Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Two of a Kind

Occasionally on one of the many writer's groups I belong to, I'll mention that I see strong similarities between the genres of horror and erotica. Neither horror writers nor erotica writers take kindly to that. But I was recently contacted by a new erotica writer who used to write horror, and when I mentioned the similarities, he agreed. Finally.

Okay, just because someone agrees with me doesn't mean I'm right. It may mean that he's being polite. But I'll take what I can get.

Part of the problem is that I when I talk about the connection, I say that both erotica and horror writers manipulate their readers. Manipulate is not a popular word. Lots of negative connotations. But you'd think writers would be aware of the meaning of a word. Manipulate means to manage or use with skill.

What is being managed with skill? In horror, it's fear. In erotica, it's libido. Probably the most basic, primal drives in any creature with a brain.

More than any other genres, erotica and horror appeal to the senses. We use (a more PC word than manipulate) the senses to describe the setting and the action. With the right combination of sensory inputs, the trope of horror and erotica, we invite (again, a more palatable word than manipulate) the reader to experience feeling. We appeal to basic drives and elicit the desired response - a shiver of terror, or a shiver of sexual excitement.

Is there something morally wrong with that? (putting aside "moral" arguments against erotica) I don't think so. A reader picks up a horror novel expecting to be frightened. Anyone picking up erotica wants to be turned on by it. The writer is supposed to manipulate the reader into experiencing those feelings. That's the promise, the implied contract between writer and reader.

I think about things like the relationship between horror and erotica because I want to become a better writer. I feel that I can learn from horror writers. Now, I'll admit that I'm world's biggest wimp. I don't read much horror because it keeps me up at night. But I'm fascinated by how it does that to me. How do the best horror writers latch on to my imagination and skillfully force it to do their biddng? It's not what's on the page that terrifies. It's what lingers in the mind afterwards. It's in how the brain magnifies each detail into something scarier than even the writer imagined. I want to learn that skill and apply it to erotica. That may sound strange, but it's not that much of a leap. What is the first story humans ever told about ourselves? Adam and Eve. Sex and death have been intertwined in our psyches since the beginning. They are two of a kind.

4 comments:

Amanda said...

i think this is a very insightful observation, Kathleen.
i have no problem with the connection nor with the word manipulate. i love to create worlds and cause readers to think. what else is that, if not manipulation?

Kathleen Bradean said...

Somehow, I knew you'd be fine with a word like that. You've never feared controversy, which is one of the things I adore about you.

Amanda said...

sweet. nah, i have no fear of controversy; i'm more afraid of ambivalence. now that's scary ;)

hugs,
amanda

Shanna Germain said...

Hey Kathleen,

I teach a genre-writing class, and we have this discussion a lot. I write in both erotica and horror, and to me, both genres work to create a specific response in the reader (one of arousal, the other of fear). So, yes, I think your idea of manipulation is right on.

Glad I found your blog. Good food for thought.

Thanks, s.