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How comfortable are you with ambiguity in horror?

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JamesGBoswell View Drop Down
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    Posted: 11 Nov 2019 at 6:08pm
One thing I've noticed is that there's a spectrum when it comes to comfort levels with ambiguity as a plot device in horror. Some people prefer the very ambiguous, creeping, growing dread of existential horror like in Bird Box, while others prefer the explicit, in-your-face, "I'm going to kill you right now with this knife I'm holding in my hand"-sort of unambiguous terror like in slashers and gore-fests.

I fall almost completely on the side of the former; I don't want to see what the monster looks like or even know if there's really a monster there at all, I just want to be afraid that there could be a monster and believe it's probably horrible, if so. What about you?
I write dread-inducing stories inspired by H.P. Lovecraft and The Twilight Zone.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote ruagray Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 Nov 2019 at 6:17pm
I love it all. For the purposes of this contest, I think going more explicit might be the safer bet though.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote jennifer.quail Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 Nov 2019 at 9:51pm
Ambiguity is often scarier. But it's also usually over the judges' heads here.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote manifestlynot Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 Nov 2019 at 10:18pm
It’s tough - horror tropes typically includes some sort of violence and/or gore, which is not ambiguous at all. I can’t think of a horror story offhand that is super ambiguous without going to stories or movies that are more suspenseful or psychological thrillers, neither of which include violent tropes. I have not received horror in NYCM yet (I just jinxed myself didn’t I??) but I will definitely consider this debate when I do!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote cheddarbaked Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 Nov 2019 at 10:48pm
Originally posted by ruagray ruagray wrote:

I love it all. For the purposes of this contest, I think going more explicit might be the safer bet though.

Ugh, I got horror for round 3, and this is exactly what I don't want to hear, lol. My story does feature a murderous ghost, so I guess I just have to hope that's horror-y enough for the judges. It's just a really slow burn to get there. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote ruagray Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 Nov 2019 at 11:11pm
I think the concern is less about evoking horror and more whether the judge is paying enough attention/allowing themselves enough time to think about the story. Some of the feedback has been so off the mark that it almost shakes my faith in humanity.

To give some of the judging the benefit of the doubt, it may be fatigue from trying to judge too many stories in a window of time that are on same prompts. 

There are plenty of times when there is no issue at all. So being ambiguous isn't so much a death sentence as it is a roll of the dice imo.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote Fabala Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Nov 2019 at 2:04am
Originally posted by cheddarbaked cheddarbaked wrote:

Originally posted by ruagray ruagray wrote:

I love it all. For the purposes of this contest, I think going more explicit might be the safer bet though.

Ugh, I got horror for round 3, and this is exactly what I don't want to hear, lol. My story does feature a murderous ghost, so I guess I just have to hope that's horror-y enough for the judges. It's just a really slow burn to get there. 

I went pretty ambiguous for my first story and scored 15 points. Don't be discouraged! Smile
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote MontyinMaine Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Nov 2019 at 5:26am
This is where I struggled the most after drawing horror this round. I tried to find a balance but ended up more ambiguous than I intended. I think my story is more along the lines of disturbing than horrifying. This was the genre I most wanted, yet I found it was more challenging than Political Satire, which I dreaded. Very difficult to tell a story that horrifies in less than 1000 words. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote thebrokegamer Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Nov 2019 at 8:32am
Horror is sort of my home genre, and I always lean into ambiguity. To me, it's much more interesting to wonder if it's all in someone's head or if some force is really out to get them. Hits to a broader universal. 

Last year I thought I lucked out by drawing horror. I wrote a piece I'm still proud of about a man being wracked by guilt that had the same maybe-supernatural themes. It bagged 9th place, and every single top scorer was of the gory slasher variety. 

It's like pitting Shirley Jackson against Stephen King: two very valid interpretations of the genre, but some folks will just like one more than the other. Seems to be the consensus that the judges here are solidly in the Stephen King camp.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote MontyinMaine Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Nov 2019 at 8:38am
Yikes! My story sounds very similar to yours. I actually reread the Lottery and several Poe works when I drew horror. Maybe the judges have broadened their views on horror this year!
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