International Bon Vivant and Raconteur (nick_kaufmann) wrote,
International Bon Vivant and Raconteur

Knifepoint Horror? Really?

One of the problems with being semi-well known in the horror genre -- not because of anything I've written, mind you, but because I've been doing it professionally for seven years now and have successfully resisted the urge to hang myself -- is that I get weird, somewhat desperate emails from new authors trying to establish themselves. And almost without fail they try in exactly the wrong ways.

The latest case in point is an email that arrived in my In Box while I was away at Necon:

Subject: An Introduction to Knifepoint Horror

Dear Mr. Kaufman,

Okay, lesson #1: When sending spam emails, it helps to get the recipient's name right so he at least reads on instead of hitting the Delete button in disgust. Not everyone is as morbidly curious as I am to see what kind of a train wreck will follow.

My name is [name], and I would like to introduce you to an entirely new genre of horror.

There are many ways to tell a story, but I believe that to truly scare a reader, not merely entertain or amuse, horror should be pared down to such an essential, minimalist form that literally nothing is left over to allow the mind even a respite of a single paragraph. To accomplish this, the most primal element of storytelling---a single human voice describing events exactly as it experienced them, without the intrusion of a writer’s artifice---is adhered to without variation or exception.

Remember that old chestnut about showing instead of telling? Send it packing to Florida with the other old timers, where it can live out the rest of its days playing shuffleboard and freezing to death in the over-air conditioned club! This is the new horror, baby! Knifepoint! (Insert jazz hands here.)

Seriously, this already sounds like a terrible idea. Reading something that focuses solely on events, without style, character or atmosphere, without detail, sounds incredibly tedious. What we used to call "eye death" in school.

Knifepoint horror tells its stories through taut, unadorned first person narratives which carefully mimic the sound of that agonized human voice. It’s a voice which needs to tell its tale so badly that it shuns all the stylish techniques which can dilute, stretch, and burden tales of terror with unnecessary detail. To read knifepoint is to sit beside a stranger in the dark and hear him say, Now I will tell you exactly what happened to me.

That happened to my friend Mark one time at a bar in Vermont. He sat down next to an older man, who turned to him and said, "You ever seen combat, boy?" Then proceeded to talk about 'Nam for the rest of the night.

Knifepoint can have no standard passages of dialogue, no excursions into the minds of characters other than the narrator’s, no comic relief, no romance, not even any standard paragraph and sectional breaks. It must sound to the ear like a spontaneous confession. Even the use of traditional upper and lowercase lettering is forbidden---only cold, emotionless capital letters may tell the story on the page. The most complex of tales, which might normally fill hundreds of pages, must be stripped down to its bare spine.

Read that again. I'm begging you. Read it again and try not to crack up when he gets to the bit about "only cold, emotionless capital letters." Now try to imagine an entire novel all in caps with no paragraphs or dialogue. Eye death!

This is storytelling that absolutely must have a riveting story to work, simply because no other writing skills are truly allowed to emerge. The challenge for the writer is to scare a reader with no tools but a tremulous campfire voice too devastated to enhance the awful truth of its experience.

I'm kind of wishing this email would adhere to the Knifepoint rules now. "Tremulous campfire voice too devastated to enhace the awful truth of its experience"? Wasn't the writing supposed to be taut and unadorned? How come -- and this is the $64,000 question, at least in the horror genre -- how come the ones who pound their chests and proclaim themselves plot-driven, meat-and-potatoes kind of writers are always the ones with the most overwrought, flowery, thesaurus-heavy writing style?

In April of this year I published Knifepoint Horror: Volume One, downloadable for free from The book can also be previewed at [] or purchased from Amazon. I would very much like for you to investigate this genre in the hopes that you might join me in pushing horror forward while returning it to its simplest and most effective roots.

Push horror forward? What this plucky go-getter doesn't seem to understand is that horror, while perhaps the most malleable of genres when it comes to subject matter and choice of writing style, is nothing without the details. Compare a detailed passage that talks about something hidden in shadow, how it makes the protagonist feel knowing something is there but not being able to see it, perhaps hearing its breath or the sounds of movement, a peculiar smell, a glint of light off its eye -- compare that to a passage without detail: "I knew something was there, but I could not see it. Frightened, I ran away." (Actually, in Knifepoint, that would be, "I KNEW SOMETHING WAS THERE, BUT I COULD NOT SEE IT. FRIGHTENED, I RAN AWAY.")

Some people are so desperate to stand out that they feel the need to completely fabricate a movement to belong to, instead of taking the time to find one's place or letting a new movement develop organically. We've seen it countless times, from the Interstitial to the Bizarro. It's always a losing proposition because A) it doesn't stand the test of time, and B) no one outside the movement tends to hear about it or be impacted by it anyway.

You'll notice I redacted the author's name. I was tempted to leave it in, especially so you could download the book and experience Knifepoint Horror for yourself in all its capitalized, no paragraph glory, but my goal here isn't to embarrass anyone, even if I poke some fun. If he stumbles across this post, maybe he'll learn a little something from it. I hope so. Because the last thing any writer needs is to be writing in a way that is exactly what people don't want to read. And the last thing horror needs is another reason for people not to read it.
Tags: horror, writing

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