The Tone of Horror

My debut novel, Still Dark, dances a bit among genres. The tone overall is certainly one of the fun side of horror, a bit like a gruesome roller coaster that you just hang on to and see where you end up.
It took awhile for me to get comfortable with finding the right tone. One of my earliest stories was for an English class in high school. That was in the early days of me trying to be a creative person, and I wasn’t really ready to put myself out there completely. I surprised myself by choosing to write a short story for a class project. I turned it in, nervously anticipating my teacher’s reaction and subsequently melting into a puddle of embarrassed goo when he returned it to me, laughing hysterically.

It wasn’t a comedy.

It was a wonderful lesson into the delicate relationship between writer and reader, though I was still too young to really absorb the message back then. I think I just told myself I would never let anyone read anything I wrote again, a promise I kept until college.

Horror can be especially tricky to navigate because of how over-the-top the genre can naturally be. Imagine 80s slasher flicks, where the audience basically roots for the bad guy to kill the innocent kids as creatively as possible. Compare that to something like A Ghost Story, a straight-faced drama about a ghost haunting his old life dressed like Charlie Brown at Halloween. Without the right touch, it comes off as completely silly.
That’s the power and danger of tone. The tone of a book or movie can twist a story into a completely different genre, sometimes unintentionally. The best are able to weave in and out, slaloming between comedy and pitch-black drama at the drop of a dime. Think House of Leaves and the terrifying description of The Navidson tapes interwoven with the increasingly absurd footnotes. It’s enough to give you whiplash.

As a writer, it’s tough to decide on what side of that line to dance on. I find myself tending to stay away from the line altogether rather than muddy the waters. I’ll admit, that’s the easy way out. The relationship between reader and writer is ultimately one of trust. I got burned as a teenager, but what did I really expect? It’s taken years to get the confidence needed to put my faith in my readers, to just throw it out there and see what happens. Once you build that trust in your audience, well, the rest is out of your hands. After that, you just cross your fingers and hope they “get” what you’re going for.

Sometimes it will work out. Other times, they’ll laugh in your face.

Still Dark
D.W. Gillespie

When a thunderous explosion rocks an idyllic cabin resort in the Great Smoky Mountains, animals and humans alike begin to act strange. Jim, along with his wife Laura and son, Sam, are cut off from the outside world, but they soon realize the true nightmare is just beginning…

Deep in the snow-covered woods, something is waiting. The creature calls itself Apex, and it’s a traveler. Reading the minds of those around it, Apex brings the terrifying fears hidden in the human psyche to life with a singular purpose: to kill any that stand in its way.

Locked in a fight for their lives, Jim and his family must uncover the truth behind Apex, and stop the creature from wreaking a horrifying fate upon the rest of the world!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR — D.W. Gillespie has been writing dark fiction in one form or another since he was old enough to hold a pencil. He’s been featured in multiple horror anthologies, both in print and online. Still Dark is his debut novel, and his second book, a short collection titled Handmade Monsters, arrives in 2017. He lives in Tennessee with his wife and two children.

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