I am studying Creative Writing at University in London and the other day one of my lecturers turned round to me and said that, and I quote, "horror stories are all a meaningless gore fest of gratuitous violence and purple prose".
Now this struck a chord with me as it is an opinion that I've heard people take before and I contest it massively. My reading habits, over the last few years, have really narrowed to include almost exclusively horror fiction, mostly Stephen King but with a healthy injection of Poe, Lovecraft, Marchan, Shan, Rice etc., as this reflects the kind of writing I am into.
Now I am studying at University with a view to becoming an author of, you guessed it, Horror books. My question is this: Am I going to be going into a field where, no matter what my intentions or motivations or underlying reasons for writing on a certain subject are, I will be dismissed as a writer of cheap pulp fiction with no real value? Is Horror literature really nothing more than cheap entertainment? Does it not, as is my opinion, delve into the darker heart of the human psyche and explore recesses that other genres cannot even begin to touch on without becoming horrific in themselves?
Thoughts and opinions?
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I think that, sadly, a lot of genre fiction (horror, sci-fi, and fantasy) get looked down on by a lot of people. It is interesting that those three in particular are looked down on by most English-Lit-People (who look down on all genre fiction) and the general public (who are more into mystery and romance novels).
And I think all the flak they get is wrongly given out. There are obviously a lot of people writing really bad horror fiction out there, but it comes from a line of great writers. Poe and Lovecraft are both brilliant. And I think that Stephen King is one of the most underrated writers currently writing. His ability to create characters and write dialogue is astoundingly great.
In the young adult world, that is entirely different, as sci-fi, fantasy, and horror have all done incredibly well over the last few years.
So, if you are trying to break into the world of adult fiction, you are going to have to deal with a lot of negative stereotypes. If you are going into young adult fiction, you'll have to deal with far less. But regardless of the audience you are trying to write for, it is important to write what you are passionate about and make it the best you can. Obviously Stephen King does incredibly well for himself.
Your lecturer does not know what they are talking about. Some of the best work I've read has been horror. Fear, both in the reader and in the characters, exposes us to a mentality, a way of thinking and feeling, and a perspective not normally taken. People don't normally take these perspectives because fear is a psychologically uncomfortable place for us to be.
If you have not done so yet, read the Christopher Snow books by Dean Koontz (It starts with Fear Nothing). These have horror elements to them that, were they missing, the book would otherwise be a shallow and pointless excursion. The fear of the main characters opens up to us not only their intense feelings for those they love and fear for, but also exposes us to a certain way of viewing the world (especially the parts of the world that we try not to think about). Fight or flight opens to us certain philosophical and ethical questions of how far we are willing to go to protect ourselves and our loved ones, what is necessary or acceptable in that defense, and (of course) the question of what in life is truly safe or what is merely a thin facade for a darker and more menacing existence.
These are questions that truly can't be answered without that primal fear that only horror can provide.
Perhaps the horror he has read has been just that: gore and violence. But to dismiss the genre as a whole? Unacceptable. The best horror books always have elements of psychology, human nature, and emotion. Now, there ARE horror stories that are cheap entertainment, and that's probably all he's been exposed to. It all depends on the author. A good writer can transform a seemingly inconsequential horror story into a fascinating exploration of psyche and controversial concepts such as good and evil. Not to mention that decent writers trap you in their twisted fictional realities with enthralling writing styles, descriptions, metaphors, etc.