Though I’m mainly a romance writer, I’m writing a horror story this fall. I’ve long been drawn to ghosts and gothics, and it’s been a great experience. Here are ten reasons why all romance writers should try writing in a genre like horror occasionally.
(Of course this all comes with the caveat that seasoned horror authors may take a hatchet to some of these points. Go ahead; I’m waiting for you.)
1. You’ll write outside your comfort zone and learn in the process. Writing romance is like your preferred form of exercise: if you’re a runner, you get better by more jogging, but it can be helpful if you also lift weights and stretch to round out your fitness. So write in your genre(s), but try something new to stretch your mental muscles. Think of it as cross training.
2. But it’s still about the seduction. In romance, you don’t usually have the main characters have sex on page two. You build to it, having the characters glance at each other, maybe brush against each other in an elevator or exchange witty repartee. Likewise, in my horror story, I am trying to slowly build fear, creating a creepy atmosphere and tension before any ghouls show up.
3. You can still let your romance flag fly. In my short horror story, there’s a monster, but there’s also a girl who really wants to kiss a boy. You don’t have to kill all things romance in a scary story.
4. But you’re not bound by romance conventions. The romance doesn’t have to be central, the hero and heroine don’t have to end up together. Happily never after? Yeah, I’ll write that sometimes.
5. Characters still matter. Even when we are talking about blood and guts and thrills and chills, the characters still have goals, conflicts, and feelings beyond just shrieking at the bad guy under the bed.
6. Relationships matter too. Complex characters in any genre have complex relationships. We romance authors write in a relationship-focused genre. We totally got this.
7. You can make it about something else. My favorite horror tales are those that use zombies and ghosts to tell a human story. Romances I love do the same. Some people may accuse romance as just being about sex. It’s not, and neither is good horror just about monsters.
8. You’ll learn to invoke fear. This could be helpful if you’re interested in writing paranormal or suspense romance, or even if you are just thinking about ways of creating a particular emotional experience for the reader.
9. You’ll also learn to linger in the uncomfortable spot. When writing romantic comedy, I enjoy writing scenes of delicious awkwardness or sexual tension. When writing my horror story and really putting myself in my character’s terrified shoes, all I want to do sometimes is get her to safety. But that’s not very scary, so it’s teaching me to sit in the icky spots for longer, which is helpful because, I don’t know, election season?
10. But you’ll have fun. Monsters, vengeful ghosts, and crazy sociopaths in a dental office have one thing in common: they are limited only by our imagination. For those of us who write romance set in the real world, it’s wonderful to be able to let our freakish imaginations run wild, if only in October.
This post is part of the Halloween 2014 series. For more posts in this series (Bigfoot! Victorian horror! Scariest stories!), click here.