Blue Sludge Blues & Other Abominations
by Shannon Lawrence
On the Writing of Horror
Juneta asked me to talk about the writing of horror, the tropes and psychology, and where the ideas come from. This is a topic I could talk about for hours (and have), as horror is a genre close to my heart. As a kid, I discovered Stephen King and more kid appropriate urban legends, which I gobbled up.Horror is often about humanity or the lack thereof. Of all genres, it is one that addresses human psychology, our fears and our triggers, the things that disgust us, our weaknesses and vulnerabilities. It helps us see the way the world could be…and the way it is, even if it’s just that way in the shadows, or the places we hide in our minds.
Something many don’t realize is that the most important aspect of a horror story is usually not the monster. No, it’s about the characters. Because we, as humans, cannot be frightened of fiction unless we fear for someone or something. Notice I said “fear FOR,” not just fear. Sure, there must be something to fear, but we cannot fully engage without having someone representing us, so that we may worry what will happen to them. What causes tension in a horror story? Fearing what is going to happen to the person on the page or on that screen. Because our conscious mind knows we, ourselves, are not in danger, but someone is, and if we can feel for them, we can fear for them, and we can therefore feel that terror as we wait to see if our fears will be realized. We’re by and large empathetic creatures, and it’s that empathy horror writers play on most of the time.
As for where the ideas come from, it’s a lot of “what if,” which I believe is true in all fiction. What if something real awaited you in that haunted house ride at the fair? What if something lurked in the blue sludge inside a rest stop toilet tank? What if a pregnant woman began to crave something her husband couldn’t provide? One of the stories in my collection came to me on a late night walk. Another was born on a trip to Oregon with my family, as the fog crept up to the sliding glass door like a living thing. I love to dive into a frightening what if, and come out the other side [relatively] unscathed.
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