Surrealism in Writing Horror
By R. Patrick Gates, Author of TunnelVision
Surrealism can be a very effective storytelling tool in the Horror genre. Horror, or Dark Fantasy (a much more accurate label, in my opinion, since Horror falls under the broader category of fantasy, meaning stories that are outside the realm of reality) is a natural for Surrealism. Horror stories are, if anything, surreal. From the very beginning, the very roots of horror with Shelley’s Frankenstein, Stoker’s Dracula, and Poe’s macabre stories, has the surreal making up a big part of every horror tale. For most writers of Dark Fantasy the challenge has been how to make the surreal seem real and believable. I’ve always seen the challenge as being sort of the opposite: how do I make the real seem surreal? It has occurred to me that if anything were ever to actually happen that was in any way similar to the plot of a horror story, it would certainly seem as if reality had suddenly become surreality, and that is one of the challenges that I believe a modern writer of Dark Fiction has to try to meet.
So how does one incorporate Surrealism into their work? Well, in the same way all of us learned to write, we should start with reading, in particular Edgar Allan Poe, whose work is, in my opinion, the epitome of what Surrealism in Dark Fantasy should be. Just his mastery of vocabulary and language alone allowed him to create a surrealistic aspect to his work that has been unrivaled. Through imagery, simile, and metaphor he creates mood and atmosphere perfect for a dark tale.
Using vocabulary and literary techniques is the more sophisticated method, but presenting a worldview seen through the eyes of an insane person is probably the easiest method of incorporating Surrealism into a Dark Fantasy novel.One of the inspirations for my surreal novel, TunnelVision (25th anniversary edition now available from Bloodshot Books) was an article I had read about how schizophrenics perceive the world. Poe used this technique very effectively in many of his stories. Thomas Harris uses it in his novels, Red Dragon, and Silence of the Lambs—surrealistic reality seen through the eyes of serial killers. Using the mentally skewed narrator or character as P.O.V. can be a very effective way to incorporate surrealism in your work, and have quite a lot of fun while doing it because literally anything goes! Landscapes can be wildly and darkly Dali-esque and inanimate objects can speak and pontificate (personification in general can be a very big part of Surrealism). You can bring in music, movies, literary characters—anything you can imagine. It’s a chance for the writer to let their imagination run wild and rampant.
I recommend giving it a try—let go, explore and have fun with it—you can always reel it in a little on rewrite.
Thank God for rewrites.
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Tunnelvision (25th Anniversary Edition), Synopsis –
One fine day in the middle of the night,
Two dead boys got up to fight.
Back to back they faced each other,
Drew their swords and shot each other.
A deaf policeman heard the noise,
And came and killed the two dead boys.…
The empty airwaves of the mind…
Welcome to TunnelVision – the premium channel streaming from the imagination of R. Patrick Gates to you!
What happens when you lose sight of the forest for the trees?
Wilbur Clayton has a personal connection with Jesus – Murder! Abused for most of his life, Wilbur and Jesus are out to make amends and take revenge. With Grandma in his head and Jesus on the TunnelVision, Wilbur knows what must be done and who must be made to pay for the sins of the father…
The only thing standing in his way are a cop with a gift for details and deduction, and a young genius whose reenactments of his favorite books are about to become all too real.
TunnelVision – streaming seven days a week, 24 hours a day!
On the air and in your nightmares!
R. Patrick Gates
R. Patrick Gates has been a teacher and writer for over thirty years. Besides Tunnelvision, which is currently being published in a 25th anniversary edition, he is the author of Grimm Memorials and Grimm Reapings, (which have achieved cult status and been called ‘horror classics’ by Rave Reviews) and seven other critically acclaimed adult horror novels and at least ten young adult thrillers. Mr. Gates resides in Massachusetts with his wife and dogs, and dabbles in painting and acting in his spare time. You can find him online at his website.
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