Today I’m going to talk on a genre that is very close to my heart, although I’ve never had the courage to write it myself: horror. Specifically, I want to introduce you to one of the key rules that will help you to write the pants-wetting-ist stories you are capable of. Veterans of the genre will be very familiar with the rule of “Hide the Monster”, but it often proves a major stumbling block for those who are just starting out so let me explain just what it means. Whether we’re looking at horror in the form of a book, a film, a video game, or pretty much any other medium you can think of, the scariest examples are always those stories that reveal only the bare minimum of information about the monster (with the exception of Amnesia – I actually think that was scarier once I knew what I was running from!) There are a few reasons for this, but let me start with…
Your reader knows their fear better than you do
Have you ever read a story where some huge secret or mystery is hinted at all the way through, and then when the truth is finally revealed at the end, it turns out to be completely anticlimactic? In such cases, you probably had your own thoughts about what the reveal would be and were disappointed when the author inevitably had other ideas. This is the same concept as hiding the monster. No matter how specific your demographic, you are going to find a wide variety of worst fears lurking amongst the group and it’s simply impossible to play on all of them. For as long as the monster is hidden, each reader is imagining it to be the thing that would scare them the most, and if you lift the curtain, those fears are going to be dispelled as many of them will discover it’s actually something that doesn’t resonate much with them.
There is such thing as too vague
But for all my encouragement for you not to get too specific, it is also rare for horror to be truly scary when we know nothing at all about the monster. If you remain completely vague and reveal nothing about the villain, then it will seem too intangible to be frightening. In other words, your reader will have no foundations on which to build their own personal nightmare. The key is to choose very carefully what you are willing to reveal.
The obvious way to give your readers a glimpse of the monster is to actually let your character catch a glimpse of it. But don’t be tied down by thinking that information about its appearance is the only way to build the character. Information about your monster could come in other forms, such as the wounds it leaves on its victims, the strange wooden box that was found in its lair, or the testimony of that one creepy old man who claims he used to date it back when they were teenagers.
When you make these reveals, another balancing act you will encounter is the need to follow a theme without leading the reader to an obvious conclusion. The character you are building must put some vague ideas and theories into the readers mind, but should still be open to many different interpretations. That’s how fan-theories are born, after all!
Finally, think very carefully about how you conclude the story. Even if your protagonist manages to defeat the monster, there should still be plenty that’s left unknown in order to create a lingering fear that stays with the reader.
I hope you’ve found this article useful. If you enjoyed it please click like and follow, and join me again next week when I will be talking about genre mixing.