Hopper, Associate Editor, Horror
Issue # 3: 04/01/01
A Theory of Alternate History
Structure of the Horror Novel
By Ron Brown
©2001, Ron Brown
in any form of writing, there are guidelines for the structure of the
horror novel. These are not
rules but rather conventions that should be known and considered when you
structure your story. In the
same way that principles of writing (such as maintaining constant point of
view in a scene) should only be broken once the writer is comfortable with
the convention, the classic structure of the horror novel should be the
starting point for new novelists.
center of any horror novel is the fear, rational or not, within the main
character. The main character
can be either adult or child, but should begin as a hapless victim of the
overpowering evil, and should be a good person.
Though the fear can be of a psychological nature, it should not be
something that can be explained through normal human experience.
There should be some supernatural or unexplained entity or mystery
whose solution is outside the realm of typical understanding.
evil should begin as an invisible force.
In fact, it will often appear at the beginning that the main
character has created the evil in his own mind.
The evil can be undead, occult, based on folklore, or other, but it
should be sinister, and should only reveal its true self slowly as the
story progresses. Regardless
of what shape it finally takes when its presence is known (demon, vampire,
person, etc.), its power and intent should be obviously evil and
plotting process ensures that the surrounding characters do not believe in
the evil at first. Coincidence
will explain the initial actions of the evil entity.
If it's appropriate, the supporting cast should show concern for
the well-being and sanity of the main character.
Only after a convincing disaster or death will they believe, and
then they should run to the main character, both fearing him or her, and
final convention of the classic horror plot is the method of overcoming
evil. The protagonist should
develop some power in order to conquer the evil entity. At first they should resist the use of the power, but once
its use begins they should be taken over by it until the task is complete.
these are not rules, but rather guidelines and conventions.
A great many horror novels deviate at some point from the classic
form, but this is an excellent starting point for those beginning their
work in the genre. Once a
writer is comfortable with the classical plot, and has seen how it drives the story, she can begin to alter it to achieve the goals of her
helpful book for many aspects of Horror writing is How to Write Tales
of Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction by J.N. Williamson. This
book includes an introduction by Robert Bloch and several chapters on
specific Horror -related writing problems, including pieces by Dean R.
Koontz and Robert R. McCammon.
to Write Tales of Horror,
versions of Vision