What makes a horror story? Essay

What makes a horror story? Compare ways in which Stevenson and Greene write their stories to fit the genre. Show how they create a different feeling of horror due to the times they were written in. why do you think the genre has remained so popular?

Horror stories are an excellent traditional genre. This genre has been around for almost as long as stories have been told. In this generation there is not much that can really scare us, but what does actually make a good horror story?

Horror stories need to have a good and intimidating storyline, it needs to play on people’s fears, it also needs to give its audience a real thrill and send chills down their spines. The horror story may be based on phobias, superstitions, murder or science fiction. Horror stories that involve science can be really scary sometimes, as this modern world is vastly developing, and we sometimes wonder what science can do. If a relatively small atom bomb can wipe out a large city than science can basically do anything, and this is what scares us. What also really scares us, is when a horror story is based on something we know little about, “the unknown,” this includes aliens, monsters etc.

Horror stories contain lots of tension and suspense; it has got to keep its readers on the edge of their seat, making them think what’s going to happen next? A good horror story usually involves some kind of history, something that has happened in the past, this creates tension, suspense and creates and element of mystery for the reader. When humans don’t know something, their hormones naturally make them want to know the thing even more; this is why the element of mystery and the suspense works really well in horror stories, luring the reader onto reading the rest of the story.

In a horror story, lots of imagery is used, to create an atmosphere, this includes darkness bad weather, blood, death, also symbols of horror such as crows and the devil. These imagery work well because it scares humans. With the story having a scary atmosphere the reader is more vulnerable to being frightened. Along with the imagery used, the setting whereby the horror takes its place is an important part of a horror story. This also helps create a daunting atmosphere. Also a specific setting maybe associated with horror such as a graveyard or a marooned big castle, when this type of setting is used it creates an even better atmosphere, as the reader recognises the setting and associates it with horror.

In successful horror stories assorted types of characters is used, this mixture is fairly important in the making of a good horror story. This mixture is imperative as using various characters allows the author to explore different aspects of people’s personalities, which can be used to explore the menacing side of people’s personality, and the author can also explore how other humans interact with the scary side to someone’s personality.

A type of character that is very common in horror stories is the sinister, obsessive character; this is usually the villain of the story. This character creates the tension in the storyline and may be the main character of the story, there are exceptions and sometimes the obsessive character may not be the villain. Another character there usually is in horror stories is the weak, unbalanced character, who doesn’t really use much initiative, this character is sometimes a good target for the villain, and this weak, character is also usually innocent, but may be overpowered by stronger characters such as the obsessive character. After these two main types of characters the accompanied characters range from different personalities in everyday life, such as weird, funny, anti-social, loquacious etc.

The best part of a horror story, (well to me anyway), is when there is a twist to the plot, and fate takes its place. Most horror stories are fairly predictable, and when the ending of the story comes, the reader probably already had guessed what was going to happen. But it is not the same when a twist occurs. It gives the reader an extra thrill as their prediction was wrong and something new has now occurred, not just the usual continuance of the storyline. The twist may also be really exciting and scary, involving something profoundly unexpected. Twist are usually negative storylines, the usual positive happy ending is twisted into a bad ending. This unsettles most readers, as most humans usually want a happy ending, although the twist unsettles the reader, the reader will then remember the book for a longer period of time, thinking of the twist. When there is a twist to the plot people do enjoy the horror story more.

We usually associate horror with science fiction, which includes monsters, aliens, devils and dangerous and tragic science experiments, but maybe the scariest of all horror stories is when reality is involved. Both Greene’s “The End Of The Party” and Stevenson’s The Body Snatcher demonstrate this. Stevenson and Greene are two authors who have wrote stories in the classic genre of horror. I am going to look at both the author’s stories and compare ways in which they write their stories to fit the horror genre. Stevenson’s The Body Snatcher is based on body snatching (hence the title), people dig up bodies from graveyards and then sell them to medical staff, who dissect the bodies for educational purposes, whereas The End Of The Party is based on a boy who is “afraid of the dark”, and he is really frightened to play hide and seek in the dark at Mrs. Heene-Falcon’s annual party, especially after what happened at last years party. Although the stories are based on different topics they both play on people’s fears.

