WIHM 2022: I Want to be the Woman in Horror!
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but in his novel ‘Dracula’, Bram Stoker uses the word ‘voluptuous’ a lot. A LOT. If Lucy’s in the scene, she’s voluptuous. If the vampire brides appear, they’re all voluptuous. Even pure, sweet Mina, towards the end, gets the voluptuous treatment. There’s a whole undercurrent of purity versus sin in the novel, of course, and the Victorians loved to equate sexuality and sensuality with sin, so you can see what Bram was going for. And it’s a good, evocative word. But how many times have you ever considered yourself to be voluptuous?
If you have, all power to you. Personally, I have never once considered myself to be voluptuous. Nor have I considered myself to be a pure, sweet paragon of virtue like Mina. ‘Dracula’ is one of my all-time favourite works of horror fiction. But I am not in that book. Nor am I in Mary Shelley’s classic ‘Frankenstein’. I don’t see myself in these women. While this doesn’t take away from the power of these works, it would be nice to see myself in the story sometimes.
Maybe I’m looking in the wrong place? Let’s jump to more contemporary works of horror literature. Again, more often than not I don’t see myself. I’m not the dazzling Merrin in Joe Hill’s ‘Horns’. I’m not the enigmatic Eli in John Ajvide Lindquist’s ‘Let the Right One In’. I’m not Pandora or Gabrielle or Akasha in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. Sometimes I’d like to be – these women are powerful and driven and have an eternity to meet their goals – and while it’s entertaining and absorbing to enter these women’s minds and travel with them – while I absolutely espouse fiction as a means of escapism – I cannot tell you how exciting I have found it when I find a character I can truly relate to.
The first character I related to in a horror novel was Carrie in Stephen King’s book of the same name. Incidentally, this was also the book that got me into the horror genre (and I’ve been a huge Stephen King fan ever since). Odd choice, right? Isn’t Carrie the villain? Surely I should be relating to Sue Snell or Chris Hargensen? Well, yes and no. Carrie’s the scary one, but she’s definitely not the villain. Back when I first read it, I was a cripplingly shy teenager – just like Carrie. I was bullied at school for being different – just like Carrie. And while I can’t deny that I occasionally (spoiler alert) dreamed of trapping my tormenters in a burning building, mostly it was Carrie’s quiet longing, deeply ingrained self-loathing, and the slowly building determination to try to break out of her mold that struck me.
I don’t relate that much to Carrie anymore, I’m happy to say. I’ve grown up and gained my confidence and self-esteem, as hopefully, most awkward teenagers do. But I do still long to find that connection, that feeling of ‘this could be me!’ in the books I read. But I don’t fit the archetypes. I’m not a sexy temptress, like the vampire brides in ‘Dracula’. I’m not the good little virgin. I’m not a horny teenage cheerleader type, not the headstrong detective, not the protective mother, and I’m definitely not the plucky kick-ass female lead! I’m a middle-aged weirdo who reads a lot of books and spends too much time with her cat. Now I’ll grant you, something pretty spectacular would have to happen to make my life book-worthy. But horror works best when it’s ordinary people who have to face up to it. Ordinary people, we can relate to. So come on, horror writers, I’m ready to be scared!
I’m not saying it never happens. In Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Haunting of Hill House’, for example, I found Nell very relatable, with her nervous nature and her never quite being able to live up to her sister. Kelley Armstrong’s lead character in ‘A Stitch in Time’ confessed to loving nothing more than curling up with a good book, which I immediately connected with. The titular Witch in Finbar Hawkins’ novel was relatable to me because I am pagan, even if I can’t command the animals like she can. And Paul Tremblay’s ‘A Head Full of Ghosts’, though set in America, gave a portrayal of a family dynamic that (before all the spookiness started happening, anyway) spoke to me of my own.
But it doesn’t happen nearly often enough for my liking. I don’t always want to read about haunted writers (sorry Steve), brilliant investigators, and ‘gifted’ individuals. I want to read about people like me, ordinary people who are confronted with something extraordinary and have to overcome it. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places (in which case, hit me up with your recommendations, please!). Maybe I’m expecting too much! But whatever the reason, it’s given me a goal to work toward: if I can’t find myself in the horror stories other people write, I’ll just have to write them myself!
And I have. On my Wattpad page, I’ve got several short stories based on my experiences and what frightens me – and I’ve had good feedback on them too. ‘Can I Come In’ is about a young woman who lives alone, and that moment of fear whenever the doorbell rings unexpectedly. ‘Shattered Glass’ is about a woman who lives with an emotionally abusive partner. ‘Mother’ tackles the sadly topical dilemma of walking home alone at night as a woman. Things that I’ve experienced, woven into a horror story – with a generous dash of the supernatural thrown in, because that’s just me. But still, they’re women I can relate to. They’re not all strong; they don’t all triumph. But the important thing is, they’re all me.
I want to be the woman in the horror story. And that is why I write.