By Writing Excuses | May 13, 2012 - 10:26 pm - Posted in Guest, Horror, Live, Season 7

Michael R. Collings and his son Michaelbrent Collings join us live at UVU to talk with us about cathartic horror. In particular, we talk about how the catharsis is part of what makes horror such a delightful genre. Michael leads with an example from his own writing, a novel called The Slab. Brandon talks about the physiological response, and Mary compares the cautionary aspects of horror to the early (read: pre-Disney) fairy tales. Dan cautions us against didacticism, and explains about how the underlying story is usually quite different from what’s on the page. Michaelbrent further explains how our personal catharses empower us to write good stories and invoke similar responses from our readers.

Free Shot: No, Howard wasn’t even in the room for this episode.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Slab, by Michael R. Collings, narrated by Andy Bowyer

Writing Prompt: Adapt the unadaptable fairy tale Mary introduced us to (the one about the little old lady who catches on fire and dies).

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This entry was posted on Sunday, May 13th, 2012 at 10:26 pm and is filed under Guest, Horror, Live, Season 7. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

15 Comments

  1. May 13, 2012 @ 11:38 pm


    I’m guessing the professor didn’t have many 15 minute lectures. This concise format was not a good match for his speaking style. I’ll get more from this episode by reading the transcript. It was a challenging listen.

    Big high-five to Mary. Her “heart-warming” line saved the show! :)

    Posted by Wendy
  2. May 14, 2012 @ 1:26 am
  3. May 14, 2012 @ 2:41 am


    A cautionary story about drawing on personal horror to improve your own writing – it has to be something your target audience can identify with. One of the Earthbound games draws upon the writer’s traumatic childhood experience of accidentally walking in on a hardcore rape-murder scene in some manner of erotic film. (Porn and horror have more to do with eachother when you’re in Japan, apparently.) The result of this is a supposedly disturbing final boss. Basically, it’s a god that’s going to destroy the world, so you go back in time and kill it while it’s a fetus. While the concept of going and murdering a fetus is disturbing, the fact that the baby in question is going to destroy the planet if you don’t makes it rather difficult to sympathize. It just fails to work completely for anyone who actually understands the story.

    In short, if you’re drawing on personal unique phobias, it’s likely not going to work. Lovecraftian horror is one of the few exceptions to this. (There are plenty of more normal phobias to work with (some, like loss of a child, are universal among those of sound mind), so, please, go with something your audience will identify with.)

    Posted by Rashkavar
  4. May 14, 2012 @ 12:15 pm


    I forgot how creepy Mary can be till this podcast. She’s even scarier in person.

    I remember hearing or reading somewhere that a cheap easy way to come up with horror was to pick any two common phobias and throw them together. I don’t know if there’s truth to that or not, I’m not a horror fan, which means I don’t actually write horror. I should probably try it out to broaden my writing skill set.

    That was one take away I got from Howard at LTUE (in a different panel), focus on one thing you’re bad at and practice hard till you’re not bad at it anymore. Get a mentor too, so you’re not practicing the wrong things.

    Posted by Talmage
  5. May 15, 2012 @ 9:15 am


    A nice discussion with two authors I don’t know with some interesting ideas about turning personal horror into fiction.

    That said, I want to add on to (I think) Michael R. Collings’s commentary on horror and pornography as genres that are meant to get affects out of the audience. Linda Williams has a nice essay (paywalled, sorry: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/1212758?uid=3739920&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21100802190431) on what she calls body genres, which are the genres meant to get some affect out of the audience: horror (fear), porn (lust), and melodrama (sadness). I especially like her point that these “body genres” rely on some character in the work standing in for/feeling the affect that the audience is supposed to feel, i.e., someone getting scared in horror or turned on in pornography. (Which is why it’s funny when we get non-scared characters in horror mashups, cf. Jeeves and Wooster in Lovecraftian stories.)

    Posted by BenjaminJB
  6. May 15, 2012 @ 9:24 am


    Warning: this comment is real sf/academic nerdy, but I think writers in a genre should struggle with the important works of their genre–both fictional and critical.

    I want to take a slight exception to Brandon Sanderson’s comment on fantasy/sf dressing vs. the main meat of the characters. I don’t totally disagree with Brandon–one of my favorite definitions of sf comes from Theodore Sturgeon, who highlighted the character element that some (often young) writers don’t care about:

    “A good science fiction story is a story about human beings, with a human problem, and a human solution, that would not have happened at all without its science content.”

