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Friday, 2 April 2010

The Horror of Modern Horror Writing

I read somewhere, once, that as technology moves us forward, it becomes more and more difficult to write horror set in the modern day. 

The introduction of the internet, mobile telephones and the like does tend to complicate things, as I’ve found out in a couple of recent works.  It’s certainly harder to get a character on their own, out of communications with the rest of humanity, when all they have to do is pick up a mobile telephone. 

And what about that top secret installation, miles from anywhere, where horrific experiments have been going on for years?  Or the clearing in the remote forest, where carnivorous beasts previously unknown to nature, live?  Google Earth will have spotted the installation, or the remote caves, within seconds!

Thus, the modern horror writer faces dilemmas that wouldn’t have been thought about, perhaps even ten years ago.  Andraste’s Blade was published in 2005, and even that recently I don’t think it raised any eyebrows that most of my main (modern day) characters didn’t carry telephones.

So, what to do?  Well, an obvious answer is to set a story in the past.  As anyone who knows my work will know, a lot of my writing is based around Celtic myth and set around the time of the legends.  No difficulty there, then (except the problem of getting the period right).

A second answer is to set the story somewhere remote.  Again, that’s something I tend to do anyway.  In remote places, telephone reception is often non-existent, so the problem of communication is lessened.  However, as communication networks improve, I’d expect even this to become a difficulty over the next few years.  It doesn’t take away the problem of aerial photography, though, but that isn’t something I’ve had to address up to now.

So, what about modern urban horror?  What’s to stop our hero or heroine simply ‘phoning for help?  We have to stop them doing that, don’t we?  We need out characters out there facing the horror on their own, so we have to get rid of that mobile.  Having them lose it, and then maybe looking for it, can add an interesting plot twist and a couple of challenging chapters.  Or it can be a pain.  I’ve read one novel (and I can’t remember which one) where trying to find the lost telephone was integral to the story.

So, whatever plot the writer comes up with, modern communications technology needs to be written into it.


  1. I just spent a frustrating hour or so trying to use an app for my phone which would enable me to download pictures directly to my Snapfish account. Kept getting this message that something unexpected happened and I should try again.

    And my phone would not work, not for text or calls while skiing last month. Had to resort to old-fashioned walkie talkies to keep track of the family.

    I guess one could always ramp up the suspense by having the heroine in peril and receiving nothing but error messages or notations that the network isn't available, try again later.

    As for urban fantasy, well there is always magic to disrupt communications. (grin)

  2. :) I enjoyed this post. I wrote a short story a while back and was instantly asked by a critique partner, "Where's her cellphone?". I totally understand communication devices mucking up the process of writing horror.