Gore Isn’t Scary!
Horror is a genre of emotion. Its readers go into a novel or a short story looking for something that makes turning out the lights scary. That gives them nightmares which keep them awake for days. And the way a writer does this is not by slapping some blood and guts into a story—gore isn’t scary by itself, its gross. But by, if they use gore, making it count.
How do writers do this? By knowing what gore is, by making us care about the characters, and by knowing how much gore is too much for their story.
Gore Isn’t Horror
Before moving on to what gore is, it is important to establish what gore isn’t. In short, gore can be a feature of a Horror story. But just slapping in some blood and viscera won’t make a Sci-Fi or Fantasy story into a Horror story. This is because Horror writers are trying to scare readers and Horror lovers want to be scared. And if the writer isn’t trying to scare the reader, the story isn’t Horror.
Take Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart as an example of this. Often included in collections of Poe’s work, there is no description of brain matter and guts. No detailed description of the blood on the narrator’s hands. And yet, the story is one of my personal favorites. The descent into madness arc being what makes the story terrifying enough to keep me up time and again. The continued beating of the victim’s heart after death making it feel as if I’m also going insane. Just like Austen’s Pride & Prejudice instills a sense of comfort when I read it.
While a story with plenty of blood and guts, like in Splatterpunk stories, can be Horror. A good Horror writer never mistakes gore for what makes a Horror story what it is.
What Is Gore?
Put simply, gore is blood and guts. And a Horror story that uses gore, whether a little or a metric ton, includes blood and guts. In Splatterpunk novels, the gore moves the story forward as it is lovingly described. In a ghost story or vampire story, it serves to make the monster more frightening. In Erotic Horror, the gore is used to disturb and arouse unsuspecting readers.
A good example is Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. In the first Hannibal novel, there are instances of gore that are hard to miss. And the same can be said of The Girl Next Door, a completely terrifying novel by Jack Ketchum. One I’ve yet to get through due to the level of both gore and Horror. I admit I’m surprised by this. I’ve written stories that framed violence in cutesy or romantic ways. But we all have our Waterloos. And the story is one I’d recommend anyone who wishes to write more extreme Horror.
How Do You Make Gore Scary?
It may not be scary on its own. I’d go so far as to say there is nothing as simultaneously funny and boring as a story which replaces gore for Horror. But blood, guts, and other viscera can be used to create a terrifying story by taking into consideration three bits of advice. And it should go without saying that all are in the eye of the beholder.
1. Make Readers Care
If the reader doesn’t care about the characters, the gore will fail to truly scare them. At best, it will be a cheap type of scare. Like a story that overuses jump scares. At worse it will make them put the book down because they’re bored.
While it is true there are stories I’ve had trouble finishing. I’d prefer it wasn’t because I didn’t care about the what was happening and who it was happening to. You want reads who don’t finish your story to put it down because they can’t handle it, not because they don’t care. And not because the gore was boring as a result.
2. Use Gore Sparingly
While a writer doesn’t have to use gore sparingly. Splatterpunk as a genre certainly doesn’t. A writer just learning how to use gore in their story and how much a story needs should be sparing with it.
It is more difficult to make the readers care about what has happened when it is overused. You do not want them coming across a gory scene and roll their eyes because it got boring.
3. Use Gore To Advance the Plot
It isn’t enough to just be sparing with gore or make the reader care about what is happening. If the gore doesn’t advance the plot, the reader will get bored. I most certainly will get bored if it doesn’t advance the plot.
So how do you figure out if a gory description or scene is advancing the plot of your story? Ask yourself the following question: will the story be the same without the gory scene?
If you answer yes? Well, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. If the answer is no? Great! I’m sure that it is a well-written scene and the story is probably equally as well-done.