I was watching a horror film the other day and I couldn't help but think about how forgetable horror movies have become these days. This is one genre in which literature has a distinct advantage I think. When I watch a movie I never get scared any more. Most of them are all about blood and gore and hardly any substance. This sort of thing may have scared me when I was much younger but these days it doesn't even make me look away.
Books on the other hand have always been the pinacle of horror for me. While movies and books both have their respective advantages and disadvantages, books come out on top in this battle. Books have been able to scare me and leave thinking about what I read for days afterward.
A really good horror story creates a mood that is thick and unescapable. It submerges you in world where you are both wanting to find out what will happen next and at the same time scared to keep reading. Two of the most essential things I always include when writing horror are confusion and helplessness.
There are few times as a human being that you are more scared than when you have no idea what's happening around you. The confusion of being in a situation where everything is foreign is a major component of being scared. I mean, how many horror stories can really occur in your everyday life. Even familiar surroundings can become foreign when a special situation is attached. Think about your office being suddenly invaded and everyone held hostage - that is scary. Think about having to run for your life down a path that you'd never been before, the area is dark and you have no idea what you're running towards - that's scary.
Helplessness is one of those things that can really be frightful. Being forced to do something against one's will or seeing something happen to a loved one and not being able to help are both examples of this. Think how you would feel if you saw something about to cause you harm but you could only watch it happen. You stand frozen and as the danger gets closer and closer knowing there is nothing you can do about it. Helplessness is definitely scary.