October has long been one of our favorite months. The weather turning, the leaves changing colors, but most importantly: Halloween. The month of October is perfect for a good ghost story. We’re thrilled to share this essay today from Amber Sparks on the art of writing a spooky story: “A Horror Tale is a Fairy Tale Turned Inside Out.”
Do you know how to write a fairy tale? Then you know how to write a horror story, too. A horror story is, more or less, a fairy tale turned inside out.
The fairy tale and the horror tale are both very old, and both have similar origins: they’re rooted in warnings, in advice, in the idea that you need to know the consequences. The fairy tale is rooted in a warning heeded, and a reward or a wonder at the end. But a warning not heeded? A warning can bend, can rot, can turn on you. A story can be one thing, or two – good or bad, nightmare and dream. As Brian Evenson’s narrator says in his horror tale “Windeye:” ““It is important to know that a window can be instead a windeye.” It is important to know that wonder can turn to horror, and it’s not as hard as you might think to twist it. It might scare you how easy it actually is.
The elements are very much the same.
Let’s start as fairy tales do, with the “once upon a time;” in contemporary horror stories it might be long ago, or it might be a now that’s not quite like our own. There always something set apart, something fable-like about the place and time of a horror story. Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” for example, could be a fairy tale at the beginning; it starts out in a village that could be contemporary, but could also be just about anywhere, anytime, Anytown. The stories in Blake Butler’s Scorch Atlas have a set apart, once-upon-a-time feel. The setting in horror is often more contemporary, but there’s something off about the now.