What’s the difference between writing crime and horror? Trick question. There’s no difference in the writing on a molecular level – they are stories, and thus employ all the elements and structures and rhetoric and sleight of hand common to all storytelling. But there is a difference, at least for me, in where reading (or writing) a work of crime or horror fiction leave us in the end, the kind of world they ultimately build. Broadly speaking, crime fiction creates episodes of the possible, and horror fiction creates new myths of the impossible. Both are products of the imagination, yet the former remains always tethered to the real and the latter is obliged to bring at least the suggestion of the supernatural into the mix.
Sounds like a big difference, right? The real versus the unreal? How much wider can the gap get? The thing is, for me anyway, the space between the rational and the uncanny isn’t as great as one might think. I like to keep my horror as grounded as possible – as close to the “crime world” as I can – so that the intrusions of the paranormal are more striking and hopefully, in their own fantastical way, plausible. Even more important to my intent than believability (or the ease with which one’s disbelief might be suspended), however, is how cleaving close to the real can help lend a horror story the power of myth.
By “myth” in this sense I don’t mean referring to an ancient tale of gods or monsters, but a mutation of the world we live in now, a fun house mirror distortion of contemporary existence. Horror frightens, it unsettles, it keeps us up late. But it can also reveal something about ourselves in a serious way that’s made all the more serious – and more unique – by its inclusion of ghouls or ghosts or (my personal preference of the moment) demons.
Horror writing doesn’t have to keep itself close to the world we know, of course. I love to be transported, to enter a fantasy that announces itself as fantasy. But from my own point of view as a writer, I like to dance between the fantastical and recognizable, the horrific and the criminal. To me, it just feels more like what I see outside the window every day.
Andrew Pyper is the author of six novels, including Lost Girls, The Killing Circle, The Guardians and, most recently, The Demonologist which is out now in paperback and ebook. Head to The Murder Room blog to read the companion piece to this blog Finding the Horror in Crime.
But wait, there’s more! We have five proof copies of The Demonologist to give away! To enter, email email@example.com with your name and address and the subject header ‘Give me Horror!’ by 11.59pm on 28th February 2014. For full Terms & Conditions click here.