"Does good written horror have to be psychological? What with my favorite annual horror contest being announced (...link to expired contest removed...), I've been thinking about what it takes to make good written horror.
I personally like the horror that makes you scared but you don't know why. I realized that I have no examples in mind that are able to rely on gore alone to frighten people.*
In that case there are probably tons of horror-themed books that just focus on the more disturbing side of real life. I have enjoyed some that explored subjects such as parasites, the different scientific studies that have been done with corpses, the psychology of serial killers, and cannibalism. Depending on how squeamish you are, that could be horror.
It's kind of amusing to read Victorian era horror stories. Like really, that was scary? I see a lot of people get freaked out by, for instance, 'Saw'--that's horror too, isn't it? Half the time I'm just laughing hysterically at the people scared of it. I think the first Saw was way more psychological than the sequels? Never saw past the first, I liked it too much to ruin it with what I heard were terrible followups.
I'm not so sure that mere gore can evoke a reaction of horror on the written page. In film, of course -- we react instinctively to the sight of blood, and internal organs spilling out, but it's really hard to make the same thing happen with words alone. Some people have pretty vivid imaginations. And if you start describing what it feels like to saw off your own limb or whatever....That would be pretty disturbing. But would it come from the fact of what's happening, or the subjective sensations and state of mind that would lead someone to do it?
So you need to evoke the reader's own emotions to scare him. It's interesting how close to humor this is--with humor, you want to set up expectations and then derail them, but do it in a way that's safe. This is also why bad horror movies are funny....not threatened, so it's funny instead.
And you can totally have horrific nonfiction! Do people consider that horror? I mean, I know every time I bring up that one wasp which Darwin basically said proved there is no God...people get kind of 'eeeew'. But there is a conceptual side to it.Do people consider that horror? I mean, it's not written specifically to scare people...or is it.
So, thoughts? Is it possible to have a 500+ word story (going all the way up to a novel) that relies entirely on the reader's visceral reaction as opposed to the mental stuff, or vice versa? And is it necessary to have a blend? What is it that makes something terrifying? Better yet, what truly defines the genres of Horror? You'd need to get the reader immersed. The one advantage of written is you can incorporate smell, too, but I rarely see that. It's the most powerful type of memory!
*I don't actually scare, I do love a good gore scene but that's probably deep seated psychological issues. I think the best horror will manipulate with the victims (and readers) mind and psychosis. "
I like how I have readers who ask questions that are longer than the answers I write.
But uhm, wow, yes, how to answer this one? Where to even begin? You covered so much, bring up so many points and ask so many questions.