In today’s tutorial I would like to take a look at the use of locations to create mood in a horror novel. There are two approaches which can be used, both of which have their plus points.
A town or a village which has a dark atmosphere to it might form the opening to a novel. There is a unsettling, haunting feel altogether about this type of storyline. A reader can sense something is very wrong right from the outset. As such he is prepared for some sinister goings-on. This approach is good in that it sets the scene for what is to follow. It prepares the reader for all of the horror which will be unfolding in the next few pages. There is no hiding place for the reader: he is thrown right into the action. There is no way out, no escape clause, no safety net in place. He must face his fears full bore. So, that’s the good in this approach. Some might ask where’s the bad in all of this? It seems perfect from a horror author’s point of view.
Yes, I would agree with this philosophy but only up to a point. What do I mean? Simply this: by employing this approach the element of surprise which the writer may have had at his disposal is thrown away. The reader is attuned from the first to the fact that he is going to be travelling down some dark pathways from the very start of the book. Nothing is going to be held back from him. It is all in plain view. This is all good and well if the writer wishes to set this dark tone in his novel from page one. But what if he doesn’t want to do this?
You might ask why he would not wish to do so? This is a fair enough question. My answer is that he wants to hold on to the element of surprise. He wishes to lull the reader into a false sense of security by opening the novel in a pretty location where the flowers are in full bloom and happiness abounds everywhere. Okay, I might be accused of going too far the other way here. A reader of horror novels does not want to read of children tripping through the daisies and existing in a utopian world. But the general idea is a good one, I feel.
There is nothing quite like opening a horror novel in a friendly environment with sun cascading down from a clear blue sky, and then, just when life seems almost too good to be true, some dark clouds appear on the horizon which heralds in a drastic downturn in all that goes on within the storyline. In this approach the element of surprise is self-evidently not just present but alive and kicking and more than willing to startle the reader with the sudden ramifications this will have to the storyline.
Of course, the one constant in both approaches is atmosphere. Is the action going to start out with a good atmosphere or a bad one? Is everything going to be sweetness and light in the writer’s opening or full of evil intent?
I have used both approaches in my own writing. Although I would have to say the dark and unseemly approach at the start of my novels has far outweighed the light and happy one. Three of my novels have gone with dark openings and only one with a happy event. Of the four novels, however, it is the one with a joyful opening which I look upon as my best and most successful. So take from that what you will. It is important to recognise, however, that both approaches can work. It is just up to the specific author which one he chooses. But in my experience they can each provide a successful formula when in the hands of the right author and one who truly knows what he is about.