One of the ways I try to improve myself as both a writer and a horror writer is to read the works of the greats. Poe, Lovecraft, and Machen can be found in my kindle along with King, Straub, Bradbury, and Crichton. Throw in some Raymond Chandler and Ernest Hemingway and you get an idea how my writing is influenced.
But reading all the great old horror stories has become an exercise of looking back into a different world. It was a world where humans were more alone, and operated far more as independent actors. If separated from the crowd, they were more vulnerable in many ways…although in others I fear they may have been more resourceful.
But the event that truly led from that world to this one, was the introduction of the cell phone.
And believe me when I say it was only when I started writing horror that I discovered how fundamentally the cell phone changed things. The eighties are over and almost any kid running from the killer at Camp Bloodbath can now have the cavalry on the way in short order. This means the potential victim of the 21st century comes with a link to the rest of humanity that has to be believably and reasonably accounted for in every scenario. And it behooves the writer to be careful and not keep using the same plot devices to neutralize the device.
As a matter of fact in some scenarios it may be better to find some way to use the phone to the plots advantage. But this is not always easy without being repetitive. And as cell phones become more sophisticated it’s the writer’s job to keep up with its capabilities, for they are out there and the reader is not going to be forgiving if the writer dispatches a victim who could have easily resolved the situation with the device on his belt. Not to mention, many phones can be tracked by authorities and used to located the person, meaning many of your 20th century slasher types would be leading the cops right to their lair.
So in that way alone, if you are attempting to write a hack’n’slash novel in the style of Friday the 13th, you are going to need a more sophisticated killer if you want the results to be believable.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you are writing a monster story and your monster does not have human intelligence and understands these things the problem is even worse. In today’s world his pic could be on Facebook before he knows what happened. Which brings us to the other game changer.
Go back and look at many of the great horror novels of the past forty years, and then imagine them with cell phones and internet. How many would be radically altered? How many would have their protagonists and victims acting in entirely different ways?
It’s a different world. And it's the writer's job to meet the challenge of writing for that world.