Tag Archives: The Shining

Oh, The Horror! How Horror Fiction Differs from Horror TV and Movies

I’ve already got a confession to make, and it’s the very first line of post. This is actually one of my biggest pet peeves: when people assume horror fiction is the exact same as horror movies. But can I blame them? Both are the horror genre, so why wouldn’t someone assume they were the same?

First, let’s take a look at horror movies. Georges Melies, a French filmmaker, created the very first horror film Manior Du Diable (The Devil’s Castle). It’s about three minutes long, and reminds me of a little bit of Jack the Giant Killer from 1962. Manior Du Diable is a quirky exploration of the magic of camera work and editing at the time, but it’s also a great frame of reference in which to see horror: horror deals with the supernatural, things in which we don’t quite understand, and the unexplained.

But the actual definition of horror is much different. Horror means a very strong feeling of fear, dread, and shock, or anything that causes feelings of fear, dread, and shock (Merriam Webster).

Unlike Manior Du Diable, more contemporary horror classics focus on the later part of the definition: shock. Friday the 13th. The Exorcist. Saw. We cringe in the theater seats at these movies saying, “Oh no. Don’t do that!” and “Oh no, don’t go in there!” We cover our eyes and peek out between our fingers. We see characters getting their limbs torn/ripped/chopped/pulled/blown off. Blood and gore are a cornerstone for many a horror film, in particular the B-movie variety. Some films even go so far as including triggering subject matter, like rape and violation. But most horror movies are going after the same effect: to make the audience jump in their seats, to scare audiences. A lot of thought, time, and care is put into production in order to achieve just the right music, lighting, and make-up effects for the big scary moments and the big reveals in order to make the audience all but pee their pants.

Horror literature seems to take the definition of horror more figuratively, deeply exploring the things we find scary or shocking, things we might not be able to explain, and examines them in depth. Instead of going for the screams, horror writers go more for effect. Where horror film may adopt the literal definition of the word horror (fear, dread, shock), horror literature seems to capture more of the thrill. Part of that could also be a byproduct of the medium. While movies are a more sensory experience with sight and sound, with books, the reader is allowed to imagine as much or as little as what’s on the page. It takes time to read a book, and the mind has more time to come up with possibilities and presumptions about what’s coming. More telling, popular horror literature deals with different subject matter. While a movie’s big focus may be the blood and gore, horror lit still needs to stand on its own two feet as a story. That means strong characters and character development, some element of the fantastic, whether it be a human hell-bent on murder or a vampire, and a bare-bones foundation of a story that is more than a cheap thrill.

I’d argue it goes much deeper still. It comes down to a question: what is the purpose of a horror movie and what is the purpose of a book in the horror genre? In movies, we are given very little time to empathize with our characters before the action begins. Because it isn’t necessary. When a moviegoer pays their money to see a horror flick, they are banking on the promise that they will get a good scare. When a book buyer pays money for a horror book, they pay for a more cerebral experience: they will spend hours with the characters, get to know them, and feel what they feel as the book progresses. In a horror movie, we are watching horrible things happen to the characters. In a horror book, we are experiencing the fantastic, the uncomfortable, right along with them.

I should note that I’m not trying to diss horror films. One of my favorite movies is a horror film (The Thing). And there are many exceptions to the points I’ve brought up here. There are some horror movies that I find downright artful (Let the Right One In and 28 Days Later… come to mind), and go beyond the stereotypical horror genre. And there are certainly horror books where the only purpose is to shock and cause dread to the readers. But I’d argue you’re going to find that those are the few and far between.

The horror genre is more saturated with books like The Shining by Stephen King that, while dealing with horror elements, also deals with Jack Torrance’s fear of succumbing to alcoholism. You care about Jack Torrance as you read The Shining. The Walking Dead, the long-running comic book series and the TV show, doesn’t just deal in zombies. The Walking Dead is about what happens to humanity and how humanity changes in the wake of near-extinction and the constant threat of death. I Am Legend (the book by Richard Matheson, one of my favorite books) is about the loneliness of being the last of your kind. Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice has less to do with vampires and more to do with the question of what it means to be mortal. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is not about the monster, but what it means to be human, the power of science, and the power of creating life from death.

From Bernie Wrightson's Frankenstein
From Bernie Wrightson’s Frankenstein

Finally, the most notable difference between horror movies and horror literature has to do with who the bad guy really is. In most horror films, there is a clear line between the protagonists and antagonists. Us vs. Them. Predator vs. Prey. One force hunts the other force down. Horror books, I’d argue, more so examine the darkness that comes from within, and duality of our own nature. We can be both the good guy and the bad guy. We can have good intentions (just as Victor Frankenstein did in bringing back the dead), but instead create a monster of ourselves. What horror literature looks to achieve is to strike empathy within the reader in the most dire and uncomfortable of circumstances, not necessarily to shock or scare, but to say, “Here’s the darkness, let’s go in and look around together.”

Great Expectations: A Guest Post by Matthew Becket

A guest post by Matthew Becket.


