Category Archives: Horror genre

Enamoured by Metaphor

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I am about to embark on a new horror story, based around the concept of anatomical models from the 17th and 18th centuries. The original ‘Anatomical Venus’ by Clemente Susini  can still be seen at La Specola museum in Florence. She is known as ‘the Medici Venus’,  and is a life-size wax figure with real human hair, and can be dissected into seven anatomically correct layers. She spawned numerous copies, referred to as Slashed Beauties or Dissected Graces. My favourite is the one pictured above, with her gold crown and serene expression, while her innards lay exploded over her chest and stomach.

These models were both scientific educational tools and works of high art. The artists who produced them were often students of anatomy and witnessed dissections to get the details right; some even had a tiny fetus incorporated into the display. Like Snow White, they were kept in glass coffins.

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After they were discarded by their medical institutes and museums, the anatomical models were often incorporated into the displays of fairground attractions. The languid nudity of the wax figures attracted the voyeurs, while the faux dissections attracted those individuals with morbid curiosity or scientific interests.

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What a range of horrific possibilities for a writer! Who were the original models for each of these wax figures? Were these wax sculptures based on real women, or idealised ones? It isn’t a big jump to seeing an artist murdering a perfect, healthy girl to get  his details right…

The real tantalising detail is knowing the best of these Slashed Beauties could be broken down into seven anatomically correct layers. Not only is the name, Slashed Beauties, just wonderfully creepy, but think of the metaphor created by a woman with so many layers. As Shrek points out,  she has layers “Like an onion!” What is revealed as you peel those layers away?

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Filed under Analogy, Horror genre, Metaphors, Uncategorized, Writing Style

Ghosts as Big Business: a Steampunk Feminist Perspective

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Just as vampires and zombies are big business at the moment, ghosts were popular everywhere in the Victorian era. A sure sign of their popularity is that Dickens climbed onto the money wagon with his own ghost story A Christmas Carol. We all know how very popular that story was and still is. You can’t say it is not a commercial success!  Why were ghost stories so popular?

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Part of the blame can be laid at the foot of the growing interest in Spiritualism, mediums, seances, and Ouija boards. On both sides of the Atlantic, it was not unusual for fashionable parties to be themed with a spot of Spiritualism. Who could resist the lure of contacting a departed loved one? I know how much I miss my deceased family & friends, so why would the Victorians be any different?

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The esteemed literary historian, Jack Sullivan, argues a “Golden Age of the Ghost Story” existed between the decline of the Gothic novel in the 1830s and the start of the First World War, brought about by popularity of the works of the American author, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Irish writer, Sheridan Le Fanu. It is important to realise that the ghost story has never really gone out of print, but the popularity of the genre fluctuates, both through time and geographically.

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Even though the Steampunk genre stands squarely as a subgenre of the Science Fiction genre, this doesn’t mean a ghost story can’t add some excitement to the plot. Sheridan Le Fanu was famous for construction hauntings that were only visible to a single character and inferred the ghost (or other gremlin) was only a figment of that character’s imagination. And seriously, who doesn’t like to be given a bit of a scare while sitting safe in an armchair?

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Filed under Ghosts, History, Horror genre, Steampunk Genre, Steampunk Themes, Uncategorized, Victorian Era

The Difference Between Surprise, Shock and Suspense

Surprise: to strike or occur to with a sudden feeling of wonder or astonishment, as through unexpectedness.

Shock: a sudden or violent disturbance of the mind, emotions, or sensibilities.

Suspense: a state or condition of mental uncertainty or excitement, as in awaiting a decision or outcome, usually accompanied by a degree of apprehension or anxiety.

All three definitions are from Dictionary.com

Suspense and shock kitties

Shocked and surprised

I am currently writing a short story as a break from editing. It is a horror story, and so I want to evoke suspense, surprise and shock in my audience as the basic emotional responses. These three emotions are related, but shouldn’t be confused. They do have very different implications when used in the horror genre.

Surprise: 

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Dear me! A spider!

Surprise can be a positive emotion as well as a negative one. It results from something unexpected happening, be it a birthday present or a cockroach crawling out from under the bath. What flavours the surprise is its origin, and the response can vary from person to person, in that what surprises one person may be a terrible shock to another.

Shock:

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Just saw the new puppy… it is a Wolfhound!

Shock can be both an emotional or a psychological response. It is a stronger emotion than surprise, and generally has a more negative overtone. Hearing about the death of a beloved family member is a shock, not a surprise. Shock is not the same thing as ‘shocking’; a glimpse of stocking might be shocking, but it won’t create the same dramatic response as shock, with the sudden chills and dangerous change in blood pressure. It takes much longer to recover from a shock than it does from a surprise.

Suspense: 

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Did I hear a growl?

Suspense can be summed up with that old saying ‘waiting for the other shoe to drop’. Suspense is the backbone of the horror genre; it is created by the overwhelming tension when waiting for the knife to stab or the monster to move out of the shadows. Often, your audience can create worse scenarios in their minds than if you were to give them the full details of what is happening and what the villain looks like.

Of course, the horror genre is built around the actual events like gore and violence, and a good slashfest is horrific. But by building the tension first, the release is much stronger. Make your audience anticipate the worst, and then shock and surprise them with the unexpected monster. Horrible, ghastly, and scary …

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Argh!

 

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Filed under Characterization, Horror, Horror genre, Personal experience, The Writing Life, Uncategorized, writing, Writing Style