Describing Gore: A Guide For Aspiring Horror Authors
© S.B. “LullaDIEs”
“That was so descriptive I actually felt nauseous! How do you do that? Amazing!”
– Comment from a reader of my book, “101 Psychos“.
That one simple word causes images of the most horrific, bloody scenes the mind can fabricate to surface in your imagination. You can see it there, but when you try to describe it … blood, blood, guts, blood, gore, blood… you find yourself in repetition, repeating the same words over and over again. Blood, blood, guts, blood, gore, blood….
How do you describe the gore without falling into such bland explanations?
It’s not always easy. The key is to pay attention to your word usage. If you’ve already used the word “blood” in the paragraph (or if it’s a long paragraph, lets say five sentences) then refrain from using it again. There are other ways to describe such ghastly images without sounding like a broken record.
Let’s start with blood, as it’s often the most difficult to describe uniquely. The word “hemoglobin” isn’t exactly preferred among horror authors (we’re not writing a medical text after all), but there are very few other synonyms. This means you need to get creative and break down what blood is based on it’s properties.
Red, Crimson, Sanguine, Scarlet
Fluid, Goopy, Juice, Liquid, Sticky, Warm, Wet
What Blood Does:
Dribble, Drip, Drizzle, Flow, Pool, Puddle, Seep, Spew, Spurt, Splash, Spray, Stain, Squirt, Ooze
Here’s an example:
First, I’m going to write a scene using the generic word “blood” that everyone’s so fond of.
“The blood spewed from his cut, dripping to the floor below and staining the carpet with blood. The blood felt warm and sticky between my fingers as I clutched the knife’s bloody handle. Once the man’s body fell to the floor, his blood began to pool all around, seeping from the wound at an alarming rate.”
Repetitive right? It wasn’t bad, but the reoccurring word is distracting to the story, making it difficult to follow. Now, using only the words provided, I’m going to describe blood without actually saying the word.
“The crimson liquid spewed from his cut, dripping to the floor below and staining the carpet with red. The fluid felt warm and sticky between my fingers as I clutched the knife’s dripping handle. Once the man’s body fell to the floor, his life juice began to pool all around, seeping from the wound at an alarming rate.”
See? Wasn’t that better than using the word “blood” all the time?
I’m not saying, “don’t use the word blood“. Blood is great! It jumps the readers mind straight to the image desired. I’m merely using it as an example of how words can be overused and make a great concept bland to read.
You can use this technique for just about anything you’re trying to describe (even if it’s not a horror story).
Guts: Brain Matter, Grit, Intestines, Membranes, Muscle Tissue, Organs, Skull Fragments, Stomach Acid, etc.
Gore: Carnage, Ghastly, Grisly, Grotesque, Gruesome, Hideous, Putrid, Revolting, Vile, etc.
Pain: Ache, Agony, Anguish, Misery, Suffer, Torment, Torture, Writhing, etc.
Die or Kill: Annihilate, Demise, Eradicate, Execute, Expire, Exterminate, Massacre, Murder, Obliterate, Slaughter, Slay, Terminate, etc.
Bodies: Cadaver, Carcass, Corpse, Dead, Deceased, Lifeless Form, etc.
I could go on and on with examples but repetition of words isn’t the only way to muck up a good gore scene. The length of the scene is also of vital importance.
How long should a gore scene be?
It really depends on the targeted audience.
If you’re writing a Teen Horror (or any other genra not regarded as gore based), I’d say anywhere from 3-5 descriptive sentences are sufficient. Fans of certain subgenras don’t need or want to be marinated in every detail. A few observations will satisfy them. Keeping it basic also allows the audience to use their imagination to fill in the details with visuals they find most disturbing.
“[You can focus on the common gross.]
They opened the closet door and the stench watered their eyes; something died in there and it was bottled inside small room for weeks.
[Then you could start describing the found body.]
