Last week, LitReactor kicked off its first multi-instructor class, The Horror, The Horror: Writing Horror Fiction With Substance, with Paul Tremblay, Sarah Langan, John Langan, F. Brett Cox each teaching for one week. To promote the new class, LitReactor conducted an interview with three of the instructors about the horror genre.
In response to a question about what the greatest strength horror can lend to a story, John Langan responded: “The shorter answer to this question is that the horror genre itself is the biggest strength the horror genre can provide a story’s writer. I recognize, though, that this response treads the line between obfuscation and obnoxiousness, so the longer answer may be of more use:
“While there have been essays written claiming that horror is, in fact, not a genre, but an emotion, and while that claim and variations on it continue to be bandied about (often by people I respect very much), horror is, in fact, a genre — which is to say, a kind of fiction, a selection of works that we can group together because of certain family resemblances. Those resemblances occur at all levels, from plot to setting to character to style to theme. What results is a sort of fuzzy set, at whose center we can place works on whose identity as horror the majority of us can agree: Dracula, say, and The Haunting of Hill House, and The Shining, and at whose margins we can locate those works over which people of good will may disagree: Wuthering Heights, say, and 1984, and The Collector. The yield of this set is a history, a tradition, with which the writer interacts. (I almost typed “with which the writer may interact,” but there’s nothing conditional about it: even if you’re not [consciously] aware of it, when you enter into a genre, you’ve entered into a relation with its history.)
“It’s this interaction that I feel is the strength the horror genre — any genre, really — offers the writer. It brings her/him into contact with the efforts other writers have made with the stuff of the genre, offering examples to be learned from, whether in imitation, rejection, or some balance of the two. It shows how other writers have met the challenges posed by the material of horror, the lengths to which they’ve been able to stretch that material, the range of subjects they’ve been able to find a place for in their work. Make no mistake: though it’s my view that the horror genre is as capable of profundity of expression as any other kind of fiction, I also believe that a horror story must always concern itself first and foremost with being a horror story. Before your vampire story can be a clever trope for the relationship of big business to the consumer, it must succeed in evoking our unease at the general manager whose skin always seems too white under the fluorescent lights, whose suit never seems to fit him properly, who listens to his customers’ complaints without once blinking his bloodshot eyes. It’s in helping you to craft horror stories worthy of holding their own with the best of what’s come before that the horror genre’s promise lies.”
Read the other responses and more here: Tremblay, Langan and Langan Talk About Horror