The awesome Rachel Aaron recently said this:
And it got me thinking about why I’m writing supernatural thrillers as opposed to any of the many other kinds (crime thrillers, medical thrillers, legal, military, cozies, etc, etc, etc). I mean, supernatural thrillers are obviously cooler, right? Right?
Well, I think they’re cooler anyway. But why?
I think it’s because different kinds of thrillers exploit different kinds of fear. It’s perfectly reasonable to fear an axe-wielding psycho, or a plague outbreak, or a terrorist with a bomb, or a corrupt senator. In all these cases you know exactly why you’re afraid, because you know exactly what these things could do to you. In some cases, like the corrupt senator or the psycho, you might even have the forbidden thrill of identifying with the bad guy… understanding how they embody that little bit of darkness that you keep properly hidden inside yourself.
Supernatural thrillers aren’t like that. The fear that they exploit is the fear of the unknown. The Things That Go Bump In The Night are out there in the dark… waiting for you. You desperately want to categorize them and give them names and understand the how and why of them, because that would give you comfort and make you feel like you have some kind of control. You could take steps to protect yourself.
But you can’t. The essential fact of the supernatural is… it’s not natural. It doesn’t obey the rules that you know and depend on to keep yourself safe.
Besides exploiting the primitive fear of the unknown, supernatural thrillers can also offer a primitive kind of joy: They can evoke a sense of wonder. So what if the Things That Go Bump In The Night aren’t real? For the time that we’re in the story we can imagine that we’re in a world where they’re as real as we are. Even if they’re scary, it’s exciting to imagine that strange and terrible things are possible.
So that’s my take on it. Supernatural thrillers are the best because fear of the unknown always trumps fear of the known, and because they help us recapture that sense of wonder.