Colin F. Barnes is a writer from the UK who writes Science Fiction, Horror and Thriller fiction. He likes to take the gritty edginess from his surroundings and personal experiences and translate them into his stories. He is currently working on an anthology of horror stories in his 'City of Hell Chronicles' setting after recently debuting with a crime anthology titled 'Killing my Boss'.
Essence of Extremity
Dark fiction is a wide umbrella covering a gamut of flavours of sub genres. I tend to write and read what I call Horror. It's at the extreme end of Horror. Somehow, over the course of the last decade, 'Horror' has been devalued to cover paranormal romance and angsty YA urban fantasy. One only needs to look at the Amazon charts under Horror to see this diabolical hijacking of the label. What his means is that readers are slowly but surely loosing the true essence of extremity within the horror bounds.
I'm talking about Ketchum, Barker, early King, Laymon et al. I'm talking about I Spit On Your Grave, Texas Chainsaw Massacre (original), Hellraiser etc.. You know, when Horror meant horrific experiences. When horror had scares that actually scared you.
I remember watching the original Friday the 13th as a kid and having nightmares for weeks after; that was pure horror (of its time). Not this weak romantic rubbish. I mean, come on, what the hell is 'horror' about a woman having a romantic triangle with an effeminate vampire and a pruning wolf? It makes me sick to see Horror be reduced to this.
One of the first dark fiction books I read as a youngster was King’s IT – so yeah, I now fucking hate clowns too. King has single handedly ruined children’s parties (for the adults). Excellent work Steve!
We need more of this subversive fiction. We need to twist common tropes into things that scare the living crap out of people. Without fear, humanity gets lazy. Life becomes predictable, stale, and safe. Who wants that? Not me. I want excitement. I want to double check that thing I thought I saw in the shadows, I want to feel the frisson of energy as I hear footsteps late at night in the attic. What I don’t want is this bland formula of ‘horror.’ And neither should you.
So, what can we, as creatives, do about it? Promote, write, share, push, and abuse networks. Get our work out there; force people to dwell in the shadows again, scare the crap out of them. It means we as authors and creators need to dig that little bit deeper; find what scares the jaded/cynical people of today and hold a mirror up to their fears and go beyond what it is considered acceptable. It's only when doing that can we actually reclaim the title of Horror.
This is where the essence of extremity comes in. I’m not advocating stories to be extreme for extreme’s sake. That’s too lazy, and it’ll show. Hell, it already shows in things such as SAW. Torture porn with no real intent behind it. We need to take the extreme areas of life and our imagination and tie them into everyday reason. That is how we can reconnect ‘Horror’ with the masses.
Most people are disgusted or even bored at extreme gore, so we need to be cleverer about it. We need to be more subtle, and insidious with out extreme stories.
Once you’ve roped in a reader and given them a false sense of security with a solid grounding of reality and rationale, then you bring your out the big guns. You give them terrifying situations with things that can barely be described with regular words. You show them something so horrendous that it’s impossible to fit it wholesale into your stories. You want to leave some of ‘it’ hanging outside of the story so that it sits inside your readers mind, clawing its way out for weeks on end.
If you’re going to have gore or extreme sex (which are both good things in proper Horror) you have to do it so it counts. Everyday people can see the most horrendous things as easily as searching on Google. They are desensitized to the images and videos and concepts. We need to make it personal. And there is only one way to do that -- no, not abduct them and taken them into your basement dungeon – but good, deep characterization.
Weak protagonists are just that. No one cares about some insipid teenager, or some moaning kid. You want fully realized three-dimensional characters that are made up of shades of grey. No one likes wholly good or wholly bad characters; they have to be a mix. They have to be like you and I (perhaps not like me, readers really wouldn’t be able to relate to me). They have to be the everyman/everywoman.
Take that character, get inside their head, and then bring on the horror. That is the essence of extremity – personal experiences shared by the author with the reader. Connect! When you think you’ve gone as far as you can, slug a shot of whiskey, pull your pants up and go beyond. You know you can do it. We have to do it for Horror’s sake.
A brilliantly argued guest post, I'm sure you'll agree!
Many thanks to Colin for agreeing to write such a great guest post about a topic that I myself feel very strongly about. Honestly, I could rant for hours about the Twamps and suchlike that are pervading the genre I so love, to its great detriment. We all owe it to ourselves and each other to reclaim the horror genre.