Oops! Writing: Blunders in Horror-Fiction


Quit it, goddangit.

I was just until midway quite taken with Paul Melniczek’s “A Particular Haunting,” which appeared in the Spring 2008 issue of Space and Time Magazine (pp. 9-13); his was corporate bondage in the metaphysically literal sense, part of a soul-sucking jobmarket (here-here) substituting coin for individuality and thought. Melniczek’s writing is sharp and authentic; it sounds good aloud – crisp. His language is as dark as a muted suit, and inbetween the lines you can see fluorescent ceiling-lights and smell dry-wall and new carpet. But then he wrote “… I wondered if it could have been something more sinister, possibly of a supernatural persuasion”

– well, duh. Let alone that this is genre horror, the ‘revelation’ is stilted and unnecessary, unnatural. You hear the old adage trumpeting Show-don’t-Tell (and I’m not completely convinced you have to do either), but on some literarily moral level this violates something cardinal. To be spooked in the dark is an instinctual, threatening, irrational scare that doesn’t warrant analysis. It is a lump in the throat, a tepid backward step, and a stillness: the air is electric quiet; you hear the whir of the building precisely because you have quit breathing.

The key to fantasy is the suspension of disbelief – not to sound Coleridgean – but it requires in the world a sense of reality, a literary impressionism, and no more the stale pre-Victorian fairystory detailing worlds so dated they could never be our own. Real and unreal blur by an extension of reason, these days; on the quantum level, physics do not apply, and spacetime is dimpled and tangible. Mythstuff now must appeal to this ambiguity, to adopt a Conradspeak that is sense- and science-oriented in order to nostalgically grope at belief in magic. Narratively acknowledging  “gosh, how supernatural!” only undercuts it, a blunder that ensures the reader won’t identify, and can only skim-on aware of the story as such, unable to get lost in the yarn.


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