Why do we love horror stories?

What’s wrong with me- why do I love to be scared?

As a writer of horror stories, I don’t spend as much time as I should thinking about why I love horror fiction as much as I do. I tend to spend my time focusing instead on the mechanics of horror: the characters, the plot, and the gory details.

But there is nothing more thrilling to me than a tale that makes my flesh creep. What does that say about me? Does this make me a scary person? Someone to worry about? Am I going to translate my tastes over into other areas of my life? Start collecting human heads or trapping people in my basement (I don’t have a basement) or working on an inter-dimensional portal to the seventh circle of hell?

In short, no. Just because I enthuse about it, doesn’t mean I want to live it. It all comes down to one thing, ultimately: escapism. 

Horror fiction: escapism for all and sundry

When I was a kid, I, like many other teenagers in the nineties, fell headlong into the Point Horror craze that swept the nation, nay the globe, for many of my formative years as an adolescent. They were glossy books with brilliant cover designs that would make my heart skip a beat when I saw a new one I hadn’t yet devoured. They were easy to read, and therefore accessible, opening up a world of evil boyfriends, stalkers, neighbours and other paranormal beings, vulnerable teenagers who made questionable life choices, unexpected endings, drama, passion…everything a hormonally-driven fourteen year old could hope for. 

Ultimately, my desires when it comes to fiction, and reading in general, haven’t changed much. I still love a good old-fashioned yarn. A story with all the right elements: a well-rounded lead protagonist, a cast of engaging support characters, a threat or danger of some sort, action, chemistry…I want my adrenal glands to thump in response to the events on the page. I want to escape into an uncertain world, fraught with peril. Horror is the perfect genre for ticking off this fiction wish-list: it deals with serious topics, human topics, things like death, loss, transformation. Who here has never experienced fear? Not a one of you, I’ll bet. We’ve all been scared, and we all remember how it felt, how it really felt when your heart banged double-time in your chest and your hands began to sweat and your head began to pound, when your mouth went dry and you could suddenly smell the sour odour of your own sweat. 

And I think fear is something to be celebrated. It makes us who we are: human in the sense that everyone has something that makes them scared in a unique manner that is wholly personal to them.

As an illustration: I asked my Facebook friends what their worst fear was, as an ideas-generator for my next story, and the response was overwhelming: everything from being lost in space, to the death of a loved one, to cows, clowns, dolls, cheese, abandoned buildings…you name it, someone was scared of it.

 

The responses to my post was like a kaleidoscope of emotion: spanning from the tragic, to the sublime, to the ridiculous. 

what scares you 2

The cows? Turns out lots of people are afraid of cows:

what scares you 3

I think it’s healthy to be afraid, for fun, every now and then. It’s healthy if fear doesn’t feature as part of your daily routine, that is.

What are you scared of? I’d love to hear…let me know!

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  1. Pingback: Listen to and read my short story 'The Path Through Lower Fell' here

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