Fear, worry, revulsion, terror – in real life, we seek to avoid them. Yet in book form, we seek them out because they grant us delicious thrills.
Here are seven psychological reasons we’re attracted to Horror fiction:
Exciting stories distract us from the unpleasantness of real life. While reading, we become so absorbed that we forget about our everyday worries and looming threats. Horror fiction offers more intense excitement than most other genres.
The suffering of fiction characters makes our own troubles seem less severe. Problems which normally drive us crazy – the arthritic twinge in the shoulder, the electricity bill and the leaking washing machine suddenly seem minor after we’ve spent time with characters who’ve had arms ripped out, who got mangled in a crazed machine or who struggled for survival in arctic temperatures without any heating.
- ADRENALINE RUSH
In dangerous situations, the brain releases a cocktail of adrenaline and other chemicals into the bloodstream to give us the stamina and courage needed to face the threat. These chemicals induce a high – a mild one for some people, a powerful surge for others. Reading good horror fiction produces that same adrenalin rush, but in complete safety. The pleasure is similar to that of bungee-jumping, and it can be addictive.
Horror stories teach valuable lessons about good and evil, about ethical conflicts and moral risks, about unseen dangers and disguised threats. Sharing the fictional characters’ adventures, we readers learn from their experiences, without making their mistakes and taking their risks. This is especially useful in stories for children – it gives kids the chance to learn without getting into danger – and for teenagers who may not heed parental warnings but like a scary story.
Many horror stories – although not all – show that in the end, good triumphs over evil. In this respect, horror stories are for adults what fairy tales are for children. Humans need that reassurance. (Readers seeking that kind of reassurance need to stay away from certain kinds of horror, though.)
- PERSONAL GROWTH
Story events put the fictional character’s strengths, resolution, ethics and courage to the test. As the character grows through experience, so does the reader. Dark stories invite readers to ask themselves what they would have done in the same situation, to compare the character’s courage with their own, to probe their consciences and explore their own ethics.
By reading, we gain control over our fears, at least temporarily. Whatever scares us, we can face this danger in fiction, reading as much or as little as we like, and are able to close the book when we’ve had enough. This sense of control can be empowering, especially for people who suffer from phobias and irrational fears.
Which of these seven reasons apply to you? All of them? Only one? Several?
For me personally, the main reasons are #2 Perspective, #4 Education, #6 Personal Growth, and #7 Control … although depending on the story, I sometimes benefit from the others too.
Can you think of an author whose horror fiction is especially strong at delivering one of the seven benefits?
Leave a comment, and I’ll reply www.raynehall.com
Rayne Hall writes fantasy, horror and non-fiction, and is the author of over sixty books. Her horror stories are more atmospheric than violent, and more creepy than gory.
Born and raised in Germany, Rayne has lived in China, Mongolia, Nepal, Britain and Bulgaria. For many years, she resided in St Leonards on the coast of East Sussex where she penned many creepy stories, including the tales in this anthology.
Rayne has worked as an investigative journalist, development aid worker, museum guide, apple picker, tarot reader, adult education teacher, bellydancer, magazine editor, publishing manager and more, and now writes full time.
You’ll find free creepy horror stories on her website, and writing tips and photos of her cute book-reading black cat on Twitter at @RayneHall.
5 thoughts on “What Is The Allure Of Horror Fiction? by Rayne Hall”
Thanks for hosting me! I enjoy sharing my views and talking about horror fiction. 🙂
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I think #4 resonates most strongly with me. As you say, in real life we tend to avoid terrifying situations, but if we survive them and view them objectively, then we can learn from them. One of the nice things about writing horror is that we can pile on the fear and the scares before our poor characters have a chance to think. It’s good to read about their raw reactions and wonder if we might have done the same in that situation 🙂
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Yes, if we survive such situations… and as readers, we’re guaranteed to survive them, even if the story characters don’t. 🙂
Another interesting facet is that people will use horror fiction to educate not themselves, but others. They want to get a warning message across, but warnings are not heeded. So they give that person a horror book (or DVD) in which a character does what that person is planning to do, and they hope that that person learns from the character’s dire fate.
I had an email from a fan once. He told me that he’d read one of my horror books in ebook format. One of the stories in that book (‘The Devil You Know’) resonated with him strongly, because he had a seventeen-year old daughter, and he feared that she was falling for the wrong kind of man. Of course, being seventeen, she wasn’t listening to her dad’s warnings. So he decided to buy that book in paperback and give it to his daughter as a gift. He reckoned that she would read the stories, and – consciously or subconsciously – absorb what happened to the young girl in the story, and consequently be more aware of the dangers of that type of man.
I can understand his reasoning, and I think he’s right. I hope the girl did read the story, and did indeed grow a little wiser and more alert to certain dangers… even if she still made her own, not dad-approved, choices about men. 🙂
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A great outline on horror, Rayne! I would say that I most strongly identify with #2, #5, #6, and #7.
I’ve been working on my first two horror stories over the past two years, and I hope to publish them both in due time. For me, both novels are expressions of grief and the ways that it consumes us. I like lingering in the gloom of death, fear of monsters that can’t quite be killed, and uncertainty over whether or not other survivors can be trusted. These story arcs remind me that suffering is natural and necessary for growth. I hope that my stories will also bring reassurance to those who have lost loved ones and fear — often with intense rage and self-loathing — that no one else will ever understand them.