Touch Our Fears
It might not be the first place you go when you are looking for a good novel—horror. Or maybe it is where you spend your time with your pleasure reading. Fear is a valid emotion to tap with the reader and it’s certainly a mainstay of horror writers. It’s also key for other types of fiction such as suspense, supernatural or thriller writers.
I was fascinated with Terrence Rafferty’s piece on this topic, The Thinking Reader’s Guide to Fear which appeared in last Sunday’s New York Times. Here’s a small snippet of his well-written article which caught my attention, “Enjoying horror stories, as I do, or finding them inherently pointless, silly and unwholesome, as many others do, is largely a matter of taste and temperament and is therefore unarguable. So rather than attempt to convert anybody, I’ll just try to explain, with as little defensiveness as possible, what attracts me to this often indefensible genre. Since I don’t actually believe in the existence of ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night, I’m able to read horror fiction with a degree of equanimity, admiring the narrative skills of its best practitioners — whose storytelling, like that of most genre writers, tends to be classical, even old-fashioned — and allowing its bold, defiantly unsubtle metaphors to rattle around in my mind. To get anything out of horror, you have to be willing to surrender to those metaphors. Vampires may not be real, but the voracious, apparently unkillable, only nominally human predators they represent certainly are. (Chances are you’ve worked for at least one of them.) Zombies? Don’t ask.”
“The ability to embody your fears and anxieties and revulsions metaphorically may or may not give you pleasure or contribute in any measurable way to your mental health, but it’s a perfectly legitimate function of the working brain: one of those operations that help you maintain the appropriate respect for the power and weird beauty of unreason, its relentless prankishness, its capacity to prick us with sudden joys and sudden dreads. Horror fiction, even at its direst, frequently betrays an unexpectedly giddy quality, a sense of heedless, headlong freedom that’s the proper effect of a good metaphor, building and rolling and breaking like a wave of the sea.”
While Christian fiction doesn’t use vampires or zombies in their books, many writers do tap into the emotion of fear in their plot twists. Brandilyn Collins writes suspense fiction and I’ve enjoyed a number of her recent books. Ann Byle’s recent book includes a chapter about Collins’ fiction saying, “The lure, she says, is that suspense fiction is realistic. Its power manifests itself in sheer numbers of movies and television shows that have to do with crime or suspense, a trend Collins sees as beneficial to her kind of writing.”
“‘We live in a very evil world and that’s reality; more and more people want fiction to represent that reality. There are a lot of people out there who love suspense, and in the general market it has been very successful. Why not give Christians an alternative? Give them a good, strong suspense novel that has God’s message woven into it,’ says Collins.”
While you may turn away from the word “horror” in fiction, just look at this little fact from the Horror Writer’s Association media page: “Did you know that horror is one of the most pervasive literary types? Elements of horror can be found in almost every genre including mainstream, literary, science fiction, romance, thrillers, and mystery/suspense.” You may be surprised to learn there is a Horror Writer’s Association. You can follow the link to learn about the history and more about this genre. One of my friends Joe Nassise who is an active member at Scottsdale Bible Church, is a recent past president of this writer’s group. If you look around his website, you will see his horror fiction has been endorsed from some instantly recognizable names of bestselling authors.
I have two lessons that I draw about the writing life. First, fear is a valid emotion to touch in your fiction writing and use as an element as you create excellent fiction. Second, as Christians let’s not put unnecessary boundaries on our own potential. You can approach a genre like horror from your own worldview and provided your storytelling is excellent, you can be effective as a writer.