Horror is a genre that has the goal of invoking a feeling in its readers: fear. Making the reader sweat, their heart speed up, giving them the need to look over their shoulder and sleep with the lights on for a few days after the story is done etc.But that doesn’t mean the main character, whether monster or prey, cannot be relatable. In fact, it is my belief that the more relatable the characters the more interesting the Horror story and easier it is to inspire in the reader.
That said, let’s get this show on the road. And please don’t get blood on the carpet, it’s cliche and hard to get out.
Why Should You Make Your Main Character More Human?
At its heart, Horror is a very human genre. From the prey to the monsters themselves, no matter how horrific and inhuman on the outside, the characters in a Horror story tend to reflect human needs and desires. And it is when a Horror writer masters making their characters human and relatable despite the nature of the story and whether predator or prey, that they have mastered the art of writing Horror.
When it comes to the predatory characters, like a werewolf, a vampire, a serial killer, killer ghost, aliens or something else of in the monster/predator family. The idea behind making them more relatable is that the reader is going to be in their head for anywhere from a few hundred to 80,000 words or more. And watching this truly monstrous being just do worse and worse things to their prey is both gross and, after a while, boring for the reader.
By making the monster relatable in this type of story, the reader is drawn further and further into the web. They’re forced to feel for the monster, human or otherwise, and to question their own humanity when they feel sympathy and even cheer for the monster. The capital-H Horror is coming from being face to face with their own inhuman side for the duration of the story.
This is especially true if the “monster” is experiencing a descent into darkness character arch, forcing the reader to watch them become less and less human. A very real representation of the fear most people have of losing what makes them human.
It also means fewer chances for gimmicky writing that simply grosses the reader out. I say this not because there’s no place for straight up gore in a good Horror story, there are many awesome ones that are very gory, one need only look at the sub-genre of Splatterpunk to see that. But because, like boring characters, gore for the sake of gore can bore the reader after a while and the goal is for them to read the whole story and, hopefully, enjoy it and be frightened.
This brings us to stories from the point of view of the prey. And though I don’t have as much to say as I do about monster-focused stories, I do have a bit to say. It’s been my experience as a reader that prey stories where the reader can’t relate to both the prey and the monster are harder to pull off. Not because of any lack of potential to be good stories, but because the characters not being relatable means the reader is less likely to care about what happens to either the “monster” or the “victim(s).”
The worse thing someone writing from the point of view of a werewolf’s prey, for instance, can do is to make the reader not care whether the prey survives.
How Do You Make Your Main Character More Human?
All opinionated rambling aside, there are some ways you can make your Main Character more human in the eyes of your readers, whether monster or prey.
1) Give them a backstory.
Everyone has a backstory. Things that make them who they are and motivations for what they do, whether those acting are good, bad, or some gray combination of the two. A good Horror story uses backstory to bolster sympathy for the character readers are following and, which makes things far more suspenseful than they would otherwise be.
2) Make the reader feel for them.
All the backstory in the world doesn’t matter if the reader doesn’t feel for the main character. More than sympathy, forcing the reader to feel for the character leads to that unease which makes invoking feelings of horror later on far easier. In short, emotional turmoil for main character and reader equals out to a more interesting and intense story.
So exploit the reader’s feelings. Make them want that mother alien to succeed so her children survive and feel horrified by it. Make them want the werewolf’s prey to get away and return home to their family.
Next time I will be diving back into the world of the Bullet Journal and focusing one of my favorite modules, the monthly log. In the meantime, please feel free to follow the blog, check out my Instagram and Twitter, and follow me over on Facebook.