Two incredible visuals pop into my head when I think of the writers’ life—George McFly opening a box of books at the end of Back to the Future and Jack Torrance scolding his wife during an unproductive writing session in the movie The Shining. Both scenarios are powerful and affected me as a young movie obsessed kid in the Eighties. I didn’t know any writers personally then and Hollywood hadn’t shown me much in the way of how they should present themselves at home. These guys seemed real to me and I took them seriously.

I remember the warm feeling I got when George showed Marty Mcfly those books. Keep in mind, this was Marty’s perfect nineteen-eighty-five where all his previous problems were fixed. His Dad glowed as he presented Marty with a copy and gave a brief, but optimistic, speech on achievement. The sun was shining, everyone was glowing, and the audience was happy because they wanted George to win. He did it! He had been published! As a twelve year old boy watching this I thought that meant that George had made millions of dollars and would never have to work again. This is what writers do!

Copyright by Warner Bros. and other respective production studios and distributors. Intended for editorial use only.
Copyright by Warner Bros. and other respective production studios and distributors. Intended for editorial use only.

The flip-side, displayed in the movie The Shining, gave me a different impression of writers. Jack Torrance drank heavily, said bizarre things to his wife, talked to ghosts, and ignored his gifted son. Violent outbursts and drinking eventually led him down a literal path to self destruction. There was no sunny day or box of books to share with his son. Nope. Jack Torrance turned into a hunk of frozen meat. Is this what writers do?

As young writers, we hope for the George McFly scenario. But what did that scene not show? Did it show the hours it took to write the first draft of George’s book? It didn’t have to. The George in that reality was a perfect George and an object of Hollywood fantasy. Things came easy to him.

I’m not twelve anymore and I’ve met real writers. I’ve met ones that have put in the hours and sacrifice. I’ve met successful authors and when they talk I listen really closely. These people have found a balance between real life and the writers’ life. They have devised a situation at home where they can create. I’ve picked up some of what they said and, although the following may not wholly pertain to you, I’m sure you’ll get something out of it.

You’re a writer! Tada!

First off, realize that the other members of your household cannot take your writing seriously if you don’t. Anyone can suddenly say: “I’m a writer!”, but there has to be something there. You cannot expect anyone to be supportive unless you’re actively writing. Unfortunately, they may never take it seriously, but they cannot possibly do so unless you take those first steps. You have to write.

If you aren’t taken seriously, others may think it’s a phase. They may just consider it a cute little hobby, and you’ll have to come to terms with that. Do not expect them to be your number one supporter especially if you have nothing to show for it. This will be part of your growth as a writer. You can use this as a catapult hurtling yourself closer to a career. Prove them wrong.

If you do have a supportive spouse or significant other it can be really fantastic. If they’re in the business it can be a no-brainer. Although, supportive family members deserve payback for those years of support. As young authors we have little or no money to show for all our efforts. It is important to meet that support with utter gratitude (and someday, hopefully, money). Again, it goes back to the same idea — you have to write.

Don’t forget to do the laundry and feed the cat.

Next, and this is tricky, you need to nurture your writing career without neglecting family. Writers will always find the time to write, but they need to do this without damaging relationships. This is usually a situation of give and take. Explain to your loved ones how important it is for you to get time to write. Create a schedule in which all the important things you normally do are highlighted and fit your writing time around those things. (Recently I’ve been using a calendar in conjunction with wipe-off boards and just planning ahead has taken a tremendous amount of stress off my shoulders.) When the others in your home notice the lengths you’re taking to make sure you haven’t forgotten you live there too, they will most likely respect your writing time. Don’t give them a reason to resent it. Eventually they’ll see it as a part of your routine. Hopefully, they’ll see it as your job.

The grain of salt.

Another sensitive aspect of having your family or spouse involved in your writing is their critique. These people know you, they will have biases. Just as sometimes we’re too close to our writing, our family members can be too close to it as well. They may say they love everything you do, or quite the opposite – they may shut it down straight away. It isn’t fair to them to think that they should view your writing in the same way a larger fanbase would. Find the largest grain of salt you can and take it when family members read your writing. Of course there are exceptions. Perhaps your spouse is a fantastic line editor and even does this as a profession. I certainly have talented individuals in my family that I run things past. Even as their intentions may be good, realize that the buck certainly doesn’t stop with them.

When it comes to your home life give the writer in yourself gravity and identify with it. Be bold, passionate, and don’t be afraid to say “Yeah, I’m a writer.” The more you vocalize it and let others know, you’ll be less likely to fail and begin to have more expectations – great expectations – for yourself.

You can do this. You’re a writer.


About Matthew Becket:

Matthew started lying as soon as he could talk. Thrilled with the reaction he received, he started making the lies bigger. Some of the lies he had kicked around for years became commodiously appropriate for the written word. Matthew has fun lying in the Middle Grade genre, but lately has been taking on the Adult Dark Humor Crime Thriller genre. He is currently working on his novel – The Sommelier.

When not lying, he is usually traveling, or hanging out with his wife and three cats in Celebration, Florida while looking up words like “commodious” on thesaurus.com .

Where do I find this guy?

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/matthewdavidbecketauthor/?ref=hl

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MatthewBecket

Wattpad: https://www.wattpad.com/user/MatthewBecket