Before I sat down to write my novel Northwoods Deep, I’d come to the realization that not much scared me anymore, at least in terms of horror fiction. Don’t get me wrong. I love the genre. Always have and always will. But while horror fiction could thrill and excite me, it rarely scared me. I hadn’t experienced that goose-bumps-on-the-arm feeling in a long, long time. Why? Had I grown jaded? Too cynical? Was I just not reading the right things?
So as I plotted my novel, I asked myself what scares me? It wasn’t vampires or werewolves or mutant jackrabbits. Sure, those can be vehicles for good scares when handled correctly, just as they can be vehicles for romance or comedy or angsty-teen novels. It wasn’t gore, even though I appreciate a well-written gore scene as much as the next fella.
What scared me?
I wracked my brain and eventually realized that my biggest fear was loss. Loss of family. Loss of my faculties. Loss of the control of my body, of determining my destiny. And what if I’d been responsible for the loss of someone I loved? How would I deal with it? Could I deal with it? That’s where the character of Jack came from; a man responsible for the loss of his mother in a drunk driving accident.
Jack’s sister Carol also suffers from loss; the loss of control amidst the chaos of an abusive ex-husband who refuses to leave her alone no matter what she does.
And Allen, their father, suffers from the loss of not only his wife at the hands of his son, but also suffers from the loss of his ability to cope with reality.
When this family – the Gunderson family – finds something hidden deep in the woods that hints at a new reality, although one merely hallucinatory – how much are they willing to sacrifice for it?
So…loss scares me. And while there is suspense and gore and even an evil entity in Northwoods Deep, these are not what make it a horror novel – at least not to me. These are not the things that really scare me. The thing that really scares me is that simple universal fear of loss, and of things never again being the same.
What scares you? If you want to write an effective horror novel, try to figure that out. Sure, you can use vampires and werewolves and mutant jackrabbits, but remember that they’re merely vehicles through which we can provide the scares – not the scare themselves.
And okay, I lied. Mutant jackrabbits really do scare the crap out of me.
Keith sez: “They scare me too, Joel. They scare me too…”
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