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August 5th, 2008

Thinking about Horror

My mistake is thinking that "horror" is what the Scifi Channel plays on Saturday afternoons. You know, those movies that exist only to give makeup artists and special effects people a chance to do their equivalent of the first million crap words, and for the director and producer to watch a beautiful girl with limited talent take off her clothes (which of course is the scene that never makes it into the movie). This is indicative of a larger problem, but I want to focus on horror.

I don't write a lot of horror, and I don't read a lot of it, but listening to H.P. Lovecraft's The Music of Erich Zann on Pseudopod, I realized that I should read it more, and write it more often, even if it's just practice.

Horror, especially Lovecraft, require the reader to imagine a lot. Writing is solitary in many ways, but ultimately the writer has to trigger the readers' imaginations in what Stephen King calls an act of telepathy. I think I fault too much in over-explaining things in my fiction, or failing to use descriptions to fuel emotional direction. Writing horror may rely on only one or two variations of dread in descriptions, but if I can write a descriptive passage that evokes dread as well as explains they physicality of the scene, I'm doing better. If, in the same passage, I can hint at the narrative characters emotional state, I will be Writing, which is different than merely writing.

Even better, if I can figure out what each passage or sentence does, I can transliterate that into other emotions.

The larger problem is mistaking techniques that work in movies for techniques that work in writing, even though I'm contemplating writing something similar to Wally Wood's 22 Panels That Always Work or Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau. Maybe this is the programmer in me, thinking of writing like functional programming. Maybe this is me misunderstand exactly what is meant by "third person cinematic" as a viewpoint. Maybe this is me abusing a suggestion once made to me that I should think of writing like film making, or the POV is a camera that floats through the story, and you just write down what happens.

Listening to Lovecraft's story, I heard, and would have read, just hints of what what outside the window, but it created the tension, it added the mystery. It worked.

Now I have to go and do the same.


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