April 9th, 2009, 01:05 AM
Question to horror types..
I have a question for readers who are knowledgeable about horror. Iíve only read a little horror and the only horror films Iím seen were the J-Horror my college friends liked: Audition, The Ring, Ju-On, The Eye, etc.
Iíve picked up a few books (I wander around the paperback section of the library a few books with Ďhorrorí covers into my canvus bag) and read a bit of them. (I havenít finished any.)
Iím wondering Ė is the basis of the modern horror genre that mundane life is repulsive and the average person is a grotesque asshole?
For instance, despite only reading a few horror books, twice Iíve come across an early scene in which a woman presents her genitalia to a man as an attempt at seduction and he reacts with a combination of loathing and nausea.
People are described as being greasy or the author takes time to describe unpleasant body odor or that a minor character is unpleasantly obese. Iíve noticed that the main character(s) tend to be unpleasant as well. Iím used to protagonists being interesting, likable, and sympathetic. In horror novels, this doesnít seem to be the case Ė the main characters are usually very unlikable.
Lastly, every horror book Iíve picked up in the last three months has rape in it. I mean, every last one. Itís kinda excessive.
So, are my observations correct? If so, am I correct in guessing the reason for these, um, stylistic patterns?
April 9th, 2009, 06:37 AM
I wouldn't say it's the "basis." I suspect that what you're picking up on is clumsy use of a technique in horror that tries to make ordinary people seem subtly creepy and dangerous/untrustworthy themselves, so as to transform the mundane into something inherently unsettling (and, theoretically, ratchet up the tension by showing the protagonist's isolation/alienation, or create foreshadowing for later horrible events).
Originally Posted by hippokrene
Note the "subtly" there. This technique really only works if it is understated and/or infrequent. When it's used ham-fistedly and/or too often, it starts seeming like the entire fictional world is filled with jackasses and ugly people, so who cares if they all get devoured by space zombies or whatever.
Unfortunately a lot of writers don't have the skill to do it right or the self-awareness to realize they suck at it, and readers have varying tolerances for what percentage of nasty people they can take before it starts going from "creepy" to "annoying," so I'm not altogether surprised you had that reaction.
It could also be that you're reading authors with a markedly unpleasant view of the world, but if you're only seeing this in the horror genre, then yeah, my guess would be you're seeing the poorly executed use of that specific technique.
April 9th, 2009, 10:57 AM
I largely agree with Cranky Hamster. There are a couple of other points to raise, though:
Originally Posted by Cranky Hamster
1) "Unpleasant" is an adjective used with extreme subjectivity describing a personal reaction. Your impression that a character is a four-star, grade-A, self-centered, jerk may run counter to another reader's impression that the character is only protecting her/his integrity, trying to remain honest in a corrupt and corrupting world. Frankly, the characters in most of the novels by Jonathan Carroll and Ramsey Campbell that I've read could be described either way depending on who is reading. If you look at past posts from me, you'll see recommendations for both writers.
2) There is at least one mass market paperback publisher who mostly caters to hard-core horror fans, the ones weened on slasher films and the like. This audience probably has more in common with the hardest of hard-boiled mystery/detective fans (Raymond Chandler, say, though James Ellroy's work probably epitomizes this kind of writing they like best) than with the general run of fantasy fans, even though the content of the books they like may well be within the range of materials used in fantasy. The hard-boiled, noir point of view is significantly different from the view of most fantasy readers, particularly readers of epic fantasy (though there can be very significant overlaps in the point of view of personal honor).
3) Possibly the worst way of sampling a genre is going in blind. Check some of the recommendations here and see if there are some books that look more interesting to you than what you're finding through random sampling. (Remember, too, if you're looking in the library, the person choosing these books may not be all that familiar with genre and going on what Library Journal or Publisher's Weekly recommends.)
April 9th, 2009, 11:11 AM
\m/ BEER \m/
Originally Posted by Randy M.
April 9th, 2009, 12:40 PM
That's the publisher (imprint?) I had in mind. Most of their early titles came out of the small presses, not the most extreme small presses at that, but ones trying for edgy, dark, gritty, noir, [insert similar adjective of choice]. I believe their overall best-seller is the reissued work of Richard Laymon. I haven't read Laymon, but Hippokrene's description of the books corresponds with what I've read about Laymon's work. More recently I've seen books from them by Gord Rollo, Ed Lee and others who have reputations for even more extremely graphic writing than Laymon.
