Why do people love to be scared? What whacked-out gene(s) is to blame for fake sawed-off bloody arms in the grocery store? Horror is more than an annual trick-or-treating event; it is a multi-billion dollar industry that continues to deliver people nightmares, paranoia, and visceral fear. I believe this is an evolutionary phenomenon, our innate way of dealing with CONFLICT.
Horror is all about conflict. Suspense, atmosphere, horrible characters are all elements of horror, but the real ingredient is conflict, because conflict creates dissonance (a state of mental discord), and dissonance triggers millions of years of evolutionary fight/flight responses in our brain, which fires adrenaline in the body. Survival is always the ultimate goal. Conflict challenges survival. Questionable means to survival is horror.
There doesn’t have to be a drop of blood on your page, nor one spooky house, tree, or even a killer. Horror can happen anywhere, anytime. Have you ever choked before? It’s a horrifying experience. No bad people, no blood, and it can happen in the middle of NPR’s Antique Roadshow. It is horrifying because there is major conflict occurring, especially if the character is alone. Or what about an insect infestation in your house that starts out small, but slowly grows until the insects are biting the children, which eventually leads to infection and hospitalization? Still no blood, no bad guy, no fog. But lots of conflict. So here’s my formula:
Horror = Conflict = Dissonance = Adrenaline in Your Reader = Scared Readers!
Good luck horror writers!
Check out more on horror at the Coffin Hop, over 90 horror authors giving away prizes!