Tata Lit Live Mumbai 2016 : Workshop on Tales of Horror

Do you like horror? What is the best part of horror movies? Did you like the movie Conjuring or the Paranormal Activity series? Horror in itself is a never-ending topic that excites millions of curious minds. Horror keeps us terrified and in suspense for most of the part. However, writing or presenting horror fiction has a long history  -from back in Shakespeare’s era to today’s experimental cinema with werewolves and vampires. We had a chance to listen to many valuable bits and pieces from Darryl Jones, the facilitator at Tata Literature Live Festival in a workshop. Take the journey with me in the tantalising world and nuances of classic horror fiction:

Back then

Horror has a long history dated back to the Shakespeare era where he attempted his first tragedy emulating the violent and bloody revenge plays of his time. Titus Andronicus, the play is considered as Shakespeare’s bloodiest and most violent work. Though it was extremely popular at that time but it also received nods of disapproval mainly because of the distasteful use of graphic violence.

Darryl Jones took us back in 17th century to understand how horror can be distasteful if one failed to choose right graphics and content.

A scene from Shakespeare’s Play Titus Andronicus
A scene from Shakespeare’s Play Titus Andronicus

Horror as an art

Darryl defines horror as an art:

“Horror is unarguably an extreme art form. By definition, such art is not to everyone’s taste as it is deliberately set out to antagonise large parts of population.” 

“Horror is also a phobic cultural form, both in the sense that it is designed to produce a specific reaction to fear and loathing but also have cultural preoccupations.”

Writing horror fiction

Writing a horror fiction requires the same courage that you usually lend out from your friend while watching horror movies. Fear is one of the strongest human emotions and to challenge fear in someone you need to write a compelling horror story. However, it is not possible if you don’t know the basics of it or you fail to understand your audience. Today, more or less some parts of horror movies have become so predictable to the audience that it is becoming difficult to hold a grip on them. Hence, writing a compelling horror story is as much important as directing a horror movie. Gratefully, Darryl Jones, the facilitator at Tales of Horror Writing Spine-chilling stories workshop enlightened us with his excellent knowledge of writing horror fiction.

If you are a writer and is specifically good in one or two genre but like to try a hand in writing horror fiction, you’ll find below tips extremely useful:

Understanding horror

Writing spine-chilling horror stories is not only an art but a technique one needs to understand to become a great horror story-teller. Darryl Jones went in depth to make us understand that horror fiction is not only about blood, violence, intense and gory representation but we should also aim to understand the psyche of your targeted audience.

The aesthetics of horror

The success of great horror fiction lies in curiosity, the mystery which remains unresolved or uneasy in nature. Horror can be categorised into:

Terror – awe, numinous or metaphysical, dread or fear

Horror – shock, disgust

The psyche of an audience

The workshop – Tales of horror received a good amount of debate as well as questions by the attendees sharing their own experiences as the workshop progressed with time.

Understanding the psyche of an audience is equally important along with elements like enticing idea, an appropriate usage of the gross out, right amount of graphics enough to spread terror and to challenge the fear factor among the audience.

According to one of the attendees at the workshop, younger audience is right audience to receive a good response for a horror fiction as they continue to believe in ghosts.

Atmosphere and sense of place

The image below of an abandoned house –  isn’t it frightening enough? Does it challenge your curiosity enough? It does, right!


According to Darryl Jones, it is highly important that a writer should have a sense of choosing a right place and create right atmosphere in order to represent horror in its best form. The place plays an important role in horror movies and it certainly gives right vibes making it easy for a writer to create that terrorised atmosphere to his/her readers. It also stirs their curiosity instantly making them vulnerable to the situations.

Travelling from certain to uncertainty

Unrealistic factors like made up ghost stories, vampire stories or imagining supernatural powers also bring lots of spice in horror fiction. Here are categories of unreality laid out by Darryl Jones.

The Uncanny – epistemological uncertainty, unease and doubt, ghost stories, tales of madness

The Fantastic – the irruption of the supernatural into a realistic order; vampire stories or most supernatural horror

The Marvellous – The existence of magic and the supernatural is taken for granted; part of the accepted social order, fantasy and fairy tales.

Writing is an extensive exercise and while writing any genre we consider lot of elements into it. Darryl Jones certainly made easy for us by letting out the insightful elements of horror fiction. I hope the above pointers will prove useful for the writer in you!

About Darryl Jones

darryl-jonesDarryl Jones is the Dean of Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences and a professor in the school of English at Trinity College Dublin. He is the author of 12 books, including the most recent editions of Collected Ghost Stories of M. R. James, The Gothic Tales off Arthur Conan Dyle and Horror Stories: Classic Tales from Hoffman to Hodgson, all published by Oxford University Press. He is currently working on H. G. Wells, and writing a monograph on horror fiction and film.


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