by Laura Crum
Not too long ago I read a very gripping story about a “horse wreck”. I was riveted to the page (or screen), as was everyone else, judging by the comments. When I was done, I shook my head. Why is it we all like these horror stories?
Anybody remember that scene where the truck hits the horse and rider at the beginning of “The Horse Whisperer”? That scene hooked readers on the book. Same principle. People are drawn to the horrifying. Why do we stare as we pass traffic accidents? Why do we have an insatiable love for “thrillers” that feature everything from serial killers to national disasters to pedophiles? Why do we just love to read about the horrors that have happened to others? Whatever the reason is, a great many authors have totally cleaned up exploiting this principle.
Now, I have a confession to make. I cannot write this kind of thing. Though my books are mysteries, most of the actual violence either happens “offscreen” or is not “graphically described”. Has this helped with my success as a mystery author? No, I can’t say that it has. Does it make me a better writer than those who stoop to using that kneejerk, keep-em-on-the-edge-of-their-seats horror reflex? Not really. I’m not particularly admiring of that device, but I admit that it can be well done. The truth is I’m just repulsed at the thought of writing this stuff.
I don’t want to write of some of the dreadful things I’ve seen happen in the horse world, of the panic and pain and blood and grief. I don’t want to go into an intimate description of the darkness of doomed horses, though I try to describe their plight in a way that lets a reader see the true picture. I just don’t force the reader to stare hard. Does this make me a wimp? Maybe.
I guess I could tell horse stories of the training wrecks I’ve seen, and I have done this occasionally. But I do it to make a point, not to get the reader gripped by the violence of the situation. Those of us who have been in the horse biz a long time have seen many violent things involving horses. They do make gripping stories. But for me, that cheap knee jerk reaction of feeling gripped by the horror of it all always leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I’d rather read writing that told a simpler, cleaner tale.
I’m not advocating dodging reality—those of you who have read my books know that I directly confront the issue of mortality—both for us and our horses. But I don’t spend a lot of time wallowing in violent images. No doubt my books would be more popular if I did, judging by what sells. This just isn’t a path I chose to follow. Nor did I care to create a “super human” persona who can conquer in all sorts of outlandish situations—another thing that sells. I tried to keep my protagonist believable and based most of her experiences on things I have actually done.
So the next time I start reading a book or a blog post where it seems to me the writer is just jerking my “horror reflex” with her violent/dark stories, I’m going to close that book, and/or click on the little “X” in the corner. Cause life is too short to spend my time hooked on horror. How about you? Do you love those violent stories we see everywhere? Or are you, like me, a bit repulsed by them?