I began to realize, upon reading the various (mostly short) works I’ve been perusing as of late, that I could just about categorize horror writers into four distinct categories–although, I understand that these classes often intermingle:
1) The first is the “Knee-Jerker.”
This is the type that writes specifically to get a response. Not so much of an author, but lyricist, Marilyn Manson would fit best into this category. These writers, I believe, grow up in a sheltered or “withheld” environment in which things are kept “just out of arm’s reach.” See his autobiography, Long, Hard Road Out of Hell for a glimpse of what I’m talking about. This otherwise sheltered lot writes horror because they realize that they’ve been lied to their whole lives about something, and feel like they need to express the world for what they believe it really is.
Either that, or they’ve just had all of those horrific ideologies so suppressed that they’ve become literary sociopaths–simply writing to get a response because it excites them to make people cringe. I’m thinking Chuck Palahniuk, although I don’t really know much about how he grew up. I have seen a lot of children turn out of catholic schools develop this type of personality, though.
2) The “Scarred Writer.”
These types of authors are almost the opposite of the above: they’ve witnessed terrible things throughout life, and haven’t had much of anything kept from their seared and tormented eyes. These people look for a means of “letting it out.” Although I’m not much of a fan (sorry), but Jack Ketchum crosses me as this type. Also, The Crow’s James O’Barr–although, this is more of a cult classic, revenge film. Many of these writers tend to bridge over into the revenge theme, though, and the PTSD effect sort of explains why.
3) “The Politician.”
A somewhat pejorative label, these writers use horror to promote a social idealism or political agenda. Read Michael Crichton‘s intro to Prey. He mentions an end-of-the-world scenario, taken from an Australian news article discussing the possibility of creating a doomsday virus from smallpox; I (completely coincidentally) ran across the same news article (Google: Doomsday Virus. Go figure…), which inspired me (in a completely different direction) to write my first novel–which is still, unfortunately, a terrible read that will stay in manuscript form for some time, that is (for now) titled Benevolence.
4) “The Natural.”
Think H.P. Lovecraft. Or, if you prefer, Alfred Hitchcock. Or, more recently, Ramsey Campbell. These types write horror for much the same reason that the guy that we know who’s good at working on cars, or collects antiques, does it: because it’s merely an extension of their personality. I don’t necessarily put these types on a pedestal just by calling them “naturals,” it’s just that they don’t have an “agenda” behind writing–they write horror “for horrors sake.” These are the kinds of people that, based on the way that their brains work, will simply “see” horror in day-to-day events; their writing often reflects that, as well, and we usually don’t get excessive gore or extreme end-of-the-world scenarios out of these latter types.
While this list is not all inclusive, and while many authors’ works span the entire list, I feel comfortable in realizing that this psychoanalysis of the horror writer may well enable one to categorize, and further understand, just how writing horror works–on that deep, Freudian level.
- Holes For Faces by Ramsey Campbell (darkregions.com)
- NecronomiCon to celebrate horror writer Lovecraft (nzherald.co.nz)
- Press Release: Ramsey Campbell-Holes for Faces (horroraddicts.wordpress.com)
- Writing Resources: Horror Fiction (writersforpetessake.wordpress.com)