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Horror's Critical Component

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Something a lot of people get wrong about a horror story: it's not about the horror.

In other words, a most important ingredient for a good horror story is to remember that the horror only matters as a contrast.

There is no pain unless there is something to be lost. There is no terror unless there is something of value at stake. Not just life and limb, but mind and soul are the things you play with as a writer. And part of what you can contrast the horror with is the redemption at the end.

Many people in the world don't understand that horror, when done right, is a tremendously REDEMPTIVE genre that has the unique power to ask big questions: is there life after death? Do the choices I make really impact my future? Is there Good and Evil (capital "E" and capital "G")? The best horror serves not to celebrate evil, but to examine it so that we may understand the greater good present in and available to all of us.

Even the shallowest horror ("Augh! I was banging my girlfriend and now the Crazy Pitchfork Man wants to fork us both to death!") has this element of light vs. dark: the protags want to escape, want to live. They want the light of continued existence (and a future of bright, shiny banging!), vs. the darkness of a Final Forking. And great horror treats in greater contrasts - light vs. dark, the infinite vs. the finite, salvation vs. damnation.

Horror treats the dark as its center. But that center, to matter, must be surrounded by light.


Michaelbrent Collings is an internationally bestselling novelist and screenwriter. You can find him on Facebook at, on Twitter @mbcollings, or you can sign up for his mailing list here.