Most horror writers like to scare and unnerve with their fiction. We’re a little twisted that way.
In today’s digital age, when everyone can see everything ever created to scare people by hitting play, the opportunities to terrify readers, moviegoers, and video gamers are more challenging than ever.
A lot of people enjoy being scared in a controlled environment like reading a book in their bedroom or watching a movie in the theater or visiting a Halloween attraction.
However, we’ve seen it all, especially my generation who spent their teenage years in the awesome ‘80s.
The result is a desensitized, hard-to-impress horror consumer. Despite the blockbuster success of movies like IT and A QUIET PLACE, horror like comedy is difficult to do well.
Honestly, when was the last time you were really scared? It probably wasn’t reading a book or watching a movie. It was likely something that happened in real life.
Maybe a severe thunderstorm? Tornados are terrifying. In 1996, the movie TWISTER grossed more than $241 million at domestic theaters based on that fear.
Maybe a vicious dog? CUJO, anyone?
Or maybe something as mundane as a trip to the dentist? Don’t feel bad. All the ingredients are there for fear. A masked man, anesthesia, a drill. Yikes!
Scaring people is important to me as a writer. As I generate ideas for the horror stories I write, my mind drifts to the more realistic horror of Jack Ketchum. However, I enjoy reading horror sprinkled with elements of the supernatural or the unexplained. To pick an example everyone knows, think Stephen King’s PET SEMATARY.
I wanted a reminder of what really scares people, so I checked out a handful of Top 10 lists of common phobias, which are irrational fears. Nothing really surprised me on these lists. I imagine the Top 10 phobias would’ve been similar in the awesome ‘80s (sorry, but I really miss the ‘80s).
I was more surprised by what wasn’t on the lists. The fear of dying, or the fear of water, or the fear of losing one’s cellphone weren’t in the Top 10 of the lists I viewed. Death was in the Top 20, though, along with public speaking, being alone, and needles. No clowns, oddly enough.
One thing all the Top 10 phobias have in common is their basis in reality. There are no demons, ghosts, ghouls, serial killers, vampires, or witches on these lists. It’s the everyday stuff that scares people.
I’m using the list on Fearof.net, but most of the lists were similar except for one or two differences.
Here are the Top 10 Phobias of All Time, according to Fearof.net:
- Arachnophobia – fear of spiders
- Ophidiophobia – fear of snakes
- Acrophobia – fear of heights
- Agoraphobia – fear of open or crowded spaces
- Cynophobia – fear of dogs
- Astraphobia – fear of thunder and lightning
- Claustrophobia – fear of small spaces
- Mysophobia – fear of germs
- Aerophobia – fear of flying
- Trypophobia – fear of holes
As a writer, these lists give me food for thought. Do I ground more of my horror stories in reality? Do I write a story about spiders and snakes instead of a demon stalking the shadows?
Personally, my biggest fear is living in a world without donuts. Sorry, that was a joke … sort of.
Seriously, my biggest fear is being buried alive and slowly suffocating to death. I’m not sure if it rises to the level of a phobia for me because I never really think about it. But it’s interesting that the fear of being buried alive is legitimate enough to have a name: taphophobia.
That means other people have the fear, which means I’m not alone.
But I would be alone if I was buried alive.
But I never really think about it … that much.
I think I need a donut.