Folklore in Horror Fiction and How to use it in Your Writing.

Folklore and Horror Has Gone Hand and Hand Since the Beginning. Here is How You Can Use It in Your Own Writing.

5/10/20244 min read

Folklore and horror have always gone hand and hand. Bram Stoker's Dracula was inspired greatly by the Irish legends of the Fae as well as vampire mythos for Eastern Europe. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein took much inspiration from the ancient Greek myth of Prometheus. It seems that all the great horror authors of the past borrowed bits and pieces of ancient folklore and legends to weave into their own stories.

This sentiment rings true even today. The 2024 horror film Late Night with the Devil uses the gnostic demon Abraxas as its main antagonist. The use of the Geman Christmas figure Krampus has been ever-present in Christmas-themed horror books and movies for many years now. Folklore in horror has only been becoming more popular in recent years,

But what are the roots of utilizing folklore in horror fiction? How can you use that in your writing? Read on to find out.

What is Folklore?

Before we can dive into the role folklore plays in horror fiction, we need to define what folklore is.

The dictionary defines folklore as: "the traditional beliefs, customs, and stories of a community, passed through the generations by word of mouth."

In short, folklore is the stories and legends of a particular culture that are passed down from generation to generation.

I would also like to bring up a secondary definition in addition to the traditional one.

In the age of the internet, folklore as we know it has taken on a whole new form.

Take Slenderman for example. The legends began with an entry to a Photoshop contest that ended up posted to 4Chan in the late 2000s and went viral from there.

Internet units started coming up with their own stories and backgrounds based around the picture, eventually leading to a community-created expansive lore, This eventually evolved into things like the Marble Hornets YouTube series and even a blockbuster movie.

In a way, Slenderman is an oral tradition of the internet. It has been passed down from user to user, platform to platform until it became part of a sort of modern digital legend, an internet-age piece of folklore if you will.

History of Folklore in Horror

Folklore has been an essential element of horror since the very beginning

In the very dawn of horror cinema, most movies revolved around already well-known monsters from classic literature, such as Dracula and Frankenstein. This breathed new life into characters the audience was already family with while garnering new scares.

The original novels these movies were based on often utilized elements of ancient folklore and mythology themselves. From Greek myths to Celtic legends about the changelings and the fae. But the silver screen adaptations took it to a whole new level, using characters such as Dracula and Frankenstein to represent the societal anxieties of the time

During the dawn of Y2k, the iconic found footage movie The Blaire Witch Project came onto the scene.Using the found footage formula, which was so cutting edge for the time many filmgoers thought the movie was a real documentary, The Blaire Witch Project centered its narrative around the fictional urban legend of The Blaire Witch. While the legend of the Blaire Witch was made up for the movie, classic folklore conventions, and elements are still utilized heavily throughout the film. This not only sparked the found footage subgenre but inspired a host of fiction based on urban legends, real and fictional, for years to come

In recent years, the types of folklore making their way into horror fiction have become increasingly diverse, with authors of color utilizing myths and legends from their own cultures in their works. For example, authors like V, Castro, whose book The Haunting of Alejandra was inspired by the Mexican Legend La Lorona.

With folklore-inspired horror rising in popularity, you may want to incorporate it into your writing. Here are three tips to help you write the most memorable folklore horror.

Set the Atmosphere

Folklore horror and Gothic horror have a lot in common in that the atmosphere is one of the most crucial parts of the story. It's the very heartbeat of the story.

Make sure to use lots of sensory details, especially when describing the setting, Describe the lushness of the pine trees or scorching heat of the desert, whatever location you've chosen for your story to take place. The more vivid the better.

A great tactic you can borrow from Gothic horror is describing the weather in as much detail as possible. Is your northeast forest covered in a thick layer of fog? Does your dessert have a scorching orange sun beating down on its sandbanks? Does your beach have imposing crashing waves? Have fun with this. Get creative

Utilize the Fear of the Unknown

One thing that every culture's folklore has in common is a fear and awe of the unknown. It's part of being human.

This is a very effective element to use in your folklore horror as well.

Don't show or reveal too much about your monster, at least not right away.

Torment the reader by only showing brief glimpses of your monster. Don't fall into the trap of creating a long, drawn-out backstory for your monster. That's a surefire way to take all the teeth out of your story and spoil any scare factor it may have had. Mystery is your greatest asset when writing horror novels.

Use The Horrors of Isolation

There is nothing scarier than being alone and that is a great thing to make use of in your writing.

Create an isolated environment for your characters.

Maybe they're staying in an isolated cabin in the middle of the forest with only the roaring wind outside to keep them company Maybe they're snowed in in a creepy older manor, or Maybe they're wandering lost through an ancient woodland.

It's human nature to fear being alone. Harness that in your writing.

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Happy Writing!