At the time The Body Snatcher was written in, which was 1881, body snatching was actually taking place in reality. So the story was extremely horrifying for the people who lived at the time when body snatching was really taking place. As the story was so frightening at the time, the books publication was intervened by the authorities; the book was suspended for a further three years. The End Of The Party was wrote in 1938, the story is based on a boy’s phobia of the darkness, and the fear is so intense that it leads to death, the storyline has no real relation to the time it was wrote in, but generally speaking lots of children are afraid of the dark, as dark is associated with horror.

Although, The End Of The Party is fairly modern in comparison to The Body Snatcher and children are becoming a lot more frightened of the dark in the recent times, so there is some relation that The End Of The Party has with the time it was written in, before not as many children were as petrified of the dark as they were used to it, with no electricity it used to be very dark for them at night time, but now most young children don’t go sleep in absolute darkness, so when it is dark they are more vulnerable to being scared.

The Body Snatcher is different from The End Of The Party as it has a much more demoralising storyline, it involves death, murder and body digging it is surreal whilst The End Of The Party deals with realism and is a physiological horror, and involves no deliberate death. The Body Snatcher involves some kind of poignant history this is similar to in The End Of The Party. The history in both stories plays a big part towards the storyline. In the Body Snatcher the history is re-told in flashback form, giving the events that happened many years ago however The End Of The Party is in a linear style, where because of the history (last years party), the boy is terrified of going to the party this year, it is not just his trepidation of the darkness that scares him, it is also because of what happened at last years party.

Both The Body Snatcher and The End Of The Party use imagery really well. Straight away at the beginning Greene starts off with bad weather, “Rain tapped against the glass”, Greene has attempted to create an fearsome atmosphere straight away, also in his first paragraph he uses short sentences when he is describing the day the story is set in, the affect this has is to make the day seem dull and dark, perfect for horror. The imagery used to create a frightening atmosphere by Greene is similar to in The Body Snatcher, “One dark winter night.”

On the night of the main event Macfarlane creates a great atmosphere to scare people, it is “dark, wet, quite and muddy.” This made it more interesting, as it was harder for Fettes and Macfarlane to perform their duty, and it makes it more horrifying. The setting of The Body Snatcher is in graveyards, alleys and apartments, and most of the story takes place at night time whereas the setting in The End Of The Party isn’t as scary it is in someone’s home, although the house is big and may seem slightly scary, homes are more recognisable for being cosy, warm and a safe place.

To fit the genre both stories use various types of characters, both stories have a main character in The Body Snatcher the main character is Fettes, and in The End Of The Party the main character is Francis. These two characters are fairly similar, they are both weak and unbalanced characters. The stories are based on their main character’s weakness and the actions the stronger characters have on them. Accompanied to the weak characters are two stronger characters Macfarlane and Peter. These two stronger do have differences as Macfarlane is an obsessive dissipated and unscrupulous” character, who only likes to get his way as shown by when he kills Gray for being a nuisance, whereas Peter is more of a loving character who is trying to help his brother, “I’m here. You needn’t be afraid. The lights will go on again soon.”

Another thing that is similar in both stories is that hints about the history are given at the beginning; this creates tension and suspense for the reader. These insinuations leave the reader wondering what is going to happen next? In The Body Snatcher “Fettes” is the main character of the story, he is a regular drinker and gets drunk most nights at his local pub, and he isn’t really interested in much apart from drinking. One night Fettes is drunk, he then “becomes instantly sober” when he hears the name Mcfarlane mentioned, he also becomes immediately interested in the conversation and pays I large amount of attention (this is unusual for him), this hints to the reader that there is some form of history or relationship with this person Mcfarlane. Fettes then meets Mcfarlane who enters into the pub, even more hints are given in the conversation between the two, “Have you seen it yet?” “Did you think I was dead too,” “Money! Money from you! The money that I had from you is lying where I lost it in the rain.”

