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  • Writer's pictureCatharine Riggs

Thrillers vs. Horror

What can thriller writers learn from the horror genre? Join this week's ITW panel discussion at the link below. Or read my entry here:

I’ve always considered the thriller/suspense genre to be horror minus the supernatural. But in light of this discussion, I thought it might be helpful to return to the master of horror and reread Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie. It’s been decades since I read the book/watched the movie so I was surprised by the similarities between Carrie White and Crystal Love, the revenge-seeking protagonist of my debut novel, What She Gave Away. In fact, there were so many similarities I thought I might reframe the question to ‘What has this thriller writer learned from the horror genre?’ because the background of my conflicted character so resembles the plot of King’s legendary work.

In both novels, a lonely girl with a disastrous home life snaps at a cruel act of school bullying and her response has a devastating effect on her life and others. But rather than using telekinetic powers to flip a bike, or burn down a school, Crystal uses matches to set fire to her apartment which injures her grandmother and lands her in juvenile hall.

I did not recall Carrie when I wrote Crystal’s backstory. In fact, I’d forgotten the early scenes. But when the movie debuted I must have been so impressed that the story was forever imprinted on my brain. In the 1970’s and ‘80’s, there was seldom an official response to school bullying; if you were unlucky enough to become bully’s target, you were on your own. So, when a young Sissy Spacek appeared on the movie screen - a much more sympathetic character than the Carrie White portrayed in the novel - I and thousands of other young women rooted for the awkward girl with the broken home life even though we were horrified by her destructiveness – couldn’t the kindly Miss Collins (film version) have been saved?

Carrie's timeless story has stayed with me over the decades, tucked between scenes I’ve inhaled from The Shining, Halloween, The Exorcist, A Nightmare on Elm Street and the countless other tales, fictional and not, from which I’m able to pick and choose. I suppose it all comes down to Stephen King’s top advice for writers, READ, and my humble addition to his wisdom – watch a few good movies, too.

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