Sunday, April 27, 2014

Horror Stories

                                                by Laura Crum

            Not too long ago I read a very gripping story about a “horse wreck”. I was riveted to the page (or screen), as was everyone else, judging by the comments. When I was done, I shook my head. Why is it we all like these horror stories?
            Anybody remember that scene where the truck hits the horse and rider at the beginning of “The Horse Whisperer”? That scene hooked readers on the book. Same principle. People are drawn to the horrifying. Why do we stare as we pass traffic accidents? Why do we have an insatiable love for “thrillers” that feature everything from serial killers to national disasters to pedophiles? Why do we just love to read about the horrors that have happened to others? Whatever the reason is, a great many authors have totally cleaned up exploiting this principle.
            Now, I have a confession to make. I cannot write this kind of thing. Though my books are mysteries, most of the actual violence either happens “offscreen” or is not “graphically described”. Has this helped with my success as a mystery author? No, I can’t say that it has. Does it make me a better writer than those who stoop to using that kneejerk, keep-em-on-the-edge-of-their-seats horror reflex? Not really. I’m not particularly admiring of that device, but I admit that it can be well done. The truth is I’m just repulsed at the thought of writing this stuff.
            I don’t want to write of some of the dreadful things I’ve seen happen in the horse world, of the panic and pain and blood and grief. I don’t want to go into an intimate description of the darkness of doomed horses, though I try to describe their plight in a way that lets a reader see the true picture. I just don’t force the reader to stare hard. Does this make me a wimp? Maybe.
            I guess I could tell horse stories of the training wrecks I’ve seen, and I have done this occasionally. But I do it to make a point, not to get the reader gripped by the violence of the situation. Those of us who have been in the horse biz a long time have seen many violent things involving horses. They do make gripping stories. But for me, that cheap knee jerk reaction of feeling gripped by the horror of it all always leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I’d rather read writing that told a simpler, cleaner tale.
            I’m not advocating dodging reality—those of you who have read my books know that I directly confront the issue of mortality—both for us and our horses. But I don’t spend a lot of time wallowing in violent images. No doubt my books would be more popular if I did, judging by what sells. This just isn’t a path I chose to follow. Nor did I care to create a “super human” persona who can conquer in all sorts of outlandish situations—another thing that sells. I tried to keep my protagonist believable and based most of her experiences on things I have actually done.
            So the next time I start reading a book or a blog post where it seems to me the writer is just jerking my “horror reflex” with her violent/dark stories, I’m going to close that book, and/or click on the little “X” in the corner. Cause life is too short to spend my time hooked on horror. How about you? Do you love those violent stories we see everywhere? Or are you, like me, a bit repulsed by them?


Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

I think it depends on the situation.

I have become pretty close with many of the folks I interact with through blogging. So if they are telling me a story of a real life event they just experienced, and not something they heard about or made up, then I empathize with their need to talk about that trauma with people who understand what she (or he) just went through.

Most of the bloggers I know use their blogs for a few different things. First, is to connect with people of similar interests. Second, is to use the blog to help sort out our own thoughts of what we are doing with our horses. Third, is a sort of record keeping so we can keep track of progress. Occasionally our posts are just for fun.

I know that I for one, have never written a post thinking, "Oh boy this will get people reading." I believe that to be the case for most of us amateur bloggers.

I recently wrote a post recounting the tale of a very scary and life endangering event that I went through with my horse. My thoughts as a I wrote that post(bawling like a baby with shaking hands) were all over the place, "Oh my gosh, what just happened? How do I fix this? How the heck did I survive that? I need a hug. Will I ever be able to fix this horse? Will I ever be able to trust him again? I love my horse, I want to trust him. What do I do next? I need a drink. I need a friend."

As I wrote, I detailed the events as they happened, not because I was trying to lure in readers, but because I needed someone, anyone, to tell me that it was going to be okay. I turned to my equine friends for comfort, because most of my equine friends and I communicate through blogging. In the end it ended up being a very riveting post, or so I was told. I didn't view it that way and still don't. It was what happened and I NEEDED to talk about it.

90% of the blogs I read are written on a personal level. If bloggers are writing about what they have been through, to me it is no different that if they are standing next to me recounting a tale, as we discuss our love for horses. We bounce training ideas off of each other, we share our triumphs, and our failures, and sometimes the really scary stuff too.

I suppose there are some folks who blog specifically to write on some sort of professional level, and perhaps they use that writing style to get that knee jerk reaction. But I think before one can condemn a person for writing that kind of post we have to consider where they are honestly coming from. Are they sharing with friends, trying to teach a lesson, or just doing a little shameless self promotion of their professional writing.

Alison said...

I think age might have something to do with my wanting to read/not read horror or graphic sex or violence. Or perhaps because I read right before bed, I want to relax instead of get jazzed up. Alas, because of that, I have been reading mostly magazines! Maybe when I retire and sleep isn't so coveted I might get back to novels.

Laura Crum said...

Cindy D--I wasn't really meaning the real life account of something traumatic, such as you are describing. I relate to what you say, and imagine that I might do the same as you, when it comes to sharing such a thing .

