I want to try my hand at writing a psychological horror story. With a UFO. I don’t know about you, but UFOs smack of that Otherness that everybody from the Exorcist to Lovecraft have tapped into. We see things we can’t explain–especially those UFOs that change shapes or break into bits and fly in different directions.
So I started researching the structure of the horror story. I mean the thriller kind–not the splatterpunk Hollywood is so fond of. I’ve found some interesting things.
I. General Horror Formula
A series of bizarre, seemingly unrelated incidents occurs.
The protagonist (and, sometimes, his or her friends or associates) discover the cause of the incidents (often, it is a monster).
Using their newfound knowledge, they end the bizarre incidents (perhaps by killing the monster).
Examples: It, Summer of Night, The Exorcist
Some very helpful advice regarding Maslow’s Hierarchy of Fears, from the Thrill of Fear blog:
1 Biological and Physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.
2 Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, limits, stability, etc.
3 Belongingness and Love needs – work group, family, affection, relationships, etc.
4 Esteem needs – self-esteem, achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, managerial responsibility, etc.
5 Self-Actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.
It follows that humans’ fears are directly related to their needs. Fear of pain is the fear of not being able to fulfill our Physiological needs. Fear of public speaking is a mixture of our fear of losing our current Self-Esteem, not being loved, or losing out feeling of belonging.
With every monster and scary situation, look at it in terms of what needs it threatens. A possessed house? Considering we need shelter, and on a lesser level need safety and stability, this can be a scary prospect. Possessed daughter? That threatens our need for family and affection.
But I wanted to know how folks like Lovecraft did it. Fortunately, I found his formula pretty easily.
Lovecraft tends to follow a fairly predictable formula in his works, which goes something like this:
Protagonist is a rational person who thinks spiritual things are silly
Protagonist is volunteered to investigate the bizarre happenings of a town and help the inhabitants overcome their irrational fears
Protagonist learns that there is indeed something spooky going on
Protagonist sees a glimpse of the true horrifying nature of reality, driving him insane
Then I tried looking up Arthur Machen’s horror (the guy who Lovecraft ripped off wholesale, and who was also a committed Anglican and worked his faith into his horror). Funny, not as many people talk about him. No idea why, because I’ve read some of his stories and they’re every bit as intellectually creepy as Lovecraft’s.
Along the way, I found an interesting breakdown of atheist horror and Christian horror.
So, I have here the basic information to write a horror story. But it’s a vast topic. Mostly, to write really good creepy stuff, you have to dig down into those places inside you that give you the shivers. It’s why the Weeping Angels and the Silence from Doctor Who are so iconic. Weeping Angels–don’t blink or it’ll get you! The Silence–you forget them as soon as you look away, even if it’s coming to kill you.
Obviously I’m new to horror, though. Anybody have any other resources or add, or advice in general?