Blog Share – Stereotypes of Horror Writers

Blog Share - The Haunted Pen

While browsing one of the many Google Alerts I receive daily by e-mail, I discovered this very interesting feature on the Writer’s Resource website written by Ellie Wood. I thought it was a fascinating and realistic view on the perceptions of horror writers and wanted to share it with you.

There is an abundance of horror writers in the world, but whether it’s Shirley Jackson, Joe Hill, H.P Lovecraft, Mary Shelly or Stephen King, all readers and people make assumptions about writers of horror. Horror becomes an easy genre to stereotype because it is one of the darkest genres. By being a dark genre, audiences often make Gothic or tragic assumptions as to why the author would write a murder instead of a love story.

It is easy to assume that horror writers sit in a dark room and laugh manically as they kill off the characters, when most of the time that is not true. Manic laughter is for the special occasions, so the odd chuckle at dark humor is more common.

Alongside famed horror writers, when I tell people that I write horror, they look taken aback and have their own assumptions about my choice of genre. They are easy assumptions to make, but harder to debunk, because there might be scenarios where they become a reality. The stereotypes cannot win because that admits the defeat that all writers are the same.

If we were all the same – especially horror writers – then no one would read us. Have you ever heard of vampires, zombies, possession and a good ghost? Yeah so has everyone else. Welcome to the pressures of a horror writer as we try to find original stories that will scare you all.

I do not believe that anyone intends to be a horror writer, I do not think anyone intends to write in any particular genre, it is simply what they are interested in and the story that is trying to burst out of their heads. No one is disgruntled about it and all people whatever your genre should embrace the genre that you have found yourself in.

I like to tell myself that the smaller the section in the book store, the better chance the book has of being found and luckily, I am a horror writer in a cozy section. What I have found as a horror writer is people’s assumptions becoming stranger every time I speak about my work and my writing process.

The Haunted Pen - Stereotypes of Horror Writers

How You Write
Poe-esque is the only term I can muster to how people think we write. I have a raven on my creaky roll-top desk with a heart beating under my feet. Or perhaps I sit in haunted locations or the creepiest graveyard I can find open in the middle of the night. We only write by candlelight of course because the creatures lurking in the shadows that act as our muse need the light.

Lies. Most writers will be in their pajamas and sitting at a desk or on their sofa or their bed — wherever they left their laptop last. Location can be everything, a coffee shop or a library or a window with the best view you can find. In reality, it doesn’t matter where you are as long as you have a laptop or a pen and paper waiting to be scrawled upon.

A lot of writers believe that they need to be in a certain location, to have the aesthetic of their genre surrounding them, forgetting that the most important thing is having something to write with and then writing. Your imagination is the thing that creates your story, not the place you write it in.

‘You Must Have Had A Messed-Up Childhood’
The assumption that all horror writers have had terrible childhoods is borderline cliché. People will tell you instead of asking you and they take it as a fact. People like scary stories or creepy stories, it does not make them strange or that they grew up different to the rest of the world. It is exactly like saying ‘you must have a wonderful sex life,’ to someone who only writes erotic fiction or ‘you must have had a great childhood,’ to children’s authors or authors who convey the traditional happy family.

It is hard for audience’s and peers to disassociate our lives from our work when they already have preconceived notions of the genre we are writing within. Stories are escapism, not projections, and if they are the reader can tell and it can get uncomfortable very quickly. Escapism in literature is a form of entertainment, regardless of the genre and it is supposed to be fictional. Our stories are in a world unrelated to our own because it is something we made up in our heads, it is not something that the way we grew up can dictate.

‘I Shouldn’t Get On Your Bad Side,’
Fiction or non-fiction, writer or non-writer, why would you ever want to get on someone’s bad side? People say that if you fall in love with a writer, they’ll keep you alive forever because they’ll create you as a character. This is amazing and it might be true for a lot of writers, but I have never found myself doing this, purely because the character becomes the person you know instead of the person, they need to be to continue the story. Creating someone you know can be detrimental because it shows how you really see that person and the person may not like it.

To push this assumption on horror authors is narcissistic because the person saying it almost wants to annoy you so much that they become a murder victim in your next story — Imaginary revenge at its finest. There must be people that have considered this before but from experience I do not think people actually kill off, torture, maim or haunt the people they know with words.

It is funny to think about the horror author, stroking their raven again, looking at a family photo of that one aunt that said they’d put on weight, how shall you die Karen? They’ll say before laughing manically with a plume of smoke coming from out of nowhere around them.

What people might take from this is dialogue, I think subconsciously a lot of us take dialogue from our past conversations, even if it isn’t word for word. If your character is getting on someone’s bad side and you remember Karen getting on your bad side and what and how she said it, it could work its way in to your writing. But no, writers don’t steal people from the world around them and place them in their novels.

Being able to create stories is godlike, we have control over the world we create and the characters we want to see interacting in that world, using someone we know as a character doesn’t take advantage of the strange imagination that paces in the writer’s brain.

‘You’re Too Nice To Write Horror.’
Let us all agree on one thing. Everyone is nice or at least can pretend to be nice and it does not mean that they are. But, nicety and the genuine fabric of a person doesn’t dictate what they write or how they write. People could act like they hate the world and yet they are romance writers. Horror writers are (trust me) the nicest people you could ever meet, but their writing has blood, murder, fear and swearing.

It goes back to the concept that all writers have the same process and the way they behave affects their work when it doesn’t. A person’s actions do not affect their imagination. Imagination is a separate concept because it is not reality, and not who we are. We are the people that we choose to be and if you haven’t noticed, our imaginations are not controllable. They are wild and ravenous and creepy and wonderful, but they are our thoughts not our actions. If we acted as we wrote, we may be in prison or very alone.

There is always a separation between what we write and who we are because if there weren’t the novels would be a diary not a story.

‘Shouldn’t You Be Wearing All Black?’
No? Not all of us can be trendsetters in a black suit and a top hat. Not all horror writers love the dark. Most horror writers are the biggest scaredy-cats because our imaginations form too many shapes in the dark and nightmares tend to be closer to reality than we’d like. Wearing all black feels too much like mourning to me. Colors help the word away from writing become more vibrant. The words on the page are all black, in the miraculous void of fiction. Whilst the world I live in is full of colors that I don’t have to describe and words I speak.

Not all horror writers wear black because not all horror writers feel the need to have darkness in every element of their lives. They could be the most colorful people you’ve ever met but you miss them when you walk down the street because you’re waiting for the Gothic, vampire looking author who never sees the sun to walk out of their house.

Forming assumptions or stereotypes about authors is something we all do. The curiosity of it all is contagious because genres have these assumptions attached to them and attached to the authors within the genre. The world is changing beyond these assumptions and they are laughable with the more we realize that work is separate to the author and yet inherently apart of them. Being a horror writer is an amazing thing to be, especially the fun assumptions that are nothing like myself but aren’t all writers’ suckers for irony?

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