What I was talking about--and it probably doesn't relate to personal, diary style blogs, as you describe--is the intentional use of horrific detail to grip a reader--like the scene at the beginning of "The Horse Whisperer" (a book I very much disliked) and many, many other fictional "thrillers."

I'm really sorry if I sounded as if I was condemning folks that just want to share their wreck with friends and get comfort and advice. That wasn't what I meant to say.

Also, I dashed this post off in a great hurry and without a lot of thought, because most of the rest of the EI bloggers are too busy to post right now. My apologies. I'm sorry you had a bad day with your horse and I hope it gets better.

Laura Crum said...

Alison--I am exactly like you. Shouldn't say this, but I seldom read novels. Mostly memoirs.

Laura Crum said...

Cindy D--I finally found your blog post--so sorry that happened--very, very dangerous situation. But your description of it was absolutely NOT the sort of thing I am talking about, just to clarify. As I said, that scene at the beginning of "The Horse Whisperer," where the horse and rider are hit by a semi, is the kind of thing I am talking about. Your description of a very scary situation was actually incredibly calm and reasonable. Perhaps I should say that I am (mostly) talking about fiction when I talk about the purposeful use of "horror" to hook readers.

horsegenes said...

Laura - one of the reasons that I loved your books was because you let me / my imagination decide how horrible or not the incidents were (or how hot & steamy) - I don't like super gory graphic details or super sexual explicit details. Thanks for staying true to what you do best.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your way of writing very much Laura.Not a fan of violence,graphic sex scenes or lots of language in books or on tv or movies for that matter.I had an author recomended recently,on the first page it was describing a woman being tortured to death.I put it down for good.

Unknown said...

In that respect then I can tell you exactly why humans are so drawn to that sort of thing. It is called the vicarious adrenaline rush. Adrenaline is highly addictive yet most folks have neither the gumption or the means to actually go out and feed that addiction with an actual activity. Which is probably a good thing as the crime rate is already plenty high enough. So being generally lazy, we get the fix from artificial or outside stimuli, such as scary movies, or books, or even looking as we pass a gruesome care wreck. Besides getting our fix that way is much safer than the real life way. :-)

Thank you for clarifying what you meant.

FD said...

Hahahaha *hollow laugh*
Does it help if I put up my hand and say I got to that scene in the book, and put it down and never picked it back up?
Haven't seen the film either.

In general, I don't read horror, or rape / murder / gore thrillers or basically anything of that type where it's depicted with any degree of avidity - I call it torture porn. Actual porn doesn't perturb me one way or another, go figure.
I have enough trainwrecks in my own head, I don't need to add to them.

However, although the above is a titch dismissive, maybe snide, and that really is how I feel about it, other people are not me. And I know people who use horror to process trauma, and other people who read it because it makes them feel more secure - something about seeing the horrors on the printed page and out of their head makes them feel better about their fears. And there's the catharsis element too, which is perfectly understandable. I see a lot of people not completing their stress cycles - anything that can help with that I have to respect.
I can see all that even if I don't get it.

And there is the urge to rubberneck at a crisis that I understand - some biologist that I'm blanking on called us, humanity, 'the categorizing animal' and that, the urge to understand, to define, to learn, to avoid - that I get.

Dom said...

That's how I feel about movies. I like horror movies, but I like them to be creepy-scary, not blood-and-gore scary. I don't like violence and bloodshed. I have found the way you write to be tactful. You don't tip toe around the issue, but you don't dwell on it. I think that's good!

Laura Crum said...

Thank you everyone, for the comments. I appreciate hearing your thoughts and am interested to see that many of you feel somewhat the way I do on this topic. I am still busy working on my pond project, so haven't been able to respond as much as I'd like, but I do read and appreciate every comment.

Laura Crum said...

Also, I will admit, just as FD pointed out, that I do have the urge to stare at a traffic accident "to see what happened' and/or ask a friend who witnessed a bad horse wreck the details of what happened. And it's true, there is a part of me that just wants to know and be clear so that I can be a little more vigilant and maybe a little more knowledgable when it comes to prevention.

But I don't like fiction (or movies) that use the element of blood and gore/trauma to hook readers. It really does repulse me.

White Horse Pilgrim said...

I will admit to having written some quite explicit stuff in the past - sexual subject matter mainly, not incidents involving horses. After a while I realised that such 'creativity' fulfilled a therapeutic role, and I grew beyond the point of needing to write such material. I wonder to what degree the need to write about bloodthirsty scenes - other than for pure commercial gain - stems from inner hurt and brokenness.

I have dealt with some serious wrecks with horses, including a crashed transport lorry. I had to cut down horses suspended by their ties in the overturned vehicle. Surprisingly all but one survived, though one was so traumatised that it had to be carried out by several strong men. I've had to euthanase horses with broken limbs using a shotgun. After witnessing scenes like that I feel no impulsion to use the material for fiction. That would be disaster porn, like a soldier trying to describe battle scenes to civilians who imagine that glory can neatly be separated from suffering. I'd have to be a better writer than I am if I want readers to share in the awfulness. And even if they did, they would realise that a lot of harm is infused by very little nobility.