Why Do I Write Horror?
By David Watkins
This is a great question to which there are no easy answers – although there is a flippant one. You can skip straight to the end if you want that. Ever since the question was first posed by Gavin, I’ve been thinking about it. A lot.
Horror is defined as ‘an intense feeling of fear, shock or disgust’ according to Google (other search engines available). That’s a good definition to start with, but how accurate is it? And why do I write it?
Do I want to disgust my readers? Hard-core horror is full of disgust – see Meat by Joseph D’Lacey as an example – but it doesn’t do much for me, even when it’s well written (and Meat is well worth a read. Maybe not with a snack though). It just makes me feel sick (job done!), but that isn’t a feeling I enjoy.
To be honest, I just want any readers that pick up my books to keep turning the pages – so I will tend towards the fear and shock. Any current Hollywood horror film is full of cheap shocks, most of them unearned and nonsensical, so shock is probably not it either. Just as an aside here, I don’t really watch horror films anymore mostly because the mainstream ones simply disappoint. As a point of reference, I really enjoyed Train To Busan, It Follows and Get Out (or at least until the last twenty minutes). If you didn’t like them, then there’s probably not a lot of point carrying on reading.
It’s that feeling of fear I want: the moment when a character you like is in mortal danger and really might not make it through the next scene alive. Again, this is something that many books and films don’t have: in the case of Game of Thrones, it’s called Plot Armour, or Walking Dead, Popularity Armour. Rick was never going to die, ditto Daryl – it would be ratings suicide. Tyrion, Daenerys and Jon are not going to die unless it’s at the very end (or at least, in Jon’s case, not going to die again) – they are the plot. Of course, in books, it tends to be easier to kill off characters in ways you don’t see coming and that cuts to the heart of why I like horror.
Stephen King’s early books were the masters of character and when people died it felt like losing a friend. Take The Stand as an example: that is one bleak ending, but it’s earned. Cynics will say, yeah it’s earned because you’ve just read for 1000 pages, but those characters are brought to life through King’s prose. I would love to have the skill to do that, but I’m still learning. Hopefully, people like the characters I create and a bigger hope is that the reader hates it when they die. No spoilers for my own books as you might want to buy one after reading this but note the use of when there.
So, horror for me is about the fear of losing people I like. Creating characters in books and films that are likeable and believable takes real skill but the payoff is immense. That feeling at the back of your head when a character you’re invested in dies: the dismay, the sadness, the fear. That is horror to me.
As a writer, it’s my job to imagine horrible things happening to nice people – or at least, it’s more effective if we, as readers, like them. Maybe I’m drawn to writing horror so that if I imagine the nasty things happening, then it won’t really happen to the people in life I care about: my wife, kids, extended family, some of my friends. I guess that’s why I won’t write about things like cancer in children or serial killers. Those things are real. A few years ago, a student of mine recommended The Fault In Our Stars by John Green but I couldn’t do it. I just don’t want to read about kids dying of cancer or other diseases – there is too much of that in real life as it is, and it is always, always utterly devastating. The Hunger Games is fun though.
So that’s it (probably): I write horror to ward off real life worries.
Flippant answer: because it’s fun.
The Devil’s Inn
“I don’t want to die in a pub in Devon…”
There is a pub in the heart of Dartmoor where a fire has burned every day for over one hundred and fifty years. It is said the fire never goes out. It is said that if it does, the Devil will appear and claim the souls of all inside.
Tonight, seven strangers are stranded there during a fierce snowstorm.
Tonight, the fire will go out…
You can buy The Devil’s Inn from Amazon UK & Amazon US
David Watkins lives in Devon in the UK with his wife, two sons, dog, cat and two turtles. He is unsure of his place in the pecking order: probably somewhere between the cat and the turtles.
There are two novels in The Originals’ series: The Original’s Return concerns an ordinary family man becoming the God of Werewolves and the follow up, The Original’s Retribution, covers the immediate aftermath and consequences of Jack’s actions in the first book. Both novels are highly rated on Amazon.
David’s latest novel is The Devil’s Inn: a chilling tale set on Dartmoor during a fierce snowstorm. Has the Devil really come to Devon?
He is now working on a new stand-alone novel, set in Exeter. He hates referring to himself in the third person, but no-one else is going to write this for him.
David can be found on Twitter so please drop by and say hello @joshfishkins, where you’ll find him ranting about horror, the British education system and Welsh rugby, but not usually at the same time.
You can visit David’s Author page here
Thanks for the great discussion. I love all horror, but the slow build of eerie atmosphere that brings a sense of dread for what will happen is one of my favorites.