Pennywise the dancing clown is a scary character.
I know, I know. “It” isn’t that scary, right? Of course, hardboiled horror fans love to tell me that nothing scares them, except some random highly classified film. And you know what? That’s alright! Horror is a subjective genre. What scares me won’t scare another person.
In part one of “Lessons From Pennywise,” I highlighted that effective horror highlights both our childhood and adult fears. Adding onto that, I’d like to say that the horror genre can make you feel like a helpless child. We like to imagine we are a bold hero like Clarice Starling in “Silence of the Lambs” but really- we are like Georgie looking for our paper boat.
So what is the attraction? Why do we devour stories that terrify us? What’s so groundbreaking about Pennywise The Dancing Clown? Well, many things. For one, horor confirms the dark underbellies of our society. As Pennywise is a predator and represents real child abuse, It can validate the experiences of readers and viewers. This creates a powerful bonding experience.
Second, many horror fans find the variety of emotions catharic. As horror is subjective, it’s also an extremely emotional experience. What makes Pennywise scary is the tight grip the clown has on everyone else. It’s almost as if he chooses when you are terrified, happy or sad. As theatrical as Pennywise is, he is also a puppet master. My point is that as we identify with the characters, we are taken on a journey. Unfortunately, we are at the mercy of a dancing clown!
Third, horror is a paradox of sorts. There’s this awesome article by Psychology Today that addresses audience empathy and the gore factor. I’ll admit: I’m the sort of viewer who loves to empathise with fictional monsters and victims. It comes naturally to me! It intrigues me because it’s a challenge of sorts. What motivates Pennywise? How does “It” work? What does the creature want? Why does it torment children? Part of the effectiveness in horror is that it’s unclear and there are no easy answers.
Of course, the human brain will rush to its conclusions. This reminds me of a H.P Lovecraft quote.
We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.H.P. Lovecraft
There’s something unknown and fearful about Pennywise. We know little about “it.” As horror writers, it’s best to master the art of vagueness and subtle details. Because of that, it’s fantastic to always keep your readers guessing. Playing with the reader’s sense of reality may sound cruel, but often, it makes for superb spellbinding fiction.
To conclude this article, I’ll give a nugget of advice. If you are writing horror, don’t try to scare everyone. That’s impossible! But if you create a story that really impacts on your audience- then that’s amazing. Great horror doesn’t seek to ‘freak out’ everyone, but to resonate with some.
I don’t expect everyone to lose their marbles over Pennywise- but I know I will!
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