Best tense to use for horror (slasher) novel?

by Alex
(United States)

Question: I am an aspiring author and I'm planning to write a horror novel in the style of a slasher (think: Friday the 13th, Halloween, etc). I'm planning on writing it in Third Person Present Tense based on the fact that it will make the kills have a little more impact since they are happening in the here and now. Is this a good idea, or do you think Past Tense or even first person would be better for this genre?

Answer: The key with horror is that you want the reader to feel disturbed or unbalanced. You want to mess with their normal expectations for fiction so they cannot relax into the story. This doesn't have to be overt. In fact, a subtle feeling that something is wrong or out of step with reality can be more effective.

With a more visceral horror, present tense can make sense as it brings the reader closer to the action (a little out of their comfort zone) and is less common than past tense. In first person, it means the narrator is also close to the story and may not have had a chance to recover and make sense of it all. However, first person is also more effective for stories with a more psychological component, where the character's perception of what is real may be faulty.

On the other hand, if the story is more focused on the external action, third person may make more sense.

Third person past tense can make sense in a story in which a character narrator is the one whose sense of reality is being disturbed, perhaps by events they are learning about -- especially if you want the reader to suspect the narrator is mad.

If I were you, I would try writing one or two key scenes in different narrative modes and see which one feels more disturbing. See which one generates the kind of fear in the reader you are aiming at. You could even show both versions to other people and see how they emotionally react to each.

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