I recently joined a writer’s group. Weird right, aren’t writers creatures of the dark huddled over glowing screens feverishly typing and hogging the coffee pot? Ok, so I exaggerated. A little. Anyway, we review different submissions and have done some flash fiction. There have been one/two that could qualify for horror, one rather reminiscent of Stephen King‘s style: subtle and psychological. With October coming up and another opportunity to try my hand at flash fiction (of which I admit openly a nose-picking monkey could probably do better), I have reflected on my childhood which was spent engrossed in Goosebumps, watching Tales of the Crypt, trying to be the first kid to snatch a copy of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and, in later years, dark manga. I read a piece from Tor.com about four months ago that discussed how horror stories are healthy for children. The article argued that horror stories were important for children to experience as they taught them how to overcome even the most daunting and terrifying of obstacles and taught them important lessons. Author Greg Ruth stated,
“Horror for kids lets them not only read or see these terrible beasts, but also see themselves in the stories’ protagonists. The hero’s victory is their victory. The beast is whomever they find beastly in their own lives.”
Even for adults, this philosophy was accurate. I read and watched plenty of horror through childhood to adulthood and, though some of it made me almost bow my knees in prayer, it made me realize that there were generally reasons for why a protagonist survived. The same can be applied to life. Horror teaches children that life is not all sunshine, happiness and pooping out rainbows. Without the dark side of humanity, we fall short of understanding who we are, what we can become and formulate reasonable expectations to maintain a stable life.
A quick comparison of the above mentioned series would serve well to see how each fits into our equation. Goosebumps was mild compared to the rest of the authors and stories listed. Nonetheless, while it gave me a good fright concerning werewolves, Goosebumps encompassed the idea of Ruth’s article by making kids protagonists and overcoming their fears. It’s endorsed by scholastic, so you can’t go wrong! “Tales of the Crypt” was a TV series my dad enjoyed watching after he would come home from work. Unlike Goosebumps, it was hardly meant for children. I caught a few images and episodes here and there. I don’t remember much back then, but I revisited the series several years ago. It’s super cheesy with graphics (but so was “The Exorcist” and I won’t admit how I reacted to that!), the stories are older, but they are pleasantly short. Scary Stories was a book series that was oddly popular at my elementary school. I remember being disappointed when I would go to our library and find all the books checked out. Adapted from folk lore and urban legends, the series was not mild and has often been challenged by many libraries for being available to children (though it was expressly intended to be a children’s series). But hey, at least the series was realistic. You’re more likely to find a sparkling, pink pony chopped up for meat than to find it riding a rainbow (FYI, that’s not a story in there…I just can’t stand ponies/bronies). Finally, the King of horror. I simply cannot believe any one single person can wear such a mantle, but I must give King his dues. A story we reviewed just the other night had similar qualities to “Secret Window” which I still find to be one of the more unnerving tales of King. Though I would not agree with much of his writing style, his ability to give breath to his nightmares is superb.
My interest in horror blossomed when I fell in love with Japanese culture. Truly, I doubt there is another culture on this planet that can spin a better horror story. A friend and I once sat on a tiny stool, super close to her laptop, watching a review of the scariest Japanese horror films. We quickly ended up backward on the floor shrieking like the dorks we were. When it comes to manga or anime, I lean more towards those that have a little pinch of darkness and incredible, elegant drawings (if you have any recommendations for horror type manga, feel free to share). It begs the question, then, if having a healthy dose of horror in folk lore and children’s stories creates a more balanced society? It comes as a surprise even to myself that I have not delved far into writing horror. I would hypothesize that the main reason is this: horror, though a disturbing genre, is as temperamental and delicate as an orchid. I never wanted an orchid. It takes time to stroke its ego. It is temperamental about when you feed it because when writing good horror, it deserves to be written in the appropriate setting (moody rainstorm and in the basement, perfectly normal). I will firmly dictate a successful horror story does not have a happy ending. Ever. It is the cynic of genres. It should, by all accounts, be perverse. Humanity, after all, is the most perverse in nature. So grab that spoonful of horror. Remember, sugar is bad for you; and clowns always bribe you with candy. In sewers. *All images from Wikipedia.