I believe it’s OK to delve into the imagination and bring out ghastly imagery. It’s one of my strongest assets when writing fiction. I suppose that comes from reading too much Stephen King when growing up…if there is such a thing. But how far can you take ghoulish and grotesque content without it becoming overly offensive or down-right morbid?
Effects of Being too Grotesque
Part of what makes horror movies and books successful is coming up with new ways to gross out the audience. Some people are attracted to mindless violence, which isn’t a bad thing necessarily. I’ve never been into slasher films that didn’t have a decent plot or good acting. But many others are.
However, there is still quite a calling for material that puts fear into a person’s soul or describes a chain of events that make you reconsider working at a laundry facility with a steam press.
What helps you draw the line when it comes to certain events, though? Do you have a line that you wouldn’t cross even if a handful of fans want it? I suppose that depends on how grotesque your nature truly is.
It’s All About the Audience
When it comes to any kind of content, it’s all about the audience. Whether you’re a ghostwriter for a popular web hosting company or looking to build a fan-base from your novels, it’s the type of reader you’re looking to engage.
I know a person who refuses to read any more Stephen King books simply because of a description of events in “Needful Things.” That’s how far this goes back. Because of a horrible, and quite vivid explanation within the book, the person took major offense and the imagery sticks with her to this day.
Take a look at the series of “living dead” movies. A vast majority of them are all about blood, tearing flesh and being eaten by a horde of zombies. Many of them in the 1900s didn’t have much of a plot point. But, they are exceptionally popular to a specific fan-base.
And that’s what it’s really about, isn’t it? A horror novelist wants to reach people who are interested in the macabre.
I highly doubt Stephen King or Dean Koontz is focusing on those interested in self-help reading.
Understanding the Difference Between Books and Movies
Mindless violence and ghoulish imagery work good in movies as it is visual stimuli. However, a book should try to engage the reader’s imagination. For it to be successful, the story needs to be engaging.
This means you can’t simply write about the undead munching on your college professor…there needs to be a point to it.
In reality, it’s more difficult to engage an audience as a writer as opposed to a film director. Even the most insane topics, such as a tornado made of sharks, can quickly become a cult classic. But can you write the story and still engage that same audience? Perhaps to a small extent, but it probably wouldn’t be as successful.
The benefit to writing ghastly content in books as opposed to video material is depth. You don’t have to worry about run-time and go as deep as you’d like. However, going too deep into a grisly scene could affect your audience more than you’d like. The end result could include a loss of fans.
Your Style of Writing
Some people are capable of delivering a macabre situation in text while engaging the audience. Others try to force the scene which often pushes the audience away. Your style of writing may play a major role in how grotesque you can be while still making people flip through the pages.
This is why a lot of writers stick to a specific genre. It’s content that interests them which improves how they write. Some people are just better at describing a ghastly scene without it seeming over-the-top or resembling a mindless slasher film.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t write a ghoulish situation in a story, but keep your audience in mind when doing so.
It’s not a bad thing if you’re better at writing about robots in space over zombies tearing into the populace. Bank on what you’re good at, and don’t try to force yourself to delve into something you’re not ready to take on. If you’re not vested in the topic, it will affect your productivity and quality. This is true in any form of writing content…even that for paying website clients.
Building a Reputation
Would you consider Stephen King to be a romance novelist? Probably not. It’s not the first thing I think of when I see his name across the spine of a book. This is because he has made a name for himself in horror partly thanks to the detailed and grotesque nature of his content.
Is it possible to include horrible incidents in other styles of writing? Absolutely. Personally, I think it gives the story more flexibility and life. Especially if a ghastly situation arises that is realistic, making the reader feel as though it could happen to him or her in the real world.
It’s shock value that often makes the reader more engaged in the rest of the content. Just beware of the reputation you’re starting to build. People will expect a certain type of content and may become upset if you switch it on them…unless you have skills and interests in many different subjects. Then you can build a reputation as being eclectic.
It’s Not All About Grossing People Out
Being grossed out is one thing, but having an engaging plot to go along with a grotesque scene is where most success is derived.
Don’t get me wrong, simple grossness can grab the attention of the audience. Otherwise, “Friday the 13th” and “Nightmare on Elmstreet” would have been trilogies alone. But there is something more when you add a cerebral element to the plot.
Take a look at the “Walking Dead” series. Part of why it grew in popularity, aside from the last couple of seasons, was because it involved more than just being eaten by zombies. It had intricate plots to survival while making the zombies more of a supporting situation. Whether it was defending a farm, prison or surviving cannibals, there is more going on than just the grotesque scene of the undead making a meal of a character.
Finding Your Place
I am still finding my own path as a writer. I wouldn’t call myself an expert, and you can take this article with a grain of salt. These are just my opinions based on what I’ve experienced. By all means, test the waters if you want to write macabre content. You will fail 100% of the things you do not try. Besides, how will you know if you’re good unless you put pen to paper and give it a shot?