Why fear is sweeter than Christmas morning.

This week, It’s my great pleasure to give the stage to Rachel Watts. Rachel hails from down under and I know her through the awesome site that is ‘Scribophile.’ She’s one of those writers that can put you in the scene from the first sentence, and when it comes to horror or noir, that’s exactly what you sign up for – right? Well, Rachel’s post asks the question why it is that so many of us like to lose ourselves in dark stories. I thoroughly recommend checking out her work – there are some links after her article.

I am alone in the house. The window at the back, left open for the cat, groans on creaking hinges as the wind sucks it open and slams it closed. It is as though the house breathes. I am at my laptop and I am frightened. Cold shivers run over my skin and I look around the room periodically to convince myself of its normality. To convince myself that I really am alone. Everything is fine.

It’s broad daylight but I scare easy. I even scare myself as I write scary stories that sometimes don’t go anywhere. Stories that don’t seem to gain enough power from my fearful ideas.

I read recently that studies of novice and experienced writers showing them using different parts of their brains to construct stories. Novice writers use areas of the brain associated with visual experience, whereas experienced writers rely on areas associated with speech. I have been writing my whole life (okay, since I was eight years old), with varying degrees of success, and I still rely on a visual style of creation when I write horror. I see the darkness at the edges of the room, and I see the monster hiding behind the door. But I also feel it. The fear. That’s what we’re here for, right? That’s why we come to this genre that only keeps us up at night and makes us look over our shoulder when we’re alone in the house. Even if it’s broad daylight. Even when we’re only scaring ourselves.

When I was a child, I would have been about four, I received a fake, red, plastic fingernail in a Christmas cracker (I don’t think you have those in the US or UK so here’s a link). In my head, it was a witch’s finger. It was evil.

About this time Michael Jackson’s Thriller came out (yes that’s how old I am, whatevs). I was instantly hooked. The door slam, the cold hand, and the zombies in the film clip linked to the red plastic witch finger to create a sense of the occult. Together they haunted my dreams. I couldn’t let it go. The answer to the fear is only more fear. Why do we do this?

According to Freud and his disciples, horror gives us a fantasy space to explore supressed dread and desire. It toys with our understanding of subject and object, it makes us see ourselves from outside ourselves. It makes us abject – neither object nor subject but something else. And there may well be some truth in that.

But what about that intensity of feeling? Giles Deleuze would have us understand that cinema is not purely visual. That our sensory perception, our increased heart rate, and our jump-scares, are part of it. Surely reading and writing horror is the same? I feel like that feeling of dread, though we know we are watching or reading fiction, is an end in itself. Personally, when the mystery of a haunted house, or series of murders, is resolved I lose interest. I want the fear. That’s the only reason I’m there. I’m not interested in the knowledge that the ghost is just misunderstood, and that it will go home when the persons responsible for their gruesome death are brought to light. SNORE. Hauntings, killings, horror itself, should be eternal. Resolution is too much like a story. Fear doesn’t need resolution. It just is.

But this could be why my stories often don’t go anywhere. Why I have so many unfinished horror stories on my Kindle. Not because I’m scaring myself. It couldn’t be that. Surely not.

Rachel Watts has scary stories in the Riding Light Review’s Halloween edition, in DM du Jour and another coming out in Ghostlight: The Magazine of Terror in December. She also writes at www.leatherboundpounds.com.

1 Comment

  1. Rachel says:

    Thank you for the chance to write this post Tom! I enjoyed it a great deal.

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