Finding New Ways to be Bad
By: Jay Wilburn
If a horror story is scary, that's probably successful by the most important metric of the genre. I think horror stories do more, though. Jump scares and the standard categories of horror are getting to the point of being numbing to the target audience. There is something deflating about he genre of a story being known before the first line. If an anthology is themed for splatter punk or extreme horror, then a particular fan is going to pick that up and know what to expect. Once the nasty, bloody stuff starts, they are more likely to think "It's about time" than they are to be shocked. In general, a splatter punk fan is more likely to find a story funny than shocking. That makes success by the metrics hard to achieve. Are there still new ways to be bad in stories?
Stephen King breaks down the avenues of horror as the gross out, the horrifying, and the terror. You can look up examples of each that are better than ones I could make up and I don't want to outright steal his examples. He has some very simple explanations in On Writing. If these are the paths, then we are going to be stepping over some pretty used up tropes and gimmicks down all three of these tracks.
Horror can be richer than the scare even though I think that is still important. Horror can paint in all the negative emotions including regret, sadness, fear, disappointment, depression, and anger. It can utilize the low and the dark to accent the high, the light, and the heroic. It can add depth to the fall so that the climb back up is that much more meaningful. Horror can be applied as a technique over other genre as well.
The villain carries the mantle of "bad" for many stories in and out of horror. Monsters both human and otherwise can reveal important things about the characters and story. They can have depth themselves, too.
The heroes can carry the darkness, too. The struggle with one's self is a well-established story conflict that should never be overlooked.
There may be a point that writers need to ask within the realm of dark fiction what hasn't been done yet. Once they find an answer, it may be worth asking again and finding something a little further down that dark path. Ask a few more times after that and get to the truly creative. For all the strangeness we might find, we are likely to also find stories that touch on the familiar in a way that brings readers along on those dark, new paths.
There is surely more out there to be found. Horror is not so far separated from the history of sci-fi and fantasy and all these genres are about exploring beyond the familiar. Sometimes they are about exploring inside and behind the familiar to find the hidden darkness that make us most uncomfortable because of the closeness of that darkness - close enough to bite.
Keep looking. Find a new way to be bad. I want to be amazed.
About the author:
Jay Wilburn lives with his wife and two sons in Conway, South Carolina near the Atlantic coast of the southern United States. He has a Masters Degree in education and he taught public school for sixteen years before becoming a full time writer. He is the author of many short stories including works in The Best Horror of the Year Volume 5, Zombies: More Recent Dead, Shadows Over Main Street, and Truth or Dare. He is the author of the Dead Song Legend Dodecology and the music of the five song soundtrack recorded as if by the characters within he world of the novel The Sound May Suffer. He also wrote the novels Loose Ends and Time Eaters. He is one of the four authors behind the Hellmouth trilogy. Jay Wilburn is a regular columnist with Dark Moon Digest. Follow his many dark thoughts on Twitter, Instagram, and Periscope (@amongthezombies), his Facebook Author Page, and at his website.