Thursday, November 3, 2011

Why I like to read Horror Fiction


Don't roll your eyes, answer, "...because people like to be scared... it excites us... blah blah." and convince yourself that this is one of those articles. Believe me, I don't like to be scared. In fact, I never dared to read the horror genre until very recently, when I read my first Stephen King book. That too, only because some idiot told me it's not as scary on paper as it is on screen..
For someone who got scared even by the obviously fake white faced, black eyed ghosts in most run-of-the-mill horror movies; and whose only experience with horror fiction involved pathetic childhood encounters with R. L. Stine, King's book was something else. I am, what you call, a classic "scaredy-cat." And this post is about why I love to read horror fiction.
"At last he crept back into bed and pulled the blankets up and watched the shadows thrown by the alien streetlight turn into a sinuous jungle filled with flesheating plants that wanted only to slip around him, squeeze the life out of him, and drag him down into a blackness where one sinister word flashed in red: REDRUM." - Stephen King (The Shining)
It's not like I've ever actually come across the word "Redrum" splattered somewhere in blood, like Danny here. But at night, when I read this, I'll pull the blankets up to my chin and focus my eyes completely on the book, trying to ignore the shadowy trees outside my window. And I'll be just as terrified as Danny is. And you know what I'll tell myself... Such things don't exist? Not really. Something like... "Calm down. It's not like it's happening over here!"
Horror fiction, according to me, anyway, is not about how gory you can be; but, how convincing. The story can star vampires or zombies, spirits and ghouls or just plain crazy people - a horror novel works when the reader believes in it, if only for a second. I mean, I can never be completely sure that there isn't a ghost standing in the next room as I type, wondering what is making the tapping noise. And it's this paranoia that a horror writer gets to play with.

Movies are too definite. When you watch a horror movie, you are watching someone else's nightmare. But yours is always the worst. For instance, spiders or snakes or dark jungle scenes only creep me out - but add a white faced ghost to the equation and bam! I'm scared. In a movie, you'll only see what you're shown. In a book, though, the writer just lays the groundwork; the imagery is up to you. It is up to you to fill in the blanks, and like I said, nothing is scarier than your worst nightmare.

I still maintain, though, that I don't like the fear. But the fear is intriguing. I find it fascinating, that a bunch of words can completely convince me that there is someone standing behind me, watching me read. How they can make me quickly glance back and make sure there isn't. It's horrible, that I can't sleep well for days after I read a particularly scary novel. It's wonderful, that a writer can so effectively do his job.

17 comments:

Johan said...

I like your views on the horror genre although i've mostly watched horror films, and not read the books. I like the feeling of sitting on the very edge of my seat, awaiting the next chock in the movie. That is the power that the horror film maker possesses. He can engineer the film in a way that will have you waiting in fear for the next corner of the corridor. I don't really know if you have the same feeling when reading the books but i imagine that that aspect is not as prominent. As i said, i like your views on the genre. You have done a great job of describing the fascination that we have with this genre. I have never really understood why i liked watching these movies, but you seem to put a finger on the feeling quite accurately.

Sincerely

vvvv said...

Hello Tabula!

We are four guys, who love horror fiction a lot. We like horror fiction, because we love to get scared and to experience fear.
We do respect your opinion about horror fiction, but at some points we do disagree with you. Just like you, we think implicit horror fiction is really great. We think it's both scary and exciting to imagine your worst nightmare. But we do have to admit, that we like to watch horror movies more than to read horror novels. We love to watch horror movies, because you can share the scary experience with your friends, and because we like to get surprised in a scary way. We are also fascinated about the way horror movies are built up with effects, music, and so on. We like realistic horror movies the most, because we can relate to them, which makes the experience way more scary.
Even though we don't believe in ghosts and spirits, we find “Paranormal Activity” scary, because it's filmed with a hand-held camera, and because we are following the characters everyday-life.

SGMP said...

We agree with you. Especially the part where you're telling that we have different nightmares, and it's up to us to add the extra and imagine for ourselves. So as readers it's some of our response too, to make it more scary.
You also have to be in the right element. It's not as scary to read a horror story, if it's bright outside and the birds are singing. It has to be night and dark outside, and then the mood is set to read.

What is your worst nightmare?
Do you plan on becoming a writer too? Or are you just a fan, who likes to read horror?

Greeting from Denmark
- Joe, Amalie, Monika and Christoffer.

ASAAz said...

Hi Priya
We are a small group of people who are basically not into the horror genre, especially not horror movies, since we find them quite scary. They’re not realistic, but you’re still terrified after watching them.
However, we think it’s interesting that you like to read horror – we honestly haven’t read much horror fiction, barely anything actually. The pictures that you create in your mind are what keep us away. It’s the paranoia that you write you fixed, the wondering what is making the tapping noise, which we think is too uncomfortable. The sounds that make you start and are too unexplainable.
Another impression we’ve got of horror is that violence can be quite explicit, and violence is not exactly our cup of tea. Other than that, we can’t really see the point in horror fiction.
Do you think that horror books are violent in general (of what you’ve read, of course)?
And in case one day one of us wants to start reading horror fiction, is there a particular book you can recommend?
XOXO the non-horror readers

rep33qfq said...

