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Suspence and the cliffhangers: how to write horror

Books about the strange and the creepy - why are they so attractive? For some, this is a situation of "pretense fear", which makes you feel strong emotions and feel safe, because unlike daily news, "there is nothing of this". For others - the opportunity to experience the unknown world because "what if there is." In any case, the mystical scares and captivates us. Reality loses its usual shape, abandoned houses are inhabited by ghosts, owls are not what they seem, and it is not known what to expect even from your wardrobe. However, the frightening is not always associated with mysticism - psychological thrillers, for example, cause fear without exploiting the influence of supernatural forces. In this sense, the genres of mysticism and horror intersect, but cannot be considered synonyms.

The horror genre originated in the folklore and religious traditions of different nations. That is how a set of typical characters borrowed from grassroots mythology gradually formed: demons, vampires, werewolves, zombies, ghosts. The first "guest story" can be called "Conversations of the High Priest Amon Khonsuemheb with a ghost" - an ancient Egyptian literary work written in the XIII century BC. Another classic example of a ghost story, the plot of which is still in use, is a letter from Pliny the Younger Sura, which tells about the philosopher Athenodor, who expels a ghost from his occupied house.

The Middle Ages with the "Bisclavret" by the poetess, Marie of France, and the "Guillaume de Palerme" of Countess Ölanda, brought the theme of a werewolf to the genre. The chivalrous novel "The Deadly Graveyard" and the French "tragic stories" - an obsession with the devil. The heroes of the terrible stories were Vlad Tepes, Gilles de Ré, and Countess Bathory. All this can be considered prerequisites for the emergence of classical Gothic prose, the first example of which is regarded as the novel of Horace Walpole's "Oranto Castle", written in the XVIII century. The nineteenth century became the true heyday of the Gothic novel: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, the tales of E. Hoffmann, W. Gauf, the Brothers Grimm, short stories by Edgar Allan Poe and Ambrose Beers still inspire story writers and scriptwriters interpretations.

In addition to increasing the number of books in the horror genre, the first half of the twentieth century introduced a trend on the topic of serial maniacs. The magazine Weird Tales published stories by G. F. Lovecraft. All over the world, they read and re-read The Golem of G. Meyrink. The popularity of the genre was largely supported by cinema.

Currently, of course, Stephen King is considered the king of the genre. Other notable names include Dean Kunz, William Blatty (The Exorcist, Ira Levin (Rosemary's Baby), Anne Rice (The Vampire Chronicles).

Mystical literature and horror have a clear plot structure - this is genre prose in its purest form. To better understand it, consider the subgenres of horror literature.

- Thriller. It implies "frightening" the reader with the help of suddenness of action. Mystical thrillers presuppose supernatural forces and mythological creatures: ghost stories, vampire novels, werewolf stories, demonic obsession, etc. Psychological thrillers arouse fear in the reader with the help of events that are close to reality: serial killers, accidents, madness, severe illness, and coma.

- Post-apocalypse. Description of the life of society after the end of the world. Unlike the similar subgenre of science fiction, the focus here is not on the world order, but on the description of all kinds of monsters (zombies, mutants) and human defenselessness in front of them.

- Horror with a love line that carries not a secondary but a plot-forming meaning.

- Black humor. In the literature, the subgenre is rarely represented, and mainly by the novelization of series and television shows.

Like any genre, horror is built according to specific laws. There are universal mechanisms for creating an atmosphere and forcing fear in the reader. Over time, they change, adapting to the audience. What scared people in the 19th century is unlikely to seem so terrible to the reader today. At the same time, a particular tradition is preserved, and we can trace it from the first Gothic novels to the prose of modern masters of mysticism and horror. These are proven and effective techniques. What are they?

- The realism of the scene and time. The action takes place here and now. The main character is surrounded by the most mundane environment - dullness, boring life, unloved work, fatigue. There seems to be nothing that can change that. But suddenly ... The most terrible things happen in quiet places.

- Suspense. The mystical invades everyday routine: first, evil forebodings and strange dreams, then a neighbor with whom something is wrong, and then a ghost in the mirror. The hero is in a state of uncertainty - he does not understand whether all this is happening in reality or only in his head.

- Slowdown. The hero advances to the secret, but information about it is issued in a dosed manner, through the side moves. The focus of attention shifts to different characters who differently understand nothing. This is an anticipated game, and it's worth it.

- Use of cliffhangers. Events are interrupted at the climax, the hero is finally getting to the bottom of the mystery, in what is happening to him, a new circumstance emerges - but the reader finds out after a few chapters.

- According to the tradition of Gothic prose, genuine horror occurs in less populated places where something strange has happened before, when the hero's fear, rooted in his past, combines with his vulnerability at the moment.

Working in the genre of mysticism and horror, boldly use all the invaluable material that is in everyone's life - let your family stories become part of your character's past, the legends of your city will live where he lives, and then the reader will believe in the world of your book and that the other world is nearby - what if there is?


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