Horror Month: Writing Effective Body Horror

Up until relatively recently in my writing career, I’ve considered myself a science fiction writer first, a horror author second. However, as my writing career has progressed, I find myself writing more and more horror fiction—and it’s getting published:

Bad Blood

Most of my ideas these days have horror roots. Perhaps I have an inner darkness inside me that I have to exorcise through the pen. It seems that the darkness in me has reached out to the darkness in others, so I will continue to write horror

Most of my horror pieces have elements of body horror. What is body horror? Body horror is “biological horror, organic horror or venereal horror is horror fiction in which the horror is principally derived from the graphic destruction or degeneration of the body. Such works may deal with disease, decay, parasitism, mutilation, or mutation” (source). My favourite example of body horror in film is David Chronenburg, specifically the film Videodrome.

An example of body horror that can be found in my work (go read it.now.) in Bad Blood, when Scotty begins to pick apart his own hands in order to drink his own blood.

Body horror requires three basic tenants to scare effectively:

One: know the human body. 

Essentially, you must bend the rules so you can break them. You want to push the reader out of their comfort zone, but not test their suspension of disbelief. I have run into this frequently in my writing life. I have found it extremely valuable to know how much blood is actually in a human body, for example. My writing group actually called me out for Offerings when I didn’t know the temperature it takes a human body to burn at. The more you know about the human body, the more ideas you can get for things to go terribly wrong.

Two: Show a character’s thoughts 

Don’t just describe the weird and wonderful things you can make the human body do! That’s telling, and everyone knows that you have to show, not tell. Body horror is most effective when shown, and a great way to do that is in the point of view of a character, whether first person or third person limited. What this does is show the reader what is happening without shoving it down the reader’s throat, which is not what you want to do in body horror. Humans rarely think in explicits, after all, and our cognition works by comparing everything we process to everything else, so using a character’s thoughts allows you, as the writer, to use those flowery complex metaphors you like to write.

You know it’s true.

Three: Most importantly: know your reader’s thoughts 

Body horror is found in many sub-genres of horror: one could argue that it is a staple of the genre. Readers have buttons, and horror is all about pushing them. It is important to consider your audience on every level. Think about the macro:  what buttons does society have?  What about culture? Religion? Science? Think about the micro:  what body parts are humans most attached to? What body parts make people squirm if you describe them?

And, of course, have fun writing. You sick, sick people.

God bless,

Kelsey J.

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