Today, the most responsible parents and guardians “scare” children to instill basic moral principles and ensure the survival of the species: it is wrong to steal, lie, talk to strangers, disobey parental instructions. The whole purpose of horror fiction is to scare readers, but the idea that deliberately scaring children is immoral and reprehensible is deeply ingrained in our society. It is probably as deep as the belief that children’s literature should be useful and valuable, conveying good and solid ideals to impressionable young minds. The idea that children can really enjoy fear is unpleasant, because we are all aware that no one reacts to fear in the same way as a child. Children suffer from unexplained and irrational phobias and nightmares. Children can become obsessed with a single glance at an image, which can be terrifying for months. However, this same little person will actively search for a copy of Lee Striker’s “Revenge of the Vampire Librarian.” Has no sense!
Or does it?
Horror is synonymous with “scare”, and not necessarily for an educational or moralistic purpose. One problem is the real word Horror; it is often mentioned with contempt and without positive comments. It seems difficult to say that horror fiction can be a good thing and that it is acceptable, even recommended, for children to read this genre. These are points that all of the most successful writers in the child horror genre acknowledge, and they all approach the delicate subject with consideration and respect. And when you consider the phenomenal growth of this genre, it would seem that these writers know what they are doing.
So what happens in horror writing for kids?
Most of the books of this genre share a similar structure or formula: a family situation becomes unknown. Cliff-hangers are very effective because they lead the reader from one chapter to another. Often times, the victim never quite escapes, and a slight chill is often included at the end. Here are some points that I have picked up during my research on this topic:
Know your audience.
Your target audience is generally between eight and 12 years old, sometimes even 14 years old. Both genders are included, and it’s worth noting that this genre is encouraging children who ‘don’t like to read’ to change their negative attitudes towards books and reading. Celebrated children’s horror writer Margaret Clark claims that while some of her younger readers may not understand every word in the book, they can understand the whole story. She also feels that reading this genre has become “cultish, so it’s important to be seen reading one of these books.“
Clark wrote a thesis on television and violence for his honorary degree and knows his target audience: “I saw kindergarten kids playing with chunks of bark trying to shoot each other, and I’d say you can’t have guns in kindergarten and not allow violent games, but you’ll still get them by jumping off the top from the climb. Marco yelling “Heroes of the Universe!” So if you can’t beat them, join them. ”
Empowerment is the key.
Humans love to be afraid and children are no exception. One of the most important points to remember when writing child horror is to keep the victims of the story in charge of the situation. Make them take control of the story; Clark refers to this as “the safety net”. So as they frantically try to escape an evil witch, send a possessed toy, or perhaps free a friend or family member from a nasty curse, there is always hope and always a solution. Of course, the solution may require a bit of effort, thought, and application of the acquired knowledge, but there must always be a way to deal with a horrible situation.
It’s natural for children to be mischievous, so applying this childhood aspect to this genre offers very obvious appeal to young readers. Kids love pushing boundaries, testing boundaries, and offering a bit of resistance to authority. In children’s horror literature there is an excellent opportunity for a writer to allow young readers a degree of freedom to indulge in their “mischief.” For kids, part of the appeal of reading a horror story is that some adults may not approve of the genre, but reading a thrilling horror story is a pretty sure way to indulge in a little “mischief.” Horror fiction for children is a way of coming to understand the ethical chaos that we all encounter in our lives, so it makes sense that a good horror story can turn out to be a benefit for many young readers.
Know the limits.
Don’t let detailed descriptions of monsters / witches / vampires and their cowardly deeds get in the way of the story. Don’t focus on the blood. Irresponsible writing can have a negative effect on a young and growing mind. The last thing any child horror writer wants is to be told that their work has corrupted a young mind. Also remember that the mind and imagination of an eight year old is very different from that of a ten, 12 or even 14 year old.
Robert Hood of the “Creepers” writing team has done many promotional book tours and recounts how he met children who have read three of the series’ books in quick succession. When you ask them what their favorite parts are, most of them rave about the gory parts: “Like when the guy rips his face off and all the worms fall off!” The adults were absolutely horrified, but the kids loved it. “This type of description is known as silly horror – because it really is nonsense, and in the hands of a skilled writer it will not affect any impressionable mind.
Don’t use horror just for the sake of horror. Use your discretion to decide what will and will not improve your story. Some horror stories for children can develop out of everyday fears, such as relationships with siblings and loneliness. Sliding worms, slime, pus, and mucus discharge are common features, but blood is used with caution. In “Revenge of the Vampire Librarian”, parents believe that a rust-colored carpet stain is a watermark. According to author Margaret Clark: “Often adults are idiots who cannot see what is going on in front of their noses.”
Don’t go too far
It is not easy to justify murder and blood by children’s writing. Do not turn your parents or siblings into monsters, and do not inflict unnecessary and irreparable bodily harm on anyone close to the hero (s) or heroine (s), including beloved pets. The main villain or monster must symbolize a threat, but that threat must always be able to be defeated, overcome, or temporarily stopped. There should always be a solution. You can also emphasize good social qualities like friendship, faith, loyalty, trust, and responsibility in the story.
Control and comedy
Writing child horror gives you the opportunity to help your young readers realize that it is possible to face the scariest things in life. Fear, grief, loss, the monster under the bed … your words can help them examine these problems and gain a sense of power and control over them. Horror fiction offers a safe place to examine and perhaps take control over the scariest aspects of life. Horror fiction can be a playground for children to safely explore everyday fears.
The scarier the horror story becomes, the element of humor becomes an important consideration. A zombie that chases a person, adult or child, does not seem so malevolent if it begins to decompose and lose body parts during the chase. Use humor as a buffer, countering any possible psychological trauma with literary fear.
Horror writers should not and cannot portray genuine horror so realistically that impressionable young readers develop fears that they carry with them into everyday life. You also shouldn’t make fun of your monsters so much that they don’t conjure up the appropriate terror. When they open your book, readers must believe the horror it creates, or they won’t get an emotional reward. Horror writing for kids is a difficult and delicate balancing act, and if you do it right, your audience will love it for it!