Copyright 2011 by Gary L. Pullman
Like many who are interested in horror fiction, I occasionally indulge myself by perusing online images linked to such search terms as “horror,” “eerie,” “scary,” and so forth. For those of us who are twisted enough to enjoy such sights, viewing such images can be not only fun (I know, I know; I’ve already admitted I’m twisted!), but also informative, even educational.
One image is that of a young woman. She wears black (or, perhaps, she is naked--it’s hard to tell, because only her face, neck, and upper chest show; she is otherwise lost in, or swallowed up by, darkness--and her skin is not only pale, but also reflective: indeed, she seems to radiate the light that shines upon her, illuminating those portions of her body that I’ve mentioned, but leaving most of her figure invisible in the darkness. Moreover, the flesh of her upper chest seems to be alive with internal light, as if she glows from within. Her eyes are dark, and she wears a slight, mysterious smile rather like that of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. A scar is etched down her forehead, from just above her eyebrow to midway down her cheek, but the scar is not red: it is black, like her hair, her eyes, and her dress (if, indeed, she is dressed), as if she bleeds black, rather than crimson, blood, a suggestion of her innate depravity, perhaps. She seems evil, despite her youth and beauty, as if she is inwardly corrupt. The image is suggestive, posing many questions that could lead to a plot, to other characters, to a conflict, to a setting, and to a theme--in short, to a story that is both horrible to read and to contemplate. The journalist’s questions should get the imaginative writer started: Who? What? When? Where? How? Why?
The next image is full of eyes. There are eleven of them, all feminine, with long, lustrous lashes and a glittering gaze, floating, as it seems, against a fiery background of yellow and orange, black and white. They stare, intensely, at the viewer, returning gaze for gaze. At the center of the picture, a pair of eyes, complete with the suggestion, at least, of knitted eyebrows, stares forth from the digital canvass, commanding the viewer’s attention; the presence of a strategically positioned diamond shape and of a ridge of material that resembles steel more than it does bone suggest the skeletal remnant of a nose. There is malevolence in her gaze. Filaments of light float and twist in the air, unifying the floating eyes, but there is no context for the vision, so that, collectively, the eyes seem to suggest madness. The subject, about whom nothing is knowable but that she is female and apparently beautiful, strikes one as mad; perhaps the multiplicity of eyes implies a fragmented consciousness, shattered perceptions of reality, and a distorted view of the world. If so, the true source of her horror is internal, not external (except insofar as she may confuse the objective with her own subjectivity). Again, this image raises more questions than it supplies answers, producing a wealth--or, at least, a welter--of possibilities for exploration and explication, and, as before, the journalist’s questions may lead the imaginative writer to a story based upon the ideas and feelings that this image may inspire.
Not all images are created equal, of course, and one must exercise discrimination in his or her perusal of the many pictures of horror that are available online. One, for example, although interesting in itself, perhaps, is too puerile to be suggestive of a situation greater than itself--and, therefore, great enough, it may be, for a story. It shows a skull flanked by jack-o-lanterns; the eye sockets of the death’s-head glow red, as do the mesh strands that serve as the image’s backdrop. There is the suggestion that the skull and the pumpkins are caught in a web of some kind and that along may come a spider, but such intimations are not enough for a horror story and do not raise possibilities for anyone to pursue in fiction or otherwise; they are, at best, merely decorative.
The problem of the skull and pumpkins raises an important question: what must an image accomplish in order to be useful to a writer of horror fiction? What quality or qualities must it possess? What must it evoke in the writer’s imagination?
The journalist’s questions are clues. Who? refers to an agent (if an individual) or to an agency (if an institution), and, of course, to the agent’s or agency’s motive and, probably, to his, her, or its values, feelings, thoughts, and even world view. What? alludes to the situation and the series of incidents or events that have brought the agent or the agency to this point of the action and to the series of events or incidents that are likely to result from both this initial situation and the agent’s or the agency’s actions in response to it. When? and Where? point to time and place, or setting--the story’s physical location and its cultural milieu. How? addresses the behavior of the characters, especially insofar as they are the causes and effects of various situations, actions, and reactions. Why? relates to both the characters’ motives and to the story’s theme. These are the elements common to all fiction, horror stories included, and it is these, therefore, that a truly inspirational image of horror will pose to the thoughtful and imaginative viewer, especially if he or she is--or hopes to be--a writer of imaginative fiction, of the horror genre or otherwise. An image that is capable of suggesting such elements is an evocative--and useful--one, indeed.