First World Problems When Writing Horror

Of all the short stories I need to rewrite, there’s only one I never seem to get anywhere with. You guessed it, it’s a horror story.

The reason progress has been so slow on this one is because re-reading it frightens me.

My desk faces the window, with a lovely view of thick vines, flowers, honeybees, and the occasional hummingbird. The price I pay for having that view is that I have my back to the door (which was an anxiety I sought to break myself of, since despite all my training, the likelihood of being assaulted is so slim). There’s also a fold-out couch behind me. Every single time I get to work on this story, I feel someone there… sitting on the couch with one knee over the other; or crouched in the doorway. Watching. Waiting… and I can’t stand it.

I don’t have a great deal of exposure to the genre because I get nightmares so easily. My senses prickle to things in the dark — listening for silences that could be body-shaped.

I’ve tried writing in other parts of the house, or in coffee shops, or with my partner sitting next to me; but in those places of safety I can’t summon the emotional reality that the story requires. No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. I’m not talking about revulsion, or gore, or torture porn; that’s nothing. I’m talking about the kind of horror that steals your sleep and eats your safety.

What does it take to be a good horror writer? What safeguards do they put in place? Or, are the greatest working from a place of pure catharsis, without a need to come down afterward? Perhaps the only way is to develop a relationship with fear — to actively seek the nightmares — and to fall in love with one’s own death.

Which invites a whole other set of demons to the door.

Maybe next time I take on that story, I’ll set up a lovely tea service and a kitten in a the next room. That way, I can come out, settle in, and pretend it isn’t a trap.

I learn by going where I have to go.”
— Theodore Roethke


1 thought on “First World Problems When Writing Horror

  1. marfisk

    I’ll admit I write horror rarely, and often things others think are horror are not to me because they’re not to the characters. Animals being animals, aliens being aliens. However, I have written some both psychological and just horrific people. My method is simple. I write as fast as I can to get it over with the same way I’d read a scary book I accidentally picked up. I can’t stop because then I’ll be trapped in that headspace. The trouble is, that doesn’t help on rewriting. What you might try is having someone else read it and give you comments. A lot of people edit analytically though they write emotionally, and maybe that’s the best way to approach this. If it scares you to reread, you don’t need to worry about the emotions being there. Just try not to break them. Good luck. Good horror is hard. Bad horror is easy. Sounds like you’re on the right road.


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