Writing Forums

Writing Forums is a privately-owned, community managed writing environment. We provide an unlimited opportunity for writers and poets of all abilities, to share their work and communicate with other writers and creative artists. We offer an experience that is safe, welcoming and friendly, regardless of your level of participation, knowledge or skill. There are several opportunities for writers to exchange tips, engage in discussions about techniques, and grow in your craft. You can also participate in forum competitions that are exciting and helpful in building your skill level. There's so much more for you to explore!

formulas for writing horror (1 Viewer)

Status
Not open for further replies.

horrorcrafter

Senior Member
Here's a formula for writing a good horror story, used extensively by Lovecraft and also by Poe. Perhaps you will recognize the plot line in other more recent works of horror. Here goes...

1. Start by describing either a very stupid person or an evil person. They have to be stupid or evil or else it will not work.

2. Spend a bit of time describing how stupid or evil they are.

3. Then, have that person go to some dark setting. It doesn't really matter why they are there, but it has to be dark, and you have to describe the setting very well.

4. Next, you describe some kind of monster that lives in that dark setting. You really have to describe the monster so that the reader can see him.

5. Finally, you have the monster kill the stupid or evil person. End of story.

From what I have read of Poe and Lovecraft, nearly all of the best horror works from these two great minds follows that formula very carefully.

Can you think of another significant formula for writing horror? There are others. This one is perhaps the simplest, and even children pick up on this plot line very quickly. Hope to hear some POSITIVE comments, but not going to hold my breath.
Horrorcrafter
 

northerain

Senior Member
I never saw this formula. Are you sure you've been reading Poe and Lovecraft? I mean...any stories that take place in the Dreamlands don't follow this at all. And the rest of Lovecraft's work doesnt really future stupid characters. I don't get it.
 

AverageJoe

Senior Member
horrorcrafter said:
1. Start by describing either a very stupid person or an evil person. They have to be stupid or evil or else it will not work.

Looks good, but the first point confuses me... Why do you believe that horror doesn't work unless the main character is very stupid or evil?

I've seen lots of horror movies and read several stories where the main character was actually pretty smart, and the element of horror was only reinforced by the fact that this intelligent person was helpless to prevent their demise.

To be honest, it actually kind of irritates me when really stupid people do really stupid things in tales of horror, it almost makes me root for the bad guy. Likewise, seeing an evil guy get killed by an evil beast is kind of pointless to me.

Anyway, literature is largely about personal preferences, so I'm truly curious about your opinion on this.
 

horrorcrafter

Senior Member
no, no, Joe, you missed what I said... I didn't say ALL horror follows this formula. All I said was that this is one of the formulas for horror. I think it was the first such plot formula. It works because the hero literally earns his death through his own stupidity or cruelty. But I'm not about arguing anymore. If you don't agree with me, thats fine. Do you have another formula which describes many horror stories?
Horrorcrafter
 

damien_frosst

Senior Member
Horrorcrafter: This doesn't seem like horror to me at all.

I mean, when the idiot gets killed, that's just... well sad I suppose (personally, I figure they get what they deserve and all that). And having an evil person killed really isn't doing very much to make me afraid.

For me, real horror would come out of the mundane, but twisted enough to be different. An average, everyday person getting in a malicious, but not random way, would be more horrifying than what you've proposed.

Something where the heroes of the story fight and struggle against what's coming and still lose. That's more horror for me. Something where there isn't any way to win, just shades of loss.

I doubt that you'll find a single formula for horror, but there's certainly things that are done which are tried and tested. Take a look at Hitchcock and others to see what they were doing, and what worked.

Good luck with it!
 

AverageJoe

Senior Member
horrorcrafter said:
for gods sake now I am sorry I posted this as well. all you folks like to do is argue!

Hopefully "debate" would be a better word, although I have seen a few arguments here.

Anyway, I don't want to do either, I'm just genuinely curious why you think the main character needs to be very stupid or evil. I'm not trying to convince anyone that this isn't a legitimate formula for horror, I'm just trying to learn more about writing in general.
 

damien_frosst

Senior Member
I prefer the term "debate" also. I'm not trying to argue, just put out a different viewpoint on horror, and what makes it horrifying. Not everyone is scared in the same way, or by the same things.
 

Ralizah

Senior Member
damien_frosst said:
Horrorcrafter: This doesn't seem like horror to me at all.

I mean, when the idiot gets killed, that's just... well sad I suppose (personally, I figure they get what they deserve and all that). And having an evil person killed really isn't doing very much to make me afraid.

For me, real horror would come out of the mundane, but twisted enough to be different. An average, everyday person getting in a malicious, but not random way, would be more horrifying than what you've proposed.

Something where the heroes of the story fight and struggle against what's coming and still lose. That's more horror for me. Something where there isn't any way to win, just shades of loss.

