Posted 06 October 2016
Feel the Fear
Understand how fear works to keep your readers on the edge of their seats, says Alex Davis
Posted 06 October 2016
Understand how fear works to keep your readers on the edge of their seats, says Alex Davis
Feel the Fear
Two of the finest books of horror non-fiction remain – undisputably – Stephen King’s On Writing and Danse Macabre. Not only are they penned by an established master of the form, but they are books that show a great understanding of what it is that frightens people. King is a writer with a superb imagination, but it is possibly this innate knowledge of how to exploit human fear that built him such a successful career.

Now, we can’t all be on a par with Stephen King – those sort of long-lasting bestsellers are almost a phenomenon – but there’s a lot to be said for a solid grasp of what it is that makes people afraid. It’s not as simple a question as it may appear, and horror in all its forms – TV, film, books – is fundamentally designed to play with your mind, reaching in and forcing you to feel a sense of dread. So how can we make the most of this as a writer?

No, I’m not referring to the old school monster movies here, more that there are some fears that are absolutely common to all of us. When you go back – way back – in human evolution, fear had a particular purpose: survival. Primitive mankind was very little about exploration and taking risks, but safety and sticking to what was known. The fear of the unknown was a reflex that would keep early man out of harm’s way – if there’s a chance it could be dangerous, why explore it?

And in the same vein, one of the fundamentals of horror is that much of it explores the unknown. The supernatural, that question of what happens on the other side of death, the monstrous, the alien, the otherwordly, all of these things are crucial to horror. What form these take varies a great deal, but it’s important to keep this thought at the core of your horror work.

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