7 Downsides to Writing Horror Fiction

I love horror fiction. This is a genre that has fascinated me as long as I’ve been reading and I love creating stories in this genre. But it does have its downsides.

PayBack Weeek

1. Readers complain that “There’s too much or not enough gore.”

As a matter of fact, there’s as much gore as the story needs. I don’t put in extra gore for the sake of adding gore: that would make for a crappy story. It would be like saying, “You like curry? Well here, eat this tin of curry powder. It’s nothing but curry powder. You’re a curry fan. You’ll love that.”

Gore is like seasoning. If you don’t get just the right amount, it can spoil the balance of the whole experience.

And, if you think there’s too much gore, this is probably not the genre for you.

2. Your browser’s search history tends to look a little incriminating.

Checking out decomposition times, the dress code for specific virgin-sacrificing rituals, the expediency and detectability of certain poisons, and ways to dissect a corpse for efficient disposal, are all essential parts of the job. However, if my wife went missing, Officer Curious, the dependable representative of law and order, would take one look at my browser history and the media would label me as a more handsome version of Harold Shipman.

Raven and Skull

3. Some people can’t disassociate the writer from the genre.

“You’ll like this,” my friend says, pointing to news about a traffic accident in which a dozen people have been killed.

I’m shocked. Images of senseless death will do that to anyone. “Why the hell would you think I like that?” I marvel, incredulously.

“You write about that sort of stuff all the time.”

“No. Well… Yes, but… No…”

OK. I enjoy WRITING ABOUT the macabre, the grim and the tragic. But this doesn’t mean I tune into the evening news, rubbing my hands, and saying, “Let’s hope there’s been a plane crash, I could do with a good chuckle”

I suspect this inability to separate the writer from the genre has been used too often as a marketing tool. We associate Poe with the supernatural: not just his writing. It’s easy to perceive Dennis Wheatley as an Aleister Crowley type figure because so many of his stories had themes of the Satanic. The idea of the horror writer producing a story through some process of automatic writing, dictated from a dark beyond, is far more palatable than the thought that a regular person could come up with a story where sexy vampires drink blood.

4. People who don’t read horror tell you that they don’t like horror.

This is not an issue that only applies to the horror genre. I’ve written erotica and had people tell me they don’t like erotica. I’ve spoken with romance authors who get told ‘I don’t like romance’ by random strangers. If you don’t read a genre, you can’t honestly say you don’t like it. I’ve had students tell me they don’t like Mills and Boon romances, and then they say they’ve never read one. Every genre has uninformed dissenters and the trick is to recognise these people so you can ignore their opinions.

Doll House

5. It’s difficult to recommend any of your backlist for fear of causing upset or offence.

The conversation goes like this:

Potential Reader: “Which one of your books should I start with?”

I pause and think. “PayBack Week is the story of a killer clown-”

Potential Reader: “Oh dear. That sounds scary. I don’t really like clowns. Is it violent?”

I reflect on the content. The story, as mentioned, includes a killer clown. Even when you acknowledge their association with end of life care, they’re not usually known for being employed as caring bedside companions at Dignitas. It’s the story of a clown with a grudge and a meat cleaver. I think I’ve answered the question without saying a word.

“Perhaps you’d enjoy Raven and Skull? That’s a collection of several short stories all tied together by the fact they’re being narrated by workers from the same office.”

Potential Reader: “Is it scary?”

“I’ve had readers tell me it gave them nightmares.”

Potential Reader: “Ooh. No thank you. I sleep in a room where the walls are filled with shelves of pretty dollies that look kindly on me whilst I rest.”

I nod and think it’s best not to mention my novel Doll House.

Death by Fiction

6. You possess notebooks that make you look psychotic.

Recipes for poisonous fudge brownies; instructions for how to make electrocution look accidental; diagrams showing how to add polish to a bathroom floor. Again, if Officer Curious looked at my notebooks, I’d probably be locked away in one of those padded cells wearing a jacket with wraparound arms that fasten at the back.

7. It’s scary going for a wee in the middle of the night.

To write something convincing, I need to believe in it on some level. And, personally, I find it easier to believe in anything when it’s the middle of the night and the security of daylight isn’t there to act as a metaphorical comfort blanket. My belief is at its strongest when I need to get out of the security of my warm (safe) bed and visit the cold (faraway, God knows what’s lurking in the shadows) bathroom. Luckily my wife doesn’t mind being awoken to accompany me to the loo.  In fact, as I write this, I can hear her in the kitchen. She’s just finished polishing the bathroom floor and now it smells like she’s making fudge brownies.

Whilst you’re here, if you’re a horror writer, you might be interested in a copy of my FREE book of horror prompts – https://ashleylister.com/99-horror-prompts/ or you might simply want to join my mailing list so I can keep you up to sate with my latest writing projects.

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