I doubt that you'll find a single formula for horror, but there's certainly things that are done which are tried and tested. Take a look at Hitchcock and others to see what they were doing, and what worked.

Good luck with it!

I have never agreed with the assertion that Hitchcock is about horror. He's not. He's tense, he's edgy, on occasion shocking, and yes, sometimes he features some frightening moments. But he's really a suspense director. He doesn't aim to frighten you or creep under your skin, he aims to keep your heart pounding and to engage you. That's really how suspense and horror are different for me.

Anyhow, the formula is interesting, but it really takes the creative mind to make it work. It's not about what you do as much as how you do it.
 

damien_frosst

Senior Member
Yeah, Hitchcock is really suspense, not horror. But, I don't read horror very often, and can't think of a horror authour (other than Steven King, and I'm not even entirely convinced that he's all horror either).

Err.. anyway, there's got to be some examples out there.
 

Ralizah

Senior Member
damien_frosst said:
Yeah, Hitchcock is really suspense, not horror. But, I don't read horror very often, and can't think of a horror authour (other than Steven King, and I'm not even entirely convinced that he's all horror either).

Err.. anyway, there's got to be some examples out there.

Well, Stephen King does horror, just not horror exclusively.

Clive Barker is a pretty good horror writer. William Peter Blatty, Richard Matheson, and Ira Levin are also good choices.
 

Hodge

pliable
Senior Member
I believe Horrorcrafter is referring to a stupid person in the sense that he/she makes some terrible mistake (i.e. one who unwittingly releases some malevolent spirit or who holds a seance and tries to contact his dead grandmother).

I'm not quite so sure about what he means by "evil person," but I'm thinking someone who does all sorts of horrible things and then in his selfishness or dickliness unleashes something terrible agaisnt himself (i.e. a man who tells a poor beggar to piss off only to find out that the beggar is a sociopath and is stalking him).
 

valeca

Patron
I debated about posting, but I'm about at the end of my rope with this sort of thing. I've seen it in several threads now.
Hope to hear some POSITIVE comments, but not going to hold my breath.
This is purely disrespectful of the people here. You're emphasizing 'positive' while spewing negativity. Take your own advice.

You asked for different ideas, and you got them. Just because they aren't falling all over themselves to agree with you does not mean they are arguing. Maturity and postivity does not equal agreeing with everything you say. It's accepting there are differing views than your own, and not insulting the intelligence of those around you while doing it.
 

Selorian

Patron
Horrorcrafter, you're totally right about this. This is a very popular method used for horror stories and movies.

This has been used to great success in many slasher type movies over the last few decades. In that respect, some may consider this horror, so it is a widely used plot device for horror. Personally, I group these type stories and movies in a different class from true horror, but that has a lot to do with my personal preferences and what scares me.

I have read Poe and Lovecraft extensively over the past seventeen years and I see where there are some evil people, but the stupid ones are ones I never noticed. I think why they are so successful is because of the way the use imagery, words, and a feel for what really terrifies a person.

Hitchcock is suspense, but in suspense is where I find true horror. It is being scared of what is going to happen, not the shock of what does. It is the feeling of dread and fear, not the feeling of being grossed out. I feel that is where so many horror stories fail these days. There needs to be true horror, where there's room for the reader to imagine things for themselves, because what isn't seen is much scarier than what is. Once it's seen, it loses most of it's power. In this sense, Hitchcock was a master.

I do agree with you though, this is a very well used outline for what some consider horror. It just isn't what I would consider horror. I'd watch or read, but it wouldn't be something waiting in the edges of the shadows to terrify me when I find myself alone in the dark. This type of thing would never be what would burn itself into my mind.

Cliff
 

horrorcrafter

Senior Member
Hodge is absolutely correct. This formula really works. There are other formulae, however, and I was hoping this thread would be about those other formulas. I was not looking for agreement. I am way beyond that stage valeca. Look at yourself, please. Those who see no real line between horror and suspense...thats okay! What major plot lines can you find in common in the suspense-ful stories? Can anyone here think of another plot line which is often seen in horror stories? Wow, Selorian, you have been reading horror for a very long time. Yes, everything about their writing builds the horror, but there is still this fundamental similarity between many of their works, and I think that is important to tease out. Can you think of another formula? I am eager to learn about them. Horrorcrafter
 

Selorian

Patron
Horrorcrafter said:
I was not looking for agreement. I am way beyond that stage valeca. Look at yourself, please.

I have to say it seemed you were with your original words, which I have below.

Hope to hear some POSITIVE comments, but not going to hold my breath.

There does seem to be a negativity with your recent posts, while you want others to be positive. The only place I can see where there could be anything considered negative in replies to your posts is when someone disagrees. You automatically think that is arguing, when debate is the better word. Debate and discussion is good and beneficial, arguing isn't. Big difference. So therefore I can see where it would seem you want people to agree or else you view it as negativity. Just maybe look at the image your responses are giving. :wink:

As far as reading horror for a long time, yes I have, I'm ancient. :D I still think the concept of what is horror varies from person to person, but I will try to think of other formulas and post them here.
 