    That’s very close to what Ursula K. Le Guin says in “Science Fiction and Mrs. Brown” about how sf relies on characters; but it’s very different from what Joanna Russ says in “Towards an Aesthetics of Science Fiction,” where Russ polishes off the definition that sf is a literature of ideas, where the ideas themselves are the important part. That is, Sturgeon and Le Guin seem to agree with Sanderson, but Russ’s focus on ideas doesn’t. Who is right?

    Personally, I don’t know that we need to be prescriptive and declare a winner; but I wouldn’t mind opening the possibility for both kinds of sf/fantasy: character-based stories (that couldn’t happen without some speculative element) and speculative stories that focus on the big ideas.

    Posted by BenjaminJB
  7. May 15, 2012 @ 10:33 am


    I tend to agree with Brandon’s assessment that the genre stories are first about the characters and are human stories. However, that leaves out idea stories where the magic/technology were the central thought being explored and the characters merely the window dressing. Some of the earlier science fiction stories were much more about the ideas than the characters.

    The ones that succeed (for me) are the ones that get both elements right. Sometimes the technology or magic is anthropomorphized to make it a character of the story as well. A lovely example of big idea + character + anthropomorphized tech is the short story, A Logic named Joe, written in 1946 by Will F. Jenkens/Murray Leinster(pseudonym).

    Ultimately we are social creatures that like connecting with each other. Because of this, I think we’ll see a strong prevalence of stories focused on people, or things made to look or act like people. Other stories will exist but not in the same number and not with the same impact on our psyche, generally.

    Posted by Talmage
  8. May 15, 2012 @ 3:02 pm


    “A good … story is a story about human beings, with a human problem, and a human solution …”

    “A … science fiction story is a story … with a … problem, and a … solution, that would not have happened at all without its science content.”

    “A good science fiction story is a story about human beings, with a human problem, and a human solution, that would not have happened at all without its science content.”

    I think it comes down to explaining genre fiction to a popular audience vs categorizing genre fiction for an analytic audience.

    Posted by Onymous
  9. May 15, 2012 @ 6:34 pm


    Don’t open that door!

    Well, unless you want to know what’s lurking down in the basement, waiting just for you…

    Okay! Ye olde transcript. Unfortunately, I’m not quite sure that I got the two Michael’s voices identified correctly — i.e., there may be instances of [Michael R] that should be [Michaelbrent] and vice-versa. Still, I think most of the words are there!

    http://wetranscripts.livejournal.com/59278.html

    Posted by Mike Barker
  10. May 15, 2012 @ 6:58 pm


    Are you responsible for all the transcripts, Mike Barker? They’ve been very helpful when I’ve needed to remind myself about something, so thank you!

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to read about while male privilege on Scalzi’s blog.

    Posted by BenjaminJB
  11. May 20, 2012 @ 12:10 pm


    [...] Writing Excuses podcast 7.20: Cathartic Horror. Michael R. Collings and his son Michaelbrent Collings join the Writing Excuses team live at UVU to talk with us about cathartic horror. In particular, they talk about how the catharsis is part of what makes horror such a delightful genre. Michael leads with an example from his own writing, a novel called The Slab. [...]

  12. May 22, 2012 @ 11:31 am


    On the subject of eliciting a physiological response: Humor should be included as well. Synonyms for good jokes often describe a physical reaction: sidesplitter, gut buster, rib tickler, scream, and so on.

    Posted by Mark VanTassel
  13. May 27, 2012 @ 11:35 am


    [...] got two great podcasts from Writing Excuses to share with you this week. The first is on Cathartic Horror with guests Michael Collings and Michaelbent Collings. The next is a Project in Depth look at [...]

  14. August 8, 2012 @ 6:29 am


    Cool stuff. I’ll get more from this episode by reading the transcript. It was a challenging listen.

    Ultimately we are social creatures that like connecting with each other. Because of this, I think we’ll see a strong prevalence of stories focused on people, or things made to look or act like people. Other stories will exist but not in the same number and not with the same impact on our psyche, generally.

    Posted by Writing Horror
  15. November 20, 2012 @ 9:21 am


    Just a quick thank you to Writing Excuses– as a sophmore and a creative writing major who thankfully brought a few extra credits into the college experience, I had to fight to get into Michael Collings upper division class on Science Fiction and Fantasy. It was absolutely one of my favorite classes I took, and I wish I could take it again. I was doubly thankful as it turned out to be his very last semester. I was so so very pleased to hear his voice here! Brevity and concision may not be his gift, but his rambling lectures were just fantastic!

    Posted by CassandraMarie