Horror – food for thought, or just mindless entertainment?

Controversial opinion:

Horror fiction should make you think rather than purely entertain.

Not to say that horror fiction can’t be action-packed, but to me horror fiction’s strength comes from its exploration of psychology. I love to create flawed characters and take readers inside their heads. I also love taking moral questions and twisting them until they bleed. Isn’t that what horror fiction should be?

skull-thinkerBut recently I’ve come to realise that the majority of readers don’t necessarily want this kind of fiction. They prefer explosions with titbits of humour rather than quiet horror, or dark mysteries. Or am I wrong? I don’t know.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that people’s personal prejudices, or concerns that others’ sensibilities might be offended, will turn them off stories. One reviewer I’d sent my novella The Eschatologist to turned it down because they perceived a religious bent. If anything the book is anti-religious! Why not judge the story by the story?

As a writer – and a reader – I’m more drawn to tales that leave you asking questions after you’ve reached the final page. Being indoctrinated towards authors like Barker and Poe naturally I’m going to lean that way, but still, I feel I might be in the minority here. Having said all that, I don’t want to come up with a happy blend of entertaining, but still horrific fiction, just to garner a few more readers. I’d be compromising my own integrity, wouldn’t I?

I recently discussed all this with an author friend who said that after reading my work it left them feeling ‘heavy’ and that maybe there was too much darkness in there. I’ll take that as a compliment 🙂 Another author recently posted on Facebook their concern that they’d killed off all their characters in one story, but their concern was more about becoming predictable.  Still it’s a horror story – and it’s their story. Should they really be concerned about reader expectations, or just telling the best story they can?

Maybe I’m just thinking out loud, or whinging? Or maybe people just don’t care about reading anymore. Horror tastes are different for everyone, whether it be films, fiction or merchandise, but should creators and writers try and fit a particular mold? Maybe I’m overthinking it?

I think I’ll just stick to writing fiction 🙂 but I’d love to hear your thoughts.


About darkscrybe

Two-time international Bram Stoker Award-nominee®*, Greg Chapman is a horror author and artist based in Queensland, Australia. Greg is the author of several novels, novellas and short stories, including his award-nominated debut novel, Hollow House (Omnium Gatherum) and collections, Vaudeville and Other Nightmares (Specul8 Publishing) and This Sublime Darkness and Other Dark Stories (Things in the Well Publications). He is also a horror artist and his first graphic novel Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times, (McFarland & Company) written by authors Rocky Wood and Lisa Morton, won the Superior Achievement in a Graphic Novel category at the Bram Stoker Awards® in 2013. He is also the current President of the Australasian Horror Writers Association. Greg lives in Rockhampton with his wife and their two daughters. * Superior Achievement in a First Novel for Hollow House (2016) and Superior Achievement in Short Fiction, for “The Book of Last Words” (2019)
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6 Responses to Horror – food for thought, or just mindless entertainment?

  1. I think it was Stephen King who said “write for yourself”, and I agree. Write the story you’d like to read, and if it’s as dark as f**k, then so be it. Readers will come. I think the beauty of horror fiction is that you can take it anywhere you want, and as far as you want. Horror is a feeling, and for me that’s what sets it apart from other genres.
    One story I had published garnered a couple of letters to the publication voicing their… wait for it… horror at the savagery of the story; it also had a reader cancel their subscription and blamed me and my story for it. I took that as a compliment — something I’d written really affected a reader.
    There are always going to be people who hate what you write, but there will always be those who love it.
    Keep doing what you’re doing, dude!

  2. Steve Dillon says:

    I think your questions are valid questions that every writer will need to consider- whether it’s horror or fantasy or label-it-as-you-will. For example, if I had to read through chapter upon chapter of brutality and torture, I’d put it down very quickly (and it would probably put me off that writer). However, if the narrative is interspersed with the torturer’s motivations, their background, their internal struggles, as well as the thoughts of the victim and perhaps other characters affected by the scene, I would enjoy it a lot more. I’m not a fan of torture scenes in movies or books, but am a big fan of Clive Barker because of how he writes. To me, he’s writing about something ‘other’ than the act being carried out before my eyes, and that’s what I love. He takes me to the edge of my comfort zone, and sometimes beyond, but holds me there, hanging over the precipice so I can enjoy the wondrous landscapes I could only see from that viewpoint. Greg, I need to read more of your work as I am now intrigued, and from what I’ve read in the past, I’d vote for you to keep doing what you’re doing 🙂 🙂

  3. cmsaunders says:

    ‘Heavy’ is a good word for your fiction. I have to say, Greg, when I read Vaudeville it made me feel weird. I think it was the imagery, that’ll be the artist in you. Or it might have been something I ate.

  4. Pingback: Write whatever the hell you want | Darkscrybe

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