AverageJoe

Senior Member
Here's a formula that seems to work well, but I think it could be applied to "suspense" as well as "horror", depending on how the descriptions of the events were handled, and how many times you decided to go with step (c)...

(a) Take a normal person in a normal situation and introduce an unforeseen event

A flat tire in the middle of nowhere.

(b) Make that event the starting point of the introduction of the element of horror

As the person is changing the tire, they hear on the car radio that a twisted psychopath has just escaped from a local penitentiary, and, freezing in fear, our poor hero can hear rustling sounds in the bushes off to the side of the road.

(c) Now add the element of time and the struggle to complete an impossible task before that time runs out

The tire must be changed now, before the rustling gets any closer

(d) Repeat (c) as many times as desired

The tire is fixed and the car is starting to move as a huge, homemade knife wielding maniac jumps on the windshield.

The maniac is thrown from the car as a result of some wild driving which then ends in a crash near where the maniac lost his grip.

There's a gas station in the distance with it's lights on, but the maniac is back on his feet a short distance away.

Arriving at the gas station with the maniac close behind, the soon-to-be murder victim finds that it's closed and locked up tight.


(e) End with either the death of the main character or the termination of the evil

While frantically pounding on the door of the gas station, the shadow of the maniac behind him causes the man to turn in horror just before being stabbed repeatedly to death.

or

As the maniac closes in on the victim, he is momentarily blinded by the headlights of a police search team that is stopping to check out the gas station, who then shoot him dead.


Now, before you start posting "that's not horror, that's X", I'd recommend that you read this from http://www.horror.org/ - it makes a lot of very good points about the genre.
 

horrorcrafter

Senior Member
excellent work, average Joe. I can think of several horror movies which are exactly like that. and it is horror. Nice work. any others, folks?
Selorian, I am rapidly becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of sensitivity and respect in the reviews which I have recieved and have seen others get. My comments are meant to dissuage these harsh critics who enjoy ripping others' work to shreds. This is no place for mindless arguing for the sake of arguing...we are supposed to be giving constructive criticism. Hoping you know the difference, I am still,
Yours Truly,
Horrorcrafter
 

Selorian

Patron
AJ, thanks for posting the link. That sums up exactly what I was trying to get across about horror. I bookmarked it for future use. :wink:

HC, amazingly, I do know the difference. I see constructive criticism as that which points out not only the good, but the bad too. I want to know every detail of what I have done wrong, so I can improve upon my writing. A sugar-coated critique focusing only on the good is more detremental to a beginning writer than an honest one, even if the honest one may seem somewhat harsh. This type of 'respectful' critique only reinforces bad writing, and once settled into, those habits are even harder to break. This can be done gently, but full honesty is the best way to go.

Also, what is with bringing up arguing again? I don't feel we are. I know I'm not. Are you? I'm stating my position, and if that's arguing because it isn't the same as yours, then I think you need to look at things a little closer. The real world is a lot different than what you see.

Since you have a different idea of what most consider a critique, I won't be commenting on any of your future work. Sorry.

I'll still work up a formula for this thread. I think it's something beneficial to those out there who want to write horror in all its different variations.

Cliff
 

damien_frosst

Senior Member
horrorcrafter said:
Selorian, I am rapidly becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of sensitivity and respect in the reviews which I have recieved and have seen others get. My comments are meant to dissuage these harsh critics who enjoy ripping others' work to shreds.

I don't think I've seen much of Selorian's crits that I'd consider harsh in any respect.

Me, I know I'm harsh. Negative too. Most of my crits are, in my opinion (the thorough ones anyway), nitpicky, niggling, largely negative, and generally blunt and harsh. To counter this, I've resorted to say that everything is just my opinion, and that I've been known to be wrong.

Personally, I crit others in the manner I wish to be critiqued. I want people to tell me the tiny imperfections. I want people to question my logic, and poke holes in my plot.

While I like praise, I prefer criticism. How else am I going to improve? If everything you did was lauded and praised, how would you have a real understanding of good and bad? You need to be shown where you've failed so that you can recognize it for yourself later.

Now, I don't mean you, you. I mean, "you" as in everyone in general.

I think Selorian has made a valid point or two that you need to consider. Chiefly, that disagreement is not necessarily argument, and that discussion is also not necessarily disagreement.

If you can get those two ideas into your mind, and re-read the posts that have disagreed with you here already, maybe you'll see what was really intended. That is, an open dialogue in discussion of other people's different visions of what horror is.

Like other genres (romance, sci-fi, etc), not everyone likes exactly the same thing, and not everyone is going to find the same things to be horrific.

Anyhow, I think I've said enough for now.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top