These sentences gives lots of clues and creates lots of tension and suspense to the audience, this is deliberately done by Stevenson to entice the reader onto reading the rest of the story. This is similar to in the End Of The Party where hints are also given about the history In the story, which leads up to the main event, “I can’t go to the party…the cause was only fear, fear of the party.” This leaves the readers in apprehension, wondering what the fear was and why Francis has this fear? It also leaves the readers wanting to know what is going to happen in this year’s party? Once again in similarity to Stevenson, Greene is luring the reader onto reading the rest of the story.

As lots of suspense and tension is created in both horror stories, they both lead up to the main event exceedingly well. They both make the reader wait right until the end, when the main event takes place, whereby both stories have a twist to the plot. This is one of the main features in both Stevenson’s and Greene’s style of writing for this particular genre. In the Body Snatcher Fettes and Macfarlane dig up a body from the graveyard. (Whom they think is a dead farmer’s wife.) They then place the dead body in a bag and put it in their carriage and ride off down the road. Suddenly the body begins to move, and beat around. Macfarlane and Fettes stop the carriage. They look at each other. Macfarlane then opens the bag, and in awe exclaims,

“This is not a woman! It was when we put her in whispered Fettes.

A wild yell rang up into the night; each leaped from his own side into

the roadway, the body in the bag was of the dead and long dissected Gray.”

These are the final lines of the story. The body was a man named Gray, whom Macfarlane had earlier killed in the story and together with Fettes had buried. The other twist was that Gray’s body wasn’t dead! It seemed now that fate had taken place and Gray had come back to haunt them. This twist deals with superstitions and symbolises that if you do something bad, you will have a guilty conscience and it will come back around the corner. This ending is profoundly creepy and makes the reader finish with a thrill, (when a horror story finishes in this manner, it is successful in fulfilling its horror genre). This ending would create even more of a fright to the people reading it at the present time when the story was wrote, as they were experiencing body snatching in reality, and to them the book wasn’t just some fictional thriller.

This is like the End Of The Party whereby there is also a twist to the plot. At the end of the party, the children play hide and seek in the dark, this is what Francis had been anticipating and apprehending all day, “I’m afraid of going. They’ll make me hide in the dark, and I’m afraid of the dark.” This game of hide and seek is the main event of the story, and throughout the story tension and suspense is used very well to lead the reader up to this main event. The twist to the plot comes when Peter and Francis are hiding in the dark, Francis’s fear is immensely strong, and this is the cause of this physiological horror. Peter is trying to pacify his brother’s fear, “Don’t be afraid, the lights will go on again soon.” Irony then takes place.

“Peter continued to hold the clenched fingers in an arid and puzzled grief.

It was not merely that his brother was dead. His brain, too young to realize

that the pulse of his brother’s fear went on and on, where Francis was now,

where he had always been told there was no more terror and no more darkness.”

This is a very ironic ending story. It is slightly weird when you think someone died because he was frightened of the dark, but when you think about it is kind of believable how he may have been so scared, that it just caused his body to stop working.

I think horror stories have remained so popular because as humans we like getting a thrill. Horror stories are traditional and even in the times of the cavemen horror stories were told, and now these stories have advanced and can be very interesting. Although we don’t like to be frightened, have nightmares and have our heart pounding really fast, the comfort comes when we realise that the horror isn’t real (unless it is), and we can have a sigh of relief, and the feeling is good when we look at the horror and reflect it to our own lives, which makes us feel safe. This is the same for nightmares, the feeling comes when we wake up and realise the nightmare wasn’t reality.


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