I was thinking the other day on how flawed the idea of horror can be, when it is only is described as fiction that provokes fear. That it is only emotional, and that this is the primary defining term. This feels weak to me, it feels like a cop out.
Almost all fiction uses fear and intense emotions in order to get us to care for the characters. Adventure fiction, action fiction, spy books, and all of the rest use fear and our fear for the characters to create an enjoyable, interesting experience. And yet, these books would not be called horror. It needs to be something more than that, doesn’t it? What links the desperate things that we label with this term? As a genre it doesn’t have as many rules and tropes and cages as others. Certainly, some subgenres carry a few brief outlines (haunted house, etc, slasher, etc, killer animals, etc), but they are nowhere near as codified as the subgenres of fantasy and science fiction (something I consider to be a huge benefit to horror as a medium).
It has to be something else. And I think, really, it all boils down to one primal fear. A primal, concentrated fear that all these desperate things connect to somehow. The fear of our own death. Not the death of others, but rather the death that awaits each of us. And not the actual act itself, but rather the mystery of it all.
I was thinking about this the other day. Maybe I’m wrong about it? I probably am, and I’ll probably change my mind later. Who knows? But even cosmic horror, or horror about the wrongness of the world, or horror about the wrongness of humanity, etc, etc, all seems to boil down to seeing our own skull in a mirror. What waits behind the gruesome veil of pain?
One fear I plan on exploring in fiction some day is one I come to a lot. This fear I have of what constitutes consciousness, and when does consciousness turn off? How long are we dying before we’re no longer aware of it, or anything else? Recent studies say those that were considered brain dead really weren’t, and could hear people and everything else if they ever make it back to the land of the living.
This makes me question where consciousness is stored, how it’s activated, and when is turned off? What if I’m dying and fully aware of it? How long before it goes away? Do I feel myself rotting, watch it all go down? Are my thoughts still running around in my head as my eyes rot out and my blood drips out from the last bit of my body? How long does the pain last? Do I feel my insides melting into goo? Can I taste the flies who taste me in those last hours?
Damn. I really hope I die in my sleep. But even then, what does that even mean? How do they know the person doesn’t briefly, quickly, wake and feel their lungs stop, their heart stop, and then everything on fire and burning fire and the nerves firing off their last synapses before it all winds down and ceases to be?
What a happy thought to think right before bed. Ah well. I do need to filter this into some story, some way. Not in the cheesy way twilight zoneish way. But rather, a character who has this same fear, this same obsession. Maybe a little girl who buries her dolls and constantly worries about her own death and the death of her family. Who’s created rituals in order to keep everyone alive and breathing still.