What is psychological suspense?
My new novel, Storyland, is a thriller. In fact, I call it a psychological thriller or psychological suspense novel. That sounds great, you may think, but what the hell does that mean? Is it scary? Is it a horror novel?
For me, the best tales of terror are the ones that creep up on you. Yes, I still have fun seeing the slasher films and the movies where things jump out of the screen at you. I just saw IT and it is one of the best horror movies I have seen in a long time and it definitely has some jump-out-and-boo moments. Lots of them. It also combines elements of the psychological suspense, though.
One of my all time favorite horror movies is one that will probably surprise you. Yes, I love Alien and The Thing and Suspiria and Psycho and Halloween, but my all time fave is one by David Cronenberg called Dead Ringers. It is a self-contained story of two twin gynecologists who slowly and utterly go insane. It is one of the most chilling and psyche-scarring movies I have ever seen. To this day, I remember Jeremy Irons' performance and how his portrayal of the twins descending into madness at two different rates is one of the greatest performances in cinema.
That is the kind of horror I really love. I love when it seeps in on the sides, slowly narrowing down your viewpoint, the way you see it, look at the characters, and perceive the movie until you are face-to-face with the horror that has been revealed at the end.
I didn't necessarily set out to write this kind of fiction, but it seems I have slowly slipped into the writer of suspense. I am a thriller writer. I write about scary things, but there is usually a mystery tied to it. The characters have to work to find the horror. Lots of people have died in my books, but the horror is the kind that waits for you down the end of a dark hallway, rather than grabbing your ankle from beneath the bed and dragging you under.
Storyland is one that surprised me as I wrote it. I knew that I wanted to explore imagination, and this idea that stories and creative things come from some other dimension. However, I soon morphed that story into a deep dive into memories, false memories, repressed memories, and how we, in a sense, drive ourselves insane to make the world around us seem safer and more sane than it is. I feel if we look at the world, the universe, as it truly is, without its masks and games, we would all go a little bit mad.
Storyland looks at the things we experience as kids. Things that we think are probably normal, until we look at them again as adults and realize that we spent so much time in those early years teetering on danger, death and madness.
I think that the horror and tension of Storyland is the kind that creeps up on you. It seems like a standard mystery, until the walls between reality and memory come down and the true horror of the past connects to an even greater horror of the present and reality slams home. The masks come off and the narrator and the reader teeter over the brink of the abyss and stare right into it.
That's the kind of suspense and horror I like. It's the kind I want to keep writing. It's the kind that I think readers enjoy and I enjoy telling. I like to scare you. I want to seep into your subconscious and into your nightmares, but I want to sneak my way in. I'm a creeper.
That's what I tried to accomplish with Storyland. Psychological suspense, horror and thrillers come up behind you and then hit you over the head. They misdirect with some jumps and scares over there, while the true horror hides right behind you until you turn around and then it grabs you by the neck.
Those are the tales that stick with me as a fan of thrills & chills. I hope that's the kind of story you like, too.