Why Do People Like Scary Stories?
While many readers want a happy ending, very few would keep reading a story devoid of conflict or dread. It’s uncertainty – Will she end up with the right guy or not? What will happen to that old dog? – that keeps us turning the pages.
Fiction expands our understanding of what it means to be human, transporting us to new places, times and realities. A good book takes us out of ourself and allows us to feel another’s hopes and fears. Reading’s a safe way to experience extreme emotions – love, danger, anger, loss. I think we hope dark stories will somehow inoculate us against real darkness. Maybe by reading about scary scenarios we can learn to avoid them – or at least cope with them.
But there’s more to it. Why do we visit haunted houses? People actually want to be scared.
Pop out at a little kid and yell, “Boo!” He or she will probably scream, then laugh. Even tiny children enjoy a little fright. It’s weird. Do we crave the subsequent relief? That moment when a jolt of terror – a bomb! – turns into a private embarrassed shrug: Oh, it was only a car backfiring.
Ghost stories. Murder mysteries. Romantic suspense. True crime. All of these genres are huge. I don’t know why we enjoy being spooked but it seems to be a uniquely human trait that’s tied to our need to imagine.
I’m fascinated by people’s motivations, especially when they seem irrational. Dark stories allow me to explore what drives people. I think we read and write stories – scary and otherwise – to try to make sense of our inexplicable world.