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The Psychology of Horror Books

The Psychology of Horror Books

The Psychology of Horror Books

By Gillian Bridè Duce Madell


I am often asked about writing, books and articles that I have written. Usually, it is questions on how to pull together a good book when they (the person asking) are writing. As a well published author of books, articles and philosophical works, it shocks some that I could also write anything with brutality or gore in it when it comes to writing my Historical fiction/fantasy works. There is nothing out of the ordinary in such scenes in this particular genre – it is merely my love/studies of myths, legends, traditions and philosophies that is carried throughout all of my writing and works.

History was no rainbow and joyous time. It was a time of caution and where most people were on edge most of the time. A time where even the neighbor had to be viewed with care. It was the horror stories of old that kept the children safe. Stopping them from entering a forest on their own where all sorts of death awaited them. Being young, vulnerable and edible – so easy it would be for a predator. Even a lone adult entering the forest was an unwise move when a pack of wolves might venture around at any time. Stories warning of water monsters, cave ogres, fire giants and even air fiends that would snatch them as they slept if they were not careful. Horror has been on the tongues of humans since the first parent was concerned for their child wandering off and the first confused person that saw something that they could not otherwise explain.

This is well and good for the ancestors, but, what is it that draws modern man now to horror, as we, supposedly, are so much more knowing.

A paper in 2004 by Dr. Glenn Walters said that there must be three main elements for a horror movie to work – tension, relevance and (somewhat of) unrealism.  This transfers also to any books written in the genre of horror/slasher/gore. There are those that enjoy the shock and fright that comes from reading such works, but it is the knowledge of it ‘not being real’ that allows a psychological buffer between them and that which is depicted in the book.

History was not pretty, but write it in a manuscript, with all of the gore of battle fields or acts done from one to another (even if a real historical events), the reader has the buffer of ‘it not happening actually at that moment’(the unrealism factor), which gives them freedom from feeling terrified or concern after finishing the book. Cannibals read of in books, might have been real at some stage (or still are), but the reader can shake off the feeling of shock after putting the book down, knowing that they are not in his/her home (or are they). Zombies, vampires, slashers, aliens and horrifying monsters might not (or might) be real… written well, the tension factor will rise. The relevance factor, such as fear of death and other psychological essentials, raises the book’s status as a horror.

There are factors within the mindset of those that read horror books too. Some read to overcome their fears. Some read horror because they need to ‘feel’ or, as it is called by some, ‘sensation seek’ (sometimes even going as far as to identify with the slasher/killer/monster). Some like the excitement and are far more grounded. It is, to captivate all these readers (if possible) with one book that is the holy grail of horror books. Such authors, in their day, as Mary Shelley, author of “Frankenstein”, and Bram Stoker, who wrote “Dracula”, were cutting edge writers for their ability to pull together all of these elements and put them into books that still sell today (even though the ‘horror’ level is nothing compared to what is out there now). Pooling together these fundamentals made the material that they wrote, immortalized.

So, in conclusion, if you want to write a book that will go down in history, find a way of incorporating all the above elements. The essentials behind being a good horror writer is the best example of what it takes to be great in any genre of writing. To understand the basics of the horror genre, give one the leading edge in all genres.

Kate Morgan on the Written Apocalypse - Podcast

Kate Morgan on the Written Apocalypse – Podcast

Kate Morgan, author.


Join our very own Kate Morgan as she discusses her life, her writing, her love of Swedish Death Metal, and her book THE REDEEMERS

Kate Morgan on the Written Apocalypse – Podcast Link


Kate Morgan aka Alice Loweecey Is baker of brownies and tormentor of characters, Alice Loweecey recently celebrated her thirtieth year outside the convent. She grew up watching Hammer horror films and Scooby-Doo mysteries, which explains a whole lot. When she’s not creating trouble for her sleuth Giulia Driscoll or inspiring nightmares as her alter-ego Kate Morgan, she can be found growing her own vegetables (in summer) and cooking with them (the rest of the year). Her mascot is a handmade nun doll that will only creep you out if you have a guilty conscience.

In her book Redeemers we will find. Long after the Great War life flourished again, in no small part due to The Redeemers’ help and guidance. It was a simple life, but a good one. Annie’s world made sense…until one fateful day when everything of value is ripped from her.

With nothing left to lose, Annie embarks upon a quest for the dark, disturbing truth of why – never imagining how deep the trail leads.

Contact her:

Website address:

Twitter: @KateMorganBooks



Reading Slush – On the importance of critical analysis and variety

Reading Slush – On the importance of critical analysis and variety

Written by Simon Dewar
Originally Posted: February 24, 2016

I think every writer, at least every short story writer, should read slush for a while. My god, but it really puts fiction in perspective for you.

For the uninitiated among us, wikipedia informs us:

In publishing, the slush pile is the set of unsolicited query letters or manuscripts sent either directly to the publisher or literary agent by authors, or to the publisher by an agent not known to the publisher.[1]

Sifting through the slush pile is a job given to assistants-to-the-editors, or to outside contractors (called “publisher’s readers” or “first readers”).

