The Prompt: Some people love to be scared – others not so much. When it comes to reading do you think books can be scary? Are you less scared because there are no pictures? Do you feel other mediums such as film are more effective for horror? Have you ever been kept up at night by a book? (Question from Dani)
This is an interesting question because I tend to not read a lot of horror, and the reason is a weird combination of the fact that 1) I hate being scared, so I avoid adult horror books because I assume they are scary and I would hate them, and 2) I generally don’t find YA horror that horrifying, which makes it boring.
So I do think think that books, of course, can be scary, but they often aren’t. (Again, speaking of YA horror here, since I avoid adult horror like the plague.) And while, sure, I would assume YA is supposed to be slightly less scary than adult books in this genre, I’m sure it’s supposed to at least give readers a little shiver, make them afraid to turn off the lights when they’re reading at night. So why do half the YA horror books I’ve read fail at this?
I don’t think it has anything to do with a lack of pictures, as the prompt suggests. I’m sure if horror books were illustrated, they would come with some gruesome or creepy art that would make me cringe and avert my eyes, but the pictures wouldn’t scare me either. The things that make art scary are more the themes and the feelings that the art evokes, not really the visuals. Horror films can create a mood with music, for instance, instantly ramping up tension regardless of what is actually visually on the screen. Books don’t have anything besides words, however, so those works have to work extra hard to create a scary mood, to make me think a monster is under my bed or my soul is going to be sucked out of my body by a ghost or whatever.
I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on “how to make a book scary” because I’ve never even tried to write anything scary, but I think a lot has to go on with the voice and tone of the work, the pacing, and what the “scary” aspect of the book actually is. Personally, I think evoking some sort of existential dread about death or the afterlife or eternity or whatever might make something scarier than spending three paragraphs trying to explain why a monster looks scary with its big fangs and claws. Things are scary when I can imaging them happening to me, even in a very loose sense. I can see why a character would be scared of a green monster living in their sock drawer, but I have no fear of something similar happening in my life. Something else has to make it more relatable, or make me drawn into the story, so I’m in the place of the character instead of feeling like an outside observer.
That said . . . horror is still not my genre. You might see some slightly scary reads reviewed by me, and fun non-scary Halloween reads, but that’s about it.