So... What Inspires a Horror Story?
Recently, in a Facebook group, I was asked what inspires a very dark horror story. My answer was simple… but long-winded:
ANYTHING!!! Anything at all can inspire a dark horror story if your imagination is wired to see the possible horror in a situation, just as anything can inspire a raunchy comedy or a hard hitting action story as long as a person’s imagination is open to every conceivable possibility that a situation could take. I try to see them all, because I’m a storyteller, and I enjoy entertaining people with whatever my imagination can come up with.
Take riding your bike, for instance. You’re riding along through a park on a sunny day and stop at a picnic table to take a drink from your water bottle. You see an old, beat up bicycle lying near the public restroom. This was a something I saw one day in a park that inspired one of my horror stories called “Hell on Wheels”. So, what happens next? If you want to go with a funny story: Maybe it belongs to a goofy drunk who can’t seem to stay on his bike and you watch him come out of the restroom and try to ride away, all the while falling over and running into trees. But, that day, my imagination told me to go with horror: So, the bike belongs to a dirty, mean-looking, 250 pound drifter who comes out of the restroom wiping the blade of a knife on his pants. He notices you looking at him and begins to follow you as you ride away from the park. What happens next? That story became part of a horror anthology screenplay I wrote called Mind Shadows and at the moment I’m adapting it into a short story for my next book.
Sometimes, just the desire to be different and not follow the crowd can determine the direction I’ll take a story. One of my horror stories was inspired by an opening line that a writers’ website once posted for a short story contest. The line was – “Larry walked through the door and the first thing he noticed was that the water bowl was empty again.” As you can imagine, everyone wrote a cute or funny story about a dog or puppy – blech! I just knew that I wanted my story to stand out from the rest. So, from that one line, I created the only horror story in the contest that had absolutely nothing to do with a dog, although the story gives the impression… I even called it “Thirsty Bitch”. I didn’t win the contest (it wasn’t their style) but I’ve since made money from it because that story went into my first book of horror stories. Sometimes it pays to be different.
I talk to a lot of people who read a dark story I’ve written and ask “What were you thinking?” or “Do you have some deep-seated issues?” or “Did you have a bad childhood?”. And my answer is usually “It’s just a story”. Not all dark fiction comes from a dark mind… I’ve created just as much comedy material as I have horror, in fact, I used to be a stand-up comic. I just like the allure of the horror story much better.
So, “What were you thinking?”. Well, I was thinking… “I want to give the reader a horror story that will make them think twice before walking into a dark room or give them a reason to question themselves about the person lying in the bed next to them or make them feel helpless or angry about a situation that they cannot control.” It’s just a story. It’s fiction.
Inspiration for dark horror can come just about anything: Being in a crowded department store surrounded by a sea of people while standing in the hardware department. You spot a chainsaw and think about a how easy it would be to just cut your way through the crowd. That’s part of what inspired Tobe Hooper to create the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Inspiration can also come from true life experiences. Take the recent shooting in Orlando. A guy places a phone call to 911, pledges his loyalty to a worldwide terrorist group, and then enters a crowded night club and kills 50 people. That is true dark horror. Imagine being one of the people in the club that night. You’re letting off some steam after a hard week’s work. You’re unwinding and hanging out with friends. But the music is probably so loud you don’t hear the gunfire at first, but you see several people next to you fall dead and then confusion and panic sets in. That’s a horribly helpless situation to be in; almost unimaginable.