Horror! The Genre That Thrills Us and…Heals Us?

Last week at the Image Expo in San Francisco, everyone was excited about the new books being announced by creators at Image Comics. Some of the creators announcing big titles were Kelly Sue DeConnick, Robert Kirkman, Rick Remender, Ed Brubaker, and Scott Snyder.


(Image via Image Comics)

With everyone so focused on the new comics for the year, some very insightful comments from the writers may have been overlooked. Comments that shed some light on how a genre that is usually perceived as damaging or dangerous can actually be helpful, to both the writer and the reader.

Throughout the day, Scott Snyder brought up the difficulties of being a horror writer. That in order to scare the hell out of his readers (which he has stated is his goal), he has to write about the things that scare him most. To be a good horror writer, he needs to face his own worst fears every day.

When you think about that, it must be a really difficult job. And it’s definitely not for everyone. Imagine what scares you the most. The one thing that sends shivers down your spine, makes you freeze in terror, or makes you want to run screaming in terror. Then imagine having to think about that thing all the time. Come up with histories for it, different story lines for it, and sometimes the aftermath of it. That has to be an intense life. It would probably drive some people crazy.

Yet Scott Snyder (and many other horror writers) seems like a nice, normal, well adjusted guy. How can that be?

I’ve written before about the healing powers of writing. Being able to change our narrative can heal past wounds, so the next logical step is that thinking about the worst things that could happen to you may help deal with future troubles. This isn’t to say that if you wrote about (and therefore thought about) a character’s entire family dying, that it would desensitize you to the point where you didn’t care if you lost your family tragically.


(Image via What Culture)

But there is something to be said about the level of being able to cope with things. Maybe writing that story about the loss of a family would make you more resilient. The pain would be there, your world might still feel as though it has fallen apart…but maybe the process of writing has made it easier to see the “after” or the “what comes next”. Having pictured what others have gone through might allow a smoother transition to what comes next for you.

During the writer’s panel at Image Expo, Kelly Sue DeConnick discussed the horror genre. She mentioned that she used crime scene photos for inspiration for her writing. Now that she’s had children, she cannot handle looking at any of those photos having to do with children. She also cannot watch horror films, or read horror comics having to do with children. It just hits too close to home.

The interesting thing is, that DeConnick said she could handle writing those types of stories, because she felt in control of what happened. In a sense, when she writes these stories, she gains mastery over her own worst fears, which is something that we try to accomplish in therapy.

A similar phenomenon can happen to us as consumers of horror movies, books, comics, and games (although this was not the case with DeConnick). Obviously, the horror genre is not for everyone. However, for those of us who enjoy having the crap scared out of us, there are some benefits as well.


(Image via Business Insider)

By watching, reading, or playing stories that frighten us, we are able to face our own worst fears through a safe medium. We can tell ourselves that “it’s not me, it’s someone else” who is being chased by zombies, tortured in an underground bunker, or bitten by vampires. We can gain a similar mastery over our fears to that of the writer, just by being able to witness these horrible things happening, and experiencing how the characters involved handle them.

Some mediums, such as video games or role-playing games, allow us the power to tackle our fears and defeat the thing that haunts us. All while knowing that we can just turn off the game or walk away at any time.

Whatever the medium, whatever the monster, those of us who enjoy horror can rest easy, knowing that we are training ourselves for whatever comes next.

Or, like me, we can have nightmares and sleep with stuffed animals.

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