Sunday, 25 September 2011

Let's get gross

The horror writer deals with blood and guts. They're part of the genre in the same way misunderstandings are part of a Hugh Grant film or shoes are in a chick-lit book. It's not a outlandish for me to say one reader's level of acceptation for violence and gore will be different to another's. That doesn't interest me a great deal. What I do find interesting is what a particular reader finds unpleasant.

This ties in to a question that came up on AW a few days ago. Someone asked what elements are essential to a great horror novel. This is my reply to that question:

'Horror is a personal emotion and reaction. What haunts and disturbs one person might not do the same to the next person. There are universal horrors - grief, betrayal, regret - but I think the best writers of horror write about what they find horrific. That comes across in their fiction and the reader picks up on it.'

This got me thinking about what readers find horrific in terms of violence (and let's not forget that violence isn't only physical. Emotional, mental and spiritual violence are all part of horror fiction). Obviously no writer is going to make literally all of their readers squirm simply because all readers have their own comfort zones, but that doesn't stop people like me giving it a good go.

Anyway, what I want to know is what's your level of acceptability for fiction? In all areas of violence, where do you draw the line? And should the horror writer have a line? Or is part of the horror writer's role to find that line and walk right over it?


  1. I don't think anything should be taboo, provided it's justified in terms of the story. Gore for gore's sake quickly becomes tiresome. Well-placed terror, though, is worth its weight in gold.

  2. Bingo, ershin. I don't mind blood and snot as long as they have a point in the story and aren't just there to be disgusting.

  3. Hey, Luke. For me one of the most terrifying scenes was in Haunting of Hill House novel where Eleanor thinks she's holding her roommate's hand in the dark. Such a subtle scene but unforgettable. I've read some pretty horrible stuff and written some, but none as terrifying as that one scene.

  4. Great post, Luke. I was asked this in a radio interview with Desmond Haas, and my answer was pretty much this: "Any horror is acceptable, as long as it serves the story." I think depicting violence/rape/abuse etc simply for SHOCK value, will essentially ruin the story, and belittle the story. But if it has a place, a context, a reason, then it is okay to explore it - in my opinion.

  5. Elias - definitely with you on that scene and that book. Might have to read it again now that you mention it.

    Fiona - absolutely spot on. Violence/gore for its own sake bores me to death. I remember a book I read years ago which opened with a particularly graphic scene. It was gross but I didn't really care because I didn't know the characters. It was just designed to be a shocking opening.

  6. Gore and violence don't bother me at all, so long as they serve the story and move things forward.

    It's looking nice in here, by the way. Love the colors.

  7. Talking of blood and guts... I sat through the movie "The Midnight Meat Train" last night. I thought I was going to be sick at one point!!!

  8. Jen - thanks. It took me a bit of fiddling to get it right. Seems to be OK.

    Fiona - not seen it although I have read the Clive Barker story. A good one.