Originally Posted by Rob B
Not that all Leisure is bad. They recently reissued Thomas Tessier's Finishing Touches which is one of the most well-written, creepiest horror novels I've read in a long time, even as Hippokrene's description would partially apply (avoid Tessier's Wicked Things, though; I think he dug it out of his files). Also, Gary Braunbeck's Coffin County, while describing some truly revolting events, portrayed several sympathetic characters with some compassion; that said, I do have reservations about the direction of the novel's plot.
April 9th, 2009, 04:05 PM
The answer would be no. Fantasy fans make poor scientists, I'm finding. You read a few horror books, most of which you didn't like and didn't finish, two of which had bad seductress naked scenes, and from that you're creating an entire theory of thirty years of horror fiction? Remember, I'm trying not to be so testy here.
First of all, there's all the horror where the main protagonists are kids. Go read some of those. Many horror novels are about monsters who usually don't rape anyone. (Eat them in unappealing manner, yes, rape, no.) Go read some of those. Second, what exactly are you looking for in a horror novel (i.e. why are you reading them?) Horror, like any other type of story, usually has a wide range of styles and approaches, with the mutual goal of horrifying in some way or another. Because it is about horrifying, sometimes there are horrifying things in horror novels. A horror writer also may try out different sorts of stories, so in one book, he or she might have a rape scene or naked ladies or an obnoxious protagonist and in another one none of those things.
Six books does not a theory make, I'm afraid. But we can try to steer you towards ones you might like.
April 9th, 2009, 10:07 PM
That's the imprint of the book I just picked up...
Originally Posted by Rob B
I appreciate that you're not trying to be testy.
Originally Posted by KatG
I'd like to point out though that I am asking a question. I've read a few books, found they had similarities, and am asking people who know the genre better if the stylistic pattern I see is an important part of the genre.
For non-scientists, asking others is a great way to learn things.
Last edited by hippokrene; April 9th, 2009 at 10:23 PM.
April 10th, 2009, 07:10 AM
To be sure, six randomly selected books can't stand in for the entire genre, but I think it's fair to make some baseline observations about how the genre works. We are, after all, talking about genre fiction, so there are going to be commonalities among the stories and how they're executed.
Originally Posted by KatG
Six romance novels would be enough to tell you that there's going to be a happily ever ending, the characters will generally not be repulsive, and that there's been a movement away from the portrayal of violence as acceptable in the name of Tru Luv in the last 30 years. (70s and 80s romance is rife with heroes who smack their heroines and/or borderline rape her before they end up happily ever after. It is very rare to see that now, and it mostly shows up in the work of older authors who started writing then and developed those habits.) So there has clearly been at least that one change -- in addition to many others -- within that genre.
Six thriller novels would be enough to tell you that the majority of the protagonists are going to be white men who have some link to law enforcement or the military, that there commonly be a female love interest, and that there has been a movement in the last 30 years away from the Soviet Union as an antagonist.
Six fantasy novels will show you that books on average have gotten thicker, cover art styles have changed dramatically, and there are a lot more well-drawn female and minority characters now than there were 30 years ago.
The reason I go through this litany is because I know that often your theme here is "same as it ever was," and often that's correct -- or at least more correct than people postulating a Great and Dramatic Change seem to recognize -- but the genres do change over time, and one of the things that changes is how often a given stylistic gimmick (such as rape depicted as hott sexytime and not a horrible crime in '80s romance novels) pops up in its novels.
Provided that what hippokrene noticed is indeed the particular stylistic gimmick that I think it is, then it is indeed more common now than it was 30 years ago. It existed then too, of course -- it goes back a very long way -- but it wasn't as common or as clumsy as it is these days.
At least one major reason for the shift in prevalence (and, IMO, the big one, although I obviously can't prove this) is that it's now taught in workshops and included in "how to write horror" instructional books. It is my personal bias and pet theory that the kind of people who need to have stuff spelled out for them in workshops and instructional books are precisely the kind of people most likely to muck it up in practice, but regardless of whether there's any merit to that, it is now a much more widely known trick than it was, so unsurprisingly there is an increase in the number of writers I see trying to do it. Correspondingly, it shows up more on the shelves than it used to.
So yes, if the gimmick being discussed is that specific style quirk, it is more common in modern horror than it was 30 years back.
If not, well then damn, I just wasted a whole bunch of words.
