Saturday 13 July 2013

Why I Write Horror Stories

Why I Write Horror Stories
by Michael Brookes

Horror is quite a broad genre to define, if you ask readers what they consider to be horror stories they will often respond by naming authors. There are a large number to choose from including contemporary authors like Stephen King and Clive Barker to classics like Edgar Allen Poe and H P Lovecraft. Looking at what they write there is a vast range of stories, even for specific authors they cover a variety of subjects, all of them considered to be horror stories.

So what common thread exists between all these tales? The simplest answer is fear. Fear is one of the most basic of human responses, it is so fundamental we can even recognise it in animals. The stories are all written with the intention of illustrating or exploring fear. Of course fear comes in many guises and that results with the breadth of stories already mentioned.

As fear is one of our basic responses it also makes it one of the earliest emotions we developed as a species. It is quite likely that language developed in part to communicate fear. I can easily imagine that some of the first stories ever told where tales of terror. They would have told about places and things to avoid. Not only did they illustrate real fears, human beings with their capacity for imagination created fears not tied to the physical world.

In many of the oldest books known to history, fear is a major element in their wisdom. At its heart the Bible (for example) is a horror story. It tells of what should be feared and of terrors to come. It is this rich history that fascinates me both as a reader and a writer.

The manifestations of fear changes as society develops. In more primitive times we feared the natural world around us, as we mastered the land we lived on that fear transformed. It became something more elemental, the land hid secret beings and many of those entities meant us harm. The primal parts of our brain kept some of those early fears, some stayed as fear of specific creatures like spiders and snakes.

Even those primal fears changed, we developed fears of tooth and claw and wrapped them in superstitions like werewolves and vampires. Time passed and we continued to develop, as our populations increased we realised that we were the monster. The invention of rapid communications helped spread the fear of ourselves. Newspapers printed lurid stories of terrible crimes, a pattern that remains, only now with the more visceral presentation by television and the Internet.

Horror stories, like people (because of people) change with the times. Some tales of course remain classics; some legends are too horrible to die. Some changes do happen even to these diehards, witness for example the transformation of vampires and werewolves from monsters that stalked us, to romantic figures. Although in fairness, Dracula, that most famous of vampire stories, is at its heart a love tale and is love lost not another fear?

For myself, I am contributing (in some small part) to the continuing evolution of the horror story. The most obvious is in techno-horror, the fast pace of changing technology brings new fears into our lives. Some are personal fearsl, such as how do we deal with the ever changing face of the technology. Other fears are greater in scope, what happens if an emergent AI decides we are its enemy (the subject of Faust 2.0)? What happens as technology takes over more of our decision making?

These are all new avenues of fear that as a writer I can explore, of course I’m far from the only one doing this, it’s all part of writing’s great tradition.

The other avenue I enjoy exploring is much older, in my first two books (and to an extent in the others as well) I delve into metaphysics. What are we? What is our place in the universe? What or who is God? All these questions and more have fascinated us as a species since the dawn of time. Here terrors dwell as much as in the inevitable march of technology.

It is this mix that I find fun to read, but of course there’s always room for more ‘conventional’ horrors in my writing.

Most of all, the horror genre is so broad it encompasses almost every story ever told and that is why I love it.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks - I'll write about why I write science fiction next week.

  2. I like both reading and writing horror because, as you said, fear causes people do the strangest things and offers lots of fodder for enjoying myself.

    1. Indeed and I missed out probably the best reason, it's fun :-)

  3. Thanks for the interesting blog - it is always great to find out what makes people tick (or write certain kinds of stories)

    Horror is not really my favourite genre, but I have enjoyed some classics in my time (Lovecraft, Poe, some Robert E. Howard's horror stories). As a genre, I think horror is pretty difficult to put down (as you said) and some stories, like your recent Faust 2.0, could perhaps also be termed as thrillers rather than horror stories (although F2.0 had some very horrible stuff in it, I admit).

    1. Horror is an all encompassing genre. Faust 2.0 fits into a few genres, and I'll be covering science fiction in my next Saturday spot.

  4. I can see the attraction of the horror genre: the breadth, the visceral nature of the subject matter, the purity of the primal emotion of fear, the opportunity to explore the irrational side of human nature, the natural ease with which darker themes lend themselves to exploration in fiction, to name but a few.

    You've found a rich vein to mine there - good luck with the digging.