Balancing Excess

It’s difficult to imagine limits in horror. The genre has seen everything from flesh-eating zombies to giant monsters squashing cities. Everything is fair game. And that’s a good thing. Pushing limits is healthy and a good way to draw the audience into a sense of unease. But excess is a tool, and there is a time and place to use it.

I won’t lie to you; gore is fun to write. There’s a real catharsis in letting one’s creations run loose and building a climax on top of a pile of corpses. But the question remains: was the violence used well? If a book is bloody from beginning to end, the writer is going to burst his brain trying to top himself with each progressive scene. And worse yet, the audience he’s trying to please is probably going to end up pissed.

Think of gore as a drug for the reader. With each new spectacle, an immunity is built up. So even if a writer revels in violence, most of it is probably going to end up incapable of evoking a strong emotional response. The last thing a writer wants is a reader who goes numb before ever reaching a book’s climax.

There’s also empathy to consider. All these people going through the wood chipper? They’re still just words on a page until they have life breathed into them. If the reader hasn’t been given a chance to connect with the characters, their deaths aren’t going to garner any more emotion than a hacked up mannequin.

Character and plot always have to come first in a story. That goes for every tale, whether it’s meant to draw tears or ice-cold sweat. So don’t rely on just one tool to build your narrative, because I promise you, the whole structure will collapse and fall right on your head.

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