Do You Like Mystery in Your Horror?

'Salem's Lot: Illustrated Edition
‘Salem’s Lot: Illustrated Edition (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do You Like Mystery Involved with Your Horror?

Traci Kenworth


In the horror stories you read, do you like a bit of mystery involved with who/what the monster/evil etc. is? Or do you like to know up front what’s involved (vampires, werewolves, clowns) so you can dig into who the characters are and what is going to happen to them instead? In other words, do you like what the gooey blob is to remain hidden until the climax, or would you prefer to know it’s something that escaped from a science experiment and how that experiment came about? I actually like both types, but I’m working on the mystery part with something I’m kicking around in the developmental stages right now.

There’s a story to be had in either case, whether you pick the traditional vampires (Salem’s Lot by Stephen King) or the mystery (The Heart-shaped Box by Joe Hill). Both are haunting but I read in a recent interview with Joe Hill (Yes, I know he’s Stephen King’s son) that the best “monster” in horror would be Jaws because the shark isn’t onscreen (or on the page) much. Twelve minutes total in the first movie’s version but each time it IS there, it’s terrifying. He also went on to say that we’re more afraid of something we’re not familiar with (exposed to constantly), and I think that’s true as well.

Look at the vampire. It’s become a bit less intimidating with all the recent press it’s gotten (Twilight). Werewolves, are in the same boat. Zombies are the current craze and I wonder if they’ll falter as well. Perhaps that’s why they pull in human “evil” as well on Walking Dead, so it’s not the creatures we shudder at all the time. So, I’m trying to leave my own monsters off the page as much as possible in my own stories. I want the reader to be conscious of them sure, but not pummeled by them. That way, when I do cut them loose on the pages, they can spill blood all over them. So what do you think? Would you like to see more of, or less of, the monster/evil/monstrosity you’re reading about?

Heart-Shaped Box
Heart-Shaped Box (Photo credit: sweet mustache)


11 thoughts on “Do You Like Mystery in Your Horror?

  1. Excellent questions, Traci. I prefer the mystery. It makes it more suspenseful. I tend to not scare easily. Monsters and such really don’t give me a fright. But throw in a scene where a person is rummaging through the suspect’s belongings, and I can’t watch. It’s torture. I get so anxious, lol.

    And you’re so right about the human evil on The Walking Dead. I shudder much more at the Governor than the zombies. We know what the zombies want and how they’ll go about getting it. The governor, however, is unpredictable. 😉


    1. So, true, Jenn (about the Governor versus the zombies)!! Humans can definitely be more scarier sometimes!! I guess we just don’t want to believe someone like him exists.


  2. I like psychological horror, where characters are really forced to make impossible choices. I also like monsters that really embody the characters worst nightmare. Stephen king is a master at this I think!


  3. I’ll never forget the scene (though I can’t recall what move/TV show it was in) where a man was forced to choose between saving his wife’s life or his daughter’s (both were dangling from a cliff and he could only pull one up). That would be SO heartbreaking.


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