WiHM: Writing Horror Like a Girl

So this month I’m hoping to get some roundtable discussions going between women horror writers, but in the meantime, I’d like to revisit some of my thoughts from last year. My process on this is multi-faceted and somewhat self-serving:

1. I’m lazy. Well, not really, but I’ve also got a huge book to finish editing, with two more books needing editing after it. Add to that upcoming promotional stuff and a few sewing commissions I need to finish, and something’s got to give. However, I love this month and I don’t want to neglect the opportunities here.

2. I stand by a lot of what I said last year, and I feel that those opinions are still valid and still need exploring. Things haven’t changed THAT much in 365 days, so there’s no harm going back to some of what I explored earlier. I’m going to try to alternate all this with some newer posts on segments of horror I didn’t get to cover last time around, as well as some other thoughts on what this month means.

So this post originally appeared HERE, but for convenience’s sake I’m going to repost below.


So now that I’ve gotten the jubilation out of my system…why horror? Like I’ve stated before, it isn’t exactly associated with estrogen these days, unless you’re looking at a half-naked chick at the wrong end of a chainsaw. Here’s the thing, though…the movies, the titles that have become really popular in the theaters are only a small percentage of the genre. There is SO much stuff out there, especially given all the indie titles (books and movies), foreign titles, urban legends (because there’s some good stuff there, kids), and other stuff.

I’m not a huge, huge fan of gore, myself. To be fair, I think that is kind of a gender division thing, but I have my own feelings about it. I’m not against writing the flinging of internal organs, but I think that it isn’t necessary for every title or for every other page. Sure, it’s disturbing, but there comes a point where it’s more gross than scary. Potentially losing those you love is scary. Potentially losing what makes you you is scary. Having to question what everything in your life really means and if anyone truly has your back…that’s terrifying.

Fear is not unique to either gender. Crazy is not unique to either gender. And honestly, I don’t think men have a patent on having to step it up or be tough when faced with adversity, either. A person is a person…any gender is just as likely to freak out as they are rock it out. You just don’t know how things are going to affect you until you’re neck-deep in the situation. To me, yeah, horror tends to be divisive as men = tough and women = victims, but if you think about it, each gender is just as likely to be either given what they’re facing.

I like exploring those situations. Whether they’re supernatural or real-world caused, I think there’s something to be said for facing frightening things in a safe setting. I think it’s why people keep going to horror movies, why a lot of scary titles are considered classics, and why there are so many urban legends throughout the world that strike a universal cord.

Think of it – It succeeds because a lot of people are afraid of clowns, and it also delves into that helpless feeling you have as a kid. Adults are supposed to protect you and be on your side. What if they’re not? There are things that aren’t supposed to exist…but what if they do? It’s why titles like Exorcist andRosemary’s Baby also are popular – and isn’t it a coincidence that they both deal with mothers whose children are potentially in danger of some sort?

Although something like Taken is an action title, still…it strikes a huge real-world cord…what if your kid was stolen from you for the worst possible reason and there was nothing you could do?

This is why horror and horror elements work. I’ve heard the argument that supernatural titles aren’t scary because they couldn’t happen, and I get that to a point, but if they’re done well, they SHOULD make you believe they could happen. Maybe they couldn’t happen in our direct world, but for the time you’re reading that book or watching that movie, you should be able to believe that it’s plausible in that world. Vampires are scary because they could blend in, and if they’re any good at what they do, you should never see them coming until it’s too late. Zombies are terrifying because the thought of not being in control of yourself is terrifying (and as a chick, I can totally understand that). I get that Lovecraftian themes and giant monsters aren’t as plausible, but we all have emotions or problems in our lives that are way bigger than us, looming over us, waiting to rip us apart if we give them the chance…to me, those giant beasties are just personifications of that.

So, back to women…

As a woman, I love writing horror. I feel like there’s much less restrictions than a lot of other genres, and well, it’s empowering to write it. I’m the one in control of the terrifying stuff going on. I’ve got the pen. Let’s be real. In this day and age, there are still a lot of things for a woman to be afraid of, but for the moments that I’ve got the pen or the keyboard, I’m the one who’s in control and that world is at my mercy.

For me, personally, I tend to favor the supernatural titles (except with Stephen King for some reason), because I hear every freakin’ day how dangerous life can be if I’m out late, in certain areas by myself, if I flip my blinkers the wrong way, smile at the wrong person, accidentally drink from the wrong glass…I’m not against real-world situations, but I’d much rather stick to things that are far away from what we have to deal with anyway.

And also, let’s just get it out of the way now…women are crazy. Seriously, if you haven’t realized this even a little by now…

Because I’ve got that tendency to be emotional, though, because I’ve got things specific to my gender to worry about, I think it gives me a unique opportunity to explore things differently, to build tension in a slightly different way. There are characters that wouldn’t work if they were men (and no, I’m not just talking about the ones that get hacked up). Take Eleanor from The Haunting of Hill House (The book. Please, PLEASE take the book or at least the original movie). Her personality is entirely feminine. She’s desperately trying to re-start her life, clinging to the emotions she knows, and that leaves her wide open for the supernatural and madness. I don’t think the delicate line she walks would be as terrifying or work as well if she was a man. If you want to go more graphic,Sonja Blue is a vampire that sticks way out because of her overall journey. She starts out as a victim of a very gender-based type of crime, and becomes badass through her transformation to a vampire and later a slayer. Her vengeance, her mental state, her delicate vs. vicious parts of her personality, the constant battle of caring for someone vs. what she is…these are very, VERY much influenced by female emotions. Sure, characters traits like that have been used in male characters, but because she suffers debasement early on and has to go through so much, because she turns into such  a vicious killer…it pops so much harder because she’s a woman.

I’m not saying that we’re ganged up on in the genre per say, but I do like playing the party game of asking people who their favorite horror authors are. Try it. See how many times a lady is included in the list that isn’t Anne Rice.I feel like there’s so much possibility in  horror, we shouldn’t have to write to a certain formula or feel like we have to write a guy’s type of horror novel to feel part of the club.  It’s high time to celebrate the ladies that are writing this genre, and explore what horror means to them.

So strap yourselves in bogeys and ghouls, we’re going to spend this month exploring this genre from a female point of view!




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