To splatter gore or not to splatter gore?
This is the epic question that every Horror writer must ask themselves. How bloody and gory should this work be? What is the limit that I can push my readers to where they are disgusted, but not to the point of where they can no longer read? There is a very fine line between keeping a reader’s attention with the “gross factor” and losing a reader from being inundated by excessive carnage.
I am neutral on the topic of splatter gore. The level of splatter gore is determined by the subject matter of a story. This dictates whether it is the right time or right story to contain this type of repugnant action.
For instance, when the story is about Zombies or some equally gruesome antagonist, I expect there to be blood and guts with bones cracking and
flesh noshing. If no one is being disemboweled or if entrails are not lying about, I feel like I have been cheated. With this type of story, I need the gore to fly as a tool and the action. This means that in a well written splatter gore story, the gore does not advance the plot. The gore is only a prop.
In contrast to that, in Vampire stories I expect elegance and culture with slight references to blood, blood sucking, blood letting, or any kind of blood extraction methods. The descriptions of the gory actions are not overly explained, which leaves the details of the gore up to the reader’s imagination. My view on this may be because my first trip into vampirism was through Stroker, Le Fanu, and Polodori. Their stories were filled with grace, not carnage. Even Carmilla’s bathing in blood scene was described in pure elegance. Any scenes of gore were merely light extras added in to cause a rumble of terror.
Then there is the medium grade gore level of “monster” stories with antagonists like the Wolf Man, Frankenstein, the Devil, etc. I expect this level of gore to be more than Vampires but less than Zombies. The carnage is added for additional terror and slight stomach queasiness, though the author still forces the reader’s imagination to run wild with medium gore descriptions. These are the stories I like to call the “happy medium” in splatter gore.
I tend to lean toward stories of the “happy medium”. It is not because gore disgusts me (as I rarely become “grossed out” – except when I see someone pick their nose and eat the boogers… ewwww), but it is that I prefer the carnage to not be the driving factor in a story. The human mind is much more imaginative than any words written on paper or scene shown in a movie. Leave some details up to your reader’s imagination, as that will take your stories further than telling your reader a scene in explicit detail. Personally, the things that go on in my mind terrify me more than anything that I read. When a reader is forced to imagine a scene, that stays with them longer than visually showing or explaining it to them.
Now, don’t get me wrong in all of this. Heavy splatter gore has its place. I use it on occasion in my writing. There is also a genuine and viable market for the “Splatter” sub-genre (splatter gore, splatter punk, etc.). A lot of books come out of that sub-genre that are extremely terrifying and well written. However, the gore, while abundant, does not drive best of the “Splatter” stories. The gruesome carnage is used as only a prop.
When the emphasis is placed for the gore to drive the story, the reader is going to close the cover. It is a sensory overload for them. If you have over 50,000 words of nothing but slice ’em, dice ’em, gut ’em — it’s going to either (a) burn the reader out or (b) gross them out. The effect from (a) or (b) is that the author’s book gets put down.
It is perfectly acceptable to use splatter gore, but only use it when the tone and the theme of your story calls for it. And do not allow the gore to drive your story.
Good points. Everyone sets their own threshold here. For me it’s more about the fear, the pain, and the terror of what’s happening than a detailed visual. It needs to be there, but only to drive those other feelings.
Very true words and I completely agree.
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