Saturday, January 05, 2008

Blood, Sweat, and Tears

Oddly, I woke up in the middle of the night and thought about how horror writing has a lot to do with how one describes bodily fluids and fits them into one's prose. Good fit goes a long way to making a tale touching, moving, scary, or even profound. Bad fit and you've just got - well, just bodily fluids. So here's my take during the daylight hours.

Some fluids should be more or less off limits: I'd say urine, vomit (yes, I know the Exorcist scene, but that's a movie [for most of us] and it's really never been duplicated to similar effect), and semen should be off limits. High on the gross out factor, high on gratuitousness, low on how they could fit into the plot (except to sicken and disgust, which I don't think are ends in themselves). Saliva should be described sparingly, though I do like describing what characters taste in their mouths (but enough with how they taste copper - is that in every horror novel from 2007?!).

Blood: got to have lots of it, of course, but in the middle of the night, it struck me how seldom I really see a lot of blood in real life. I've only been injured twice that I can recall where I really saw anything resembling a horror-story amount of blood. There's lot of blood in child birth, but that's all mixed in with other stuff and isn't really the arterial explosions that we write about in our stories. Then I wondered if maybe medical personnel would have an easier time of it, since they see it so much, but then I thought no, they're probably so used to it that they couldn't convey the horror and fear it inspires in "regular" people.

Sweat: Nice fluid, dirty but not gross. Good for setting mood or intensity. One that we're all familiar with from real life. On the other hand, can be taken to magic realism levels, as when Jesus is described as sweating drops of blood. That gets the point across.

Tears: To be honest, my favorite, maybe because it's not so common as sweat, but not so rare as blood in our regular lives, so we remember it vividly and make strong connections back to the times we've wept, and to the characters' experiences of weeping. I think I can get into desrciptions of tears and crying more than any of the other fluids.


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