The body was a human; that was common sense speaking but what was found looked less human; it had decayed and parts of the flesh was eaten by maggots.
[Then adding more details]
There were fat over-sized maggots on the face of the dead body.
[Then if you want to get really gross]
The dead body opened it’s eyes and moaned; maggots, roaches and creepy bugs oozed from the creatures lips. It grabbed the first person with it’s rotten fingers, pulled out the victim’s heart and ate it.”
– Richard Staschy, author of titles such as “HIM” and “The Bear Trap“
If your targeted audience is Hardcore Slasher fans, at least two paragraphs should be written. Hardcore horror readers simply require more of the gore aspect than others, and we truly appreciate the extra effort.
“He was growing weaker, the diseases were starting to take over his skinless form. Some discoloration could be seen in his tissue as well as a multitude of sores that seeped a yellowish white puss. The eye left without an eyelid had long dried out. Now it protruded from his face and had a dark bluish green color. There was a sour smell to him as well, a mixture of dried urine and rotting flesh.
The odor attracted all sorts of insects to the man. Flies, gnats, and mosquitoes alike flocked to his dangling body, both feeding on the decaying tissue and laying eggs in the warm gore. I watched in fascination as his flesh seemed to crawl and wriggle with the bugs devouring him slowly from the inside out.”
– Excerpt from my “101 Psychos” collection.
Again, the amount of gore you decide to describe should be based off of who your targeted audience is. Basic or extensive; both are very powerful tools.
What should be described in a gore scene?
Remember; repetition doesn’t only pertain to words but sentences as well. If you’re writing a hardcore horror story this is especially important for you, as there’s more gore to describe.
I’ve seen it a hundred times, people describing the same exact aspect of gore, sometimes for paragraphs. It makes a reader become bored easily as they don’t need to be continuously reminded that the victim is in fact bleeding. Once the description of blood has been established, it’s time to move on. There are plenty of other aspects to the gore scene you can utilize to create something epic.
The best way I can explain this is to tell you to remember your senses:
Sight, Smell, Sound, Taste, and Touch.
Pause the scene in your mind and describe everything your character sees, smells, hears, tastes (not always applicable), and feels (emotional and physical). Using this technique should help keep the scene from becoming repetitive, even if you’re trying to draw it out for as possible.
Here’s a quick lists of other things you could describe, depending on the cause of your stories gore:
Is it gushing out? Flowing steadily? What’s the shade of red; bright, dark?
Is there vomit? Did they soil themselves? Urinate? Excessive snot from crying?
NOTE: This detail is often forgotten, but when it is included it’s a powerful addition to the general horror.
Is anything broken? What? Bone protruding and exposed? Bent at an odd angle?
Is it calm? Panicked? Shallow? Choking? Gasping? Quick? Slow?
Is the face scrunched up? Mouth gaping? Nostrils flared? Eyes widened or narrowed? Lip quivering?
Food is a part of human survival, so connecting it to gore can be very potent. Examples as followed:
“As if it were a bowl of rice, the maggots filled the otherwise vacant skull cavity.”
“His mutilated stump looked like spoiled ground beef.” – Hardcore Horror author Tim Miller.
Is it matted? Tangled? Flawless? Has blood stained it? Covering the face? Fanning out around them?
Insects and Rodents:
Are there maggots? Flies? Cockroaches? Where? How many? Rats nesting in the hair?
Is it pale? Burnt? Blue from blood loss or freezing temperatures? Cold? Hot? Sweaty? Bruised? Plastic texture?
Here’s some closing advice from Shane Chowdery, author of titles such as “Schizophrenia” and “Homeless“:
“You can imagine any scene, and no matter how bright and happy it may be, just splatter it with blood. Notice the difference it makes, and that shows how big of an impact blood has in horror.”
I truly hope you found this short guide to gore useful. If you have anything to add then please don’t hesitate to contact me either by commenting here, or sending me a private message.