I once tried to listen to one of Stephen King’s horror fiction novels on audiobook. But I didn’t make it past the 10-minute mark.
I might not have made it past the five-minute mark either. I can’t be sure.
The Stephen King horror fiction novel in question was The Cell. And the segment I couldn’t take involved a dog yelping in pain and terror as some man chewed its ear off.
While this brain of mine never would have come up with such a horrific act on its own, clearly, Stephen King’s did. Which is probably why he writes horror fiction novels and I barely pick them up, much less do anything else with them.
Even so, after watching enough horror flicks as a teenager and young adult, and hearing the buzz about so many other works throughout the years, I’m quite confident in issuing the following Writing Challenge of the Week:
Try to give your horror fiction villain some unique flair
It’s easy to write a slasher. If you can’t come up with utterly disgusting acts of violence to perform on your poor characters, then all you have to do is look to real-life human behavior for inspiration, from Stalin’s communist regime – which employed more disgusting tortures than even Hitler – to modern-day ISIS and China.
But if you want your horror fiction to stand out as something more than a slasher, then try to be creative, not with the villain’s acts but with the villain’s motives.
If I seemed to imply before this writing challenge that my brain was less sick than Stephen King’s, you read into my words correctly. With that said, I can still come up with some pretty disgusting segments myself.
For proof, I give you Exhibits A, B and C (and D and E):
The physical and psychological torture scenes in Faerietales Book 2: To Err Is Faerie and Book 4: Wing and Dagger. Plus I guess I got a little gross in the upcoming and final Book 5: Flights of Fancy.
The kidnapping scene in Dirty Politics Book 2: Moves and Countermoves
The pre-crucifixion and crucifixion scenes in The Adulteress.
For To Err Is Faerie, I had to do some actual research to get as brutal as I did, reading about Nazi Germany experiments and modern-day Chinese torture tactics that genuinely left me sick to my stomach for days on end.
For the record, I didn’t go anywhere as far as they did on my protagonist. And I never want to. The same applies to the crucifixion details in The Adulteress. But the other stuff was all me and my sick, twisted little brain on their own.
Truth be told – and this is no excuse of either my sick, twisted little brain or Stephen King’s – but we humans are very capable of writing horror fiction novels. Coming up with and even committing shockingly violent acts is all-too common place, as the headlines prove every day.
So if you want to make your horror fiction novel really stand out, you have to get creative, not necessarily with the acts themselves but the motivations behind those acts.
Stephen King’s aforementioned The Cell is a great example of this, since he took inanimate objects that society is utterly addicted to and turned them into villainous weapons, if not villains themselves.
While I never watched the Saw movies and have no desire to ever see someone dig out their own eyeball, I’ve still gotta give the writers credit for the villain’s motivation in selecting who he did: people who weren’t appreciating life for what it's really worth.
In both cases, the moral of the story is that you could be next, which amplifies the sick thrill this genre is meant to offer. That’s what horror fiction novels are all about, slashers and more serious works alike.