Reading slush really gives you such a huge appreciation for the talent and skill of true professional writers. Take a run of the mill slush story and a story published by a professional writer in a magazine or anthology…most often there is simply no comparison to be made. It’s not even a case of apples vs oranges. It’s a case of biting into an apple versus chugging a pint of bleach.

And that’s not to denigrate those of us who aren’t the elite cadre of writer’s out there. God knows I’m not in that grouping (yet!! *shakes fist*). But you really have to admire those professional writers at the top of their game.   They’ve come up with a cool story idea; they’ve crafted characters who are real people; they’ve started the story at the right spot (biggest issue with most poor short fiction); they’ve placed those characters in some sort of situation or presented them with some problem that requires resolution; they’ve developed an underlying theme or motif that either overtly challenges the reader or bubbles away in the background; and they’ve written the story using finely polished prose that takes the reader through that process in an evocative and engaging manner. They made you think things. They make you feel things.  That’s no small feat!

So what’s this got do with reading slush? The vast majority of fiction in the slush pile fails at one or more of the above mentioned things. The more things it fails at, the more the story’s ‘apple’ dissolves into ammonia.   At first, some of these failures (usually outright omissions.. e.g no plot, no real people, no situation/incident, etc) are hard to spot, and that’s the beauty of it.  Reading slush hones your ability to critically analyse stories and prose. It might be hard at first, but I guarantee you by the time you’ve read 100 slush stories… you will  be spotting issues with many stories with ease. You’ll look at a story and think “Geez, three pages went by before I found out what the issue/problem/incident to be resolved is!” and bang, there you go.. you know the story started 3 pages too early. Your own writing will improve dramatically.  When you’ve picked out unnecessary filtering of action and emotion in 100 manuscripts, you’ll really start to notice it popping out in your own. Conversely you’ll start noticing where a more distanced point of view might be of benefit to the story.  With 200 stories under your belt your repertoire of issues that you’ll catch during your analysis will increase and you’ll develop strategies and a process or workflow that you use when analysing a story.  With 300 stories under your belt, you’ll develop a true confidence in your analysis. (Obviously we’re all different I’m just throwing out some ballpark numbers here, but you get the drift.)

It is extremely hard to notice flaws in your own fiction, even some of the real pros struggle with it, which is why they continue to get critiques and beta-reads done by other writers. You need some serious writer/editor-fu to be able to do it, and this only comes with time and experience.   I believe this is where slush reading is of a huge benefit because via repetition and exposure to an endless variety of writing styles, it provides that experience.  Slush reading, for me, is the equivalent of basic routines and katas in martial arts.  In martial arts, you perform the move a hundred times, two hundred, three hundred – block-punch-kick. block-punch-kick. block-punch-kick.  It seeps into you and becomes part of your subconscious and your muscle memory, to the point where if someone throws a punch at you, your immediate response is block-punch-kick!  When you’ve seen and noted 300 different authors filter the actions and emotions of their point of view character, then you have the literary muscle memory response of block-kick-punch, and you blow away that filtering and you write in a more active and close point of view into your own manuscript.

Beyond critical analysis skills, slush reading provides a writer variety and exposure to a variety of ideas, narrative styles, prose styles, grammatical techniques, story telling techniques. This is invaluable. As humans, from the time we’re born we’re copying others. First our parents, then our teachers and friends, and later in life even other adults. This is how we learn and grow.  Sure, we often put our own spin on something we’ve learned or we innovate in a particular area, and we can still create extremely unique art, but our ability to do this is extremely limited if our exposure to new ideas and methods is limited.  I am currently doing an interview series where I’m chatting with Women who work in the horror genre. Almost every single response to the question “what’s the best advice for new writers” is “Read a lot and widely.”  Reading slush is a perfect way to do just that.

This blog post was originally posted on Simon Dewar’s blog on February 24, 2016.



Pitch This

Are you ready to share your dark side? Dark Recesses Press is setting up to take pitches for two days only. Appointments will be needed as there will be a maximum of just 20 slots available to be filled. You will have 15 minutes to wow me in to wanting to see more.

Sign-up Deadline: September 30th, 2014

When: Saturday, October 4th, 2014 from 10 am – 3 pm
Sunday, October 5th, 2014 from 10 am – 1 pm

Where: On the net (FB or Skype depending upon your access)

What: Novel length dark fiction (70k-90k). A large arena, yes, but what we mean by this is the full dark spectrum – from horror, to supernatural, to slipstream, and all points in between. As long as the important core elements of fear, dread, and those things that stop you from dangling your feet over the edge of the bed are an integral part of the tale. I don’t mind of you mash genres as long as you do it well and the theme fits into the dark fiction overcoat. YA & up will be considered. As with all Dark Recesses Press titles, there must be NO SEXUAL ABUSE OF CHILDREN, direct or implied. Period. It’s not a flexible point.

One more thing – Your book should be already properly edited (not just proofread). If it’s not ready, please don’t sign up for the pitch sessions.

How: Join the event here: PITCH YOUR NOVEL INTO THE DARK RECESSES and leave a one or two sentence description of what you want to pitch, along with what day and general time you would prefer.

The rest of the details can be found at:

Time and spots are limited, so don’t wait.