No matter the genre, every story starts with an inspiration. But, where to look in terms of horror? Anne Rice, author of Interview with the Vampire, found inspiration in an unfortunate life event. Her daughter, Michele, was “diagnosed with Leukaemia, she died before she was six, and Anne’s despair at her loss led to an early version of Interview with the Vampire.” (Wisker: 2005. 110) Michele comes through in Rice’s work through the character of Claudia, the child vampire saved from the plague by Louis.
The subconscious is also a well of inspiration, dreams seem to come from nowhere but everyone has had the sort of dreams that don’t make sense and shrug them off as ‘weird’. These could be the origins of a writer’s horror story, which was the case with Mary Shelly. Frankenstein came to her after a strange nightmare where “…‘the pale student of unhallowed arts [was] kneeling beside the thing he had put together’… The image of man-made life gone awry was before her…” (Badalamenti: 2006. 423) There has been further psychoanalysis into her dream and a fascinating interpretation was that it “represent[s] her loss of a child by natures failure to bring it to full term and by its being the wrong gender in [her husband] Percy’s eyes.” (Ibid. 424)
For Stephen King writing horror is about exploring “…areas of the human psyche that are usually pushed to the back of the mind.” (Wisker: 2005. 119) When searching for inspiration King has said “I ask myself what is forbidden? What can’t I write about? And then I write about it.” (Ibid) This could go a long way with explaining some of his more disturbing works such as IT, which includes an underage sex scene involving Beverly and all six boys of the Losers Club.
In my personal experience, Stephen King is a horror writer that is either entirely loved or entirely hated. For me he is one of the best horror writers and never fails to bring me a sense of unease or disgust. His vivid descriptions create the most graphic scenes that it is near impossible not to wince or cringe – a technique he uses in the short story ‘The Cat from Hell’. While driving out of town the cat attacks Halston; “…The cat was on his head, blocking his vision with its furry belly, clawing at him, gouging at him,” (King: 2008. 355) which sends him off course down a ditch, where he passes out. The bloodiest scene comes soon after when the cat strikes again:
“The cat leaped at his face, claws out, spitting. Halston shut his eyes and opened his mouth. He bit at the cat’s belly and got nothing but fur. The cat’s front claws were clasped on his ears, digging in…Hissing and squalling, the cat held on. Halston could feel blood trickling down his cheeks. It was hard to get his breath. The cat’s chest was pressed over his nose…” (Ibid. 357) The evocative language used by King in this scene brings the violence to life. Having lived with and around affectionate cats for the majority of my life, the image of one being intentionally malicious sends a chill down my spine as it brings forward the idea of an animal having an evil conscience.
Although violence can bring additional horror to a scene, as is the case with King’s story, writers need to be careful not to allow it to overpower the narrative journey or pull the reader out of it. Violence should fit into the type of horror that’s being written. Guy Smith uses one of his own works to explain this clearer: “My ‘Crabs’ series are packed with violence but…mutilations are expected when Man meets monster. But should my invading army have been one of psychopaths rather than crabs, the blood and gore would have been distasteful.” (Smith: 1996. 35)
However, I believe this to be dependent on the development of characters in the story. The Shining focuses on the deteriorating sanity of Jack due to cabin fever, but there are many scenes of physical violence that are used to reinforce his madness. For example the scene of Jack’s self-inflicted beating when “the mallet began to rise and descend, destroying the last of Jack Torrance’s image. The thing in the hall danced an eerie, shuffling polka, the beat counterpointed by the hideous sound of the mallet head striking again and again. Blood splattered across the wallpaper. Shards of bone leaped into the air like broken piano keys. It was impossible to say just how long it went on…” (King: 1977. 429)
When writing horror myself I relish the opportunity to write violence into my work as I believe it to be an effective way of presenting the raw and primitive human emotions of “…rage, hate and fear.” (King: 1982. 72) My inspiration usually derives from personal experiences that have made me feel these emotions and tend to draw parallels with people I know. This brings a cathartic element to writing horror as “somebody [I] dislike can meet a sticky end and only [I] will know about it!” (Smith: 1996. 25)
Word Count: 854 Quotes: 346
Badalamenti, A. (2006) Why Did Mary Shelly Write Frankenstein? Journal of Religion and Health, 453, 419-439. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.winchester.idm.oclc.org/stable/27512949?Search=yes&resultItemClick=true&searchText=why&searchText=write&searchText=horror?&searchUri=%2Faction%2FdoBasicSearch%3FQuery%3Dwhy%2Bwrite%2Bhorror%253F&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents [accessed February 27 2018]
King, S. (1982) Danse Macabre, London: Futura
King, S. (2008) ‘The Cat from Hell’ in Just After Sunset, UK: Hodder & Stoughton.
King, S. (1977) The Shining, US: Doubleday
Smith, G. (1996) Writing Horror Fiction, London: A & C Black
Wisker, G. (2005) Horror Fiction an Introduction, London: Continuum.