vertigo” still can. More of a visceral impact, I guess.


  5. High school seniors who read H-E-I-R-E-S-S as if it were H-A-R-A-S-S. (The really scary thing is that several adults present accepted it.)


  6. Serial killers scare me.

    Not having “enough” scares me (I’ve often thought of writing my own treatise on that …)

    Having my kids out of my sight puts my heart in my mouth, even if they’re at school or with my sister or someplace that is theoretically safe.


  7. p.s. stupid stuff that could theoretically happen around the house scares me, too. it is the worst. take any example of something dumb/stupid/ignorant and explode it out.

    for example … because i’m scared of serial killers, i used to keep a sharp (and I mean sharp, and large) knife near my bed. the idea being that i’d have a weapon if one showed up. (flawed logic at best, i know).

    But after my first daughter began to toddle, I realized what folly it was to keep a weapon where she could discover it and hurt herself … or her little sister. or our dog. So I got rid of it. But what if I hadn’t? That’s the scary thought.


  8. Kathleen: Do you ever try to work any of those fears into fiction? Does writing fiction help alleviate those fears, or clarify things in your mind?


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