April 10th, 2009, 11:23 AM
FWIW, it's personally more horrifying to find out that the good guys are as horrific as the monsters, rather than have very simple good guys vs. horrific bad guys. Modern horror has a lot to do with the disillusionment of the protagonist with regards to Good versus Evil. They find, to their horror, that everyone is capable of madness and evil, good is an illusion, and worst of all, it's all meaningless.
April 10th, 2009, 01:42 PM
1) We don't actually know what year the books Hippokrene got out of the library were published in. The fact that he ran into two books with a similarity -- if one of those books was published in 2006 and the other in 1994, that doesn't say much, does it? If they're published closer together in time, that still doesn't say anything about horror as publishers are putting out several hundred horror novels a year. Any sample under maybe 200 books isn't going to let you extrapolate much.
2) You are talking about genre as a type of fiction, and it's not. It is not a style of fiction. It is not definable by any aspect of writing at all. A genre is a market where books that have common story elements are grouped together for sale so that people who are most interested in those story elements can find them. Those elements are suspenseful things, scary things, romantic things, science fiction things and fantasy things. An author writing a story with some of those elements does not have to write it in a certain way to be genre and get in the genre section of the bookstore. All the author has to do is be bought by a publisher who supplies the section of the bookstore. Or not even that. If you're published by Random House, not Del Rey, you can still get sold in the SFF section of the store. Basically, you're just being confused by packaging.
So, a genre does not change en masse because it is not all one type of thing. And that includes romance. There are numerous sub-categories in romance, numerous different styles, approaches, structures, etc. They are not all the same at all, and the genre market for romance is quite wide.
3) So some horror novels in the 1970's and 1980's had rapes and some horror novels in the 1990's and the oughts had rapes. You can't tell anything from the inclusion of rape when it's such a common story feature. Nor can you tell if the horror genre, which is currently expanding, is more sleazy from six books out of at this point thousands of titles. More, if you count the serial killer thrillers that are cross-marketed with horror.
Are there plot idea drifts? Yes. One author will write about a furry monster instead of a tentacled monster, and other authors think, hmm, I have a different way I could tackle a furry monster, and the publishers like what they tried, so there's a little cluster of furry monster books. But in a year, there will be a different cluster, and the cluster does not fill and dominate the market by any means.
It's not that I object to hippokrene's reaction to these books. It's that he's then taking that reaction and saying, does this mean that most horror is this way and the authors want to write about awful people? He's wondering if thousands of titles and authors fit into one pattern, a pattern based on a few books he encountered.
So again, my answer to the question is no, it's not.
April 10th, 2009, 03:16 PM
April 10th, 2009, 06:43 PM
April 10th, 2009, 11:20 PM
Yes, I remembered you were a she right after I posted. Sorry about that.
And sorry about if I seemed patronizing, in addition to testy. It's not you, it's me. I've had this conversation continually, so I get very frustrated with it.
I am very happy to talk about all sorts of influences such as how writers doing historical fantasy are currently re-exploring Victoriana steampunk, or how biology issues and nano technology formed a cluster of interest in SF in the 1990's, how female characters both changed roles in SFFH and maintained the same ones over the years, etc. I could happily talk about how some horror titles picked up certain themes, etc., at various times.
But this topic about whether we're more naughty and amoral in our fiction now, this one is not accurate in any area, in my opinion. Which I've given, so I leave the field to others to state their opinions as well.
April 11th, 2009, 12:07 AM
Originally Posted by KatG
You've used the words 'naughty,' 'amoral,' and 'sleazy.'
I'd like to point out that my original post did not contain any value judgments. The stylistic pattern I noticed (which I am in no way suggesting is representative of the genre as a whole) is one Iíve only seen before in small dips, and I wondered what effect the authors were attempting.
Addendum: Iím not saying that you implied my original post was an attempt to suggest horror was naughty, amoral, or sleazy, but I wanted to clarify.
My feathers get ruffled easily, but in my estimation, a patronizing and testy post from you is better than none at all.
Originally Posted by KatG
Itís not my desire to frustrate you and I will attempt to not do so in the future.
April 11th, 2009, 07:08 AM
TBH in this thread I feel like in your eagerness to have that continual conversation again, you're leaping straight past my attempts to point out that we're just discussing another stylistic quirk analogous to those you mention in the second quoted paragraph. But perhaps this is my fault for being a poor communicator. The speed of discussion on a message board is not always conducive to clarity.
Originally Posted by KatG
But that's all this is: another stylistic quirk that is more prominent now than it was. I don't know the genre well enough to explain exactly why that is, but I do know it well enough to note that it is what it is (or at least one possible explanation therefor).