This is great. I share many of your views, and i like Horror exactly like you do. I enjoy reading mind-twisting, psychological thrillers and horrors. Monsters and aliens doesn't get me to the edge of the chair as a book or a movie like the shinning does. Splatter-horrors with doctors ripping out guts for hundreds of pages do scare me, but I don't enjoy it. What I do enjoy is, when an other human scares the crap out of me, by telling me about a person going mad. I really don't know why, but I guess it is mixed with my interest for psychology.

Like you I don't enjoy movies as much as books, partly because of the shocks. When you are reading it yourself, you can control your “adventure” into the book. It doesn't make it less scary at all, I can still get all exhausted from reading for a couple of hours.

Great Blog, I really saw a lot of my own feelings displayed, and I enjoyed reading it :)

Priya -Tabula Rasa said...

Hi, I do get what you mean about the experience of watching a horror movie. The background music and the camera effects in a movie are exciting and shocking (in a good way) for me too. But only for those hundred minutes. Somehow, they just don't have as much of a lasting impression on me as the descriptions in a book would. And the fact that the actors are the same ones I saw in a romance comedy the other day is no help in making the story seem real!
That being said, I completely agree with you about sharing the experience with friends; the tension and atmosphere created is one of the perks of watching horror movies!

Priya -Tabula Rasa said...

Hey, thanks for stopping by. It's actually funny, because I do get the exact same feeling, while reading a book as well. I am dying to find out what happens next, but I am also too scared to actually turn the page and read. That being said, it's probably hard for an author to pen down as vivid a picture as a film-maker can show; but there are writers out there who have managed to write some really great horror novels.

Priya -Tabula Rasa said...

I agree; it's up to us (as the readers) to build the right atmosphere. At night, in the dark is probably the most appropriate time to read a horror novel; it helps if you're alone at home!
My worst nightmare come true was, I think, when I read Ghost Story (by Peter Straub). The key element in the story is the very fact that it's your own fear that haunts you the most. For now, I am just a fan, but you never know :)

Priya -Tabula Rasa said...

Horror is usually violent and disturbing, true; but not in way that it promotes violence. You can’t even relate to most of it; there are no people pulling out guns and shooting each other. It’s usually just people gone crazy, or under ‘supernatural’ influence; the key word here being ‘supernatural’; which makes it obviously untrue. Besides, it’s slightly unfair to generalize horror fiction as that which involves violence.
The stories that aren't all that violent, that I’ve read, include books by authors like Richard Matheson or Ray Bradbury. Mostly the violence and the paranormal are used as metaphors of problems in real-life, ones we can relate to; or to convey something deeper/more meaningful. So, all the goriness isn’t an end in itself. I think you should give the genre a try; it might surprise you. :)

Priya -Tabula Rasa said...

I agree with you too. Psychological thrillers are always the worst; I think it's because it is the closest to real. You cannot picture an alien walking into your room one fine day, but the going crazy thing could actually happen! The splatter-horrors you mentioned are gory for the sake of being gory, and that's just not something I'd appreciate either. Scary, yes, but not in a good way!
Oh, and, thanks :) I am glad you enjoyed the post.

Johan said...

I would like to experience that in a book, i was wondering if you could maybe recommend some books for me to read, so that i might experience that sensation. Personally i've always almost exclusively read fantasy fiction, or science fiction.

Thanks in advance.

Johan

vvvv said...

Hi, we do get what you mean, but we think a horror movie is much more scary than a horror book. But that's just our opinion.

Thank you for your answer.

Bye!

Valde said...

Wow, thank you for your fast reply, and have a nice day!

Ulrik Willén said...

Hello Priya,
I agree with you to a certain extent (especially about the psychological side of horror fiction). Of course it's all subjective on how frightened you would get when reading. You said you've read "The Shining" as your first horror, which is then your favorite horror fiction book?
Personally my favorite is "It" by Stephen King. Other than that a great post, we enjoyed it!
Greetings from Denmark

ASAAz said...

Thank you for your answer! We admit we haven’t read much horror fiction, so of course we can’t actually say what “horror violence” is. However, even though the “violence” is paranormal and people gone crazy, even though it’s impossible, we still find it a little too intrusive.
But thank you for your comment! Some of us might go read some horror fiction now to see if we can relate to some of your viewpoints – we really like your blog and your thoughts on horror ☺

Priya -Tabula Rasa said...

I agree; after a certain point, yes, it's all very subjective.
It's a tough choice, to choose my favourite horror novel. IT is probably one of my favourites too, along with Peter Straub's Ghost Story and The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson...
Glad you stopped by :)

philslattery said...

This is a good, serious discussion of the nature of horror. On my own blog, I have tried to explore why people enjoy horror, and I have a few theories. The first is that the inner physical sensations of horror are similar to those of sex: heart-racing, adrenaline rush, shortness of breath, plus a few others. Second, I believe that writers write what they write and readers read what they read in order to experience something vicariously. Third, horror may appeal to the darker side of some people. Fourth, reading or watching horror may be cathartic for some and may rid them of their darker emotions. Fifth, some people may like horror because they can become so wrapped up in it that they can forget the rest of their lives and completely focus on something else, which may be as relaxing as meditation for some. Those are my initial thoughts on the matter. Check out my blog from time to time, if you are interested. I post a wide range of topics related to horror and occasionally I touch on matters like this one.

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