For the less video game savvy of our readers, there is a game called Fallout 3. In this game are bad guys called super mutants and raiders. Whenever you take down one of their encampments you are likely to find sacks of gore strewn about their ramshackle place of residence. That’s right, gore. Just sitting there. For the easily befuddled, it’s even called a ‘gorebag’. As a player you can choose to stick your hand in that gore and see if there’s anything worthwhile inside, like ammo or bottle caps (in-game currency) or maybe some drugs like stimpaks (health), y’know, typical end-of-world paraphernalia.
Sometimes it’s worth the effort, sometimes it really isn’t. Add to the ick-factor the game makes this horrible ‘squick’ sound when you look into the bag.
Why would anyone ever want to stick there hand in there? I don’t know, why does a lot of SpecFic literature these days, especially in the fantasy genre, seem to be constantly trying to out-gross the last hard-hitter?
Don’t get me wrong, I write dark fantasy, I’ve put my characters through quite a bit, quite a graphic bit, so I’m certainly not against horror or gore in our fantasy works, I’m only asking you to ask yourself if it serves a purpose. Does it, in some way, advance the plot? Do we discover more about the characters’ weaknesses? Their strengths? Is it more than BadGuy kicking puppies and killing messengers to prove how ‘bad’ he really is?
Let’s use Brent Weeks’ Way of Shadows as an example, because it’s awesome and I love it. It’s pretty horrific in those beginning chapters, and not just in a flat out blood-splatter kind of way either. I’m talking abuse, rape and poverty all dealing with children between the ages of 8 and 14. He doesn’t pull any punches. But it’s more than just a desire to say ‘Well, these are the slums and stuff is bad. See, look!’ We’re shown just how evil the BadGuy characters are and how much our Hero has to endure so that when the BadGuy makes his dramatic re-appearance years later, we’re just as terrified as our Hero. We know what BadGuy is capable of, we’ve seen it. We know what our Hero endured, we were there with him when the blows landed and the tears fell. It’s real to us. That is a gorebag with ammo and a stimpak inside.
Here’s something else to consider: there’s more to horror than blood and guts or raping and pillaging. There are episodes of The Twilight Zone that still scare the crap out of me using black & white TV, Rod Serling’s voice and some damn good characterization. What about the horror of a situation? Overcoming fears? The power of suggestion is amazing so let your readers put their imagination to work. Have you ever been in a situation where you had to confront someone or something? You knew it was coming, but you spend the hours leading up to it dreading all the ways it can go wrong? How often was your imagination, fueled by your irrational fears, more terrifying than what did come to pass?
I’m noticing what could be called a trend in some of the SpecFic works out there where it seems as though everyone is trying to one-up the last guy. Characters, significant or otherwise, are killed for shock value. How many books lately have opened with someone either dead, dying or in the process of being killed? It’s not a bad thing, my own current WIP opens with a bar fight, but I think there needs to be more balance. I think it’s a fine line and some writers are crossing it in an attempt to be more shocking, more bloody, more everything than the last guy, while their plot and characters sit forgotten on the curb.
Like anything else in your story, your horror aspects must be integral. They must serve a purpose. In my opening scene, I need you to see just how far my MC is willing to go to get what she wants, because the shit hits the fan pretty quick and we need to see what kind of girl we’re working with. Do I succeed? Not sure, guess I’ll find out. What I do know is that if I removed that scene and started the book from the next one, no one would have any reason to believe this girl could hold her own. It has a purpose.
What about you? Do you include aspects of horror or the disturbing in your SpecFic? How do you feel about books that do? Is it purposeful or trend-ful? Would a zombie fat unicorn scare you? ‘Cause it would me.