One of the most important ingredients to modern genre writing -- especially horror -- is the creation of an intensely mundane 'real world' into which the nasties intrude.
I think this is related to a political concept, the thing Hitler and Goebbels called 'The Big Lie' (that's Große Lüge for the kids at home). The concept behind the big lie is simple: if you're going to bullshit the public, go huge. Don't mess around with small exaggerations or minor misstatements*. Tell the people, "trees cause global warming," or that Democrats are advocating 'death panels.' These are statements so outrageous they seem plausible -- simply because to lie about something that wild is unimaginable for most people. It's just too crazy.
The flip side of that is the matrix in which the big lie appears. It's got to be real life, as warty and stinky as possible. The more pressure people are under, the more their lives are kicking their asses, the more susceptible to the big lie they will be.
Stephen King nailed this real-world thing in his early novels, with his use of famous brand names and authentic lower-middle-class details. He usually portrayed characters or communities just sort of hanging on by their fingernails, absorbed in their little troubles. Then along comes the big scary fucking holy shit weird thing -- the fictional equivalent to the big lie. And the weirder it is, somehow the more we believe it.
If Carrie had happened in some less accessible community -- say, among the Amish, or in a wealthy gated suburb -- the book probably wouldn't have gone on to become a best-seller.
This isn't a rule, and it's not a confirmed fact. I'm just musing on the similarity between the mechanisms -- the fictional device and the political lie. Telling your readers that fairies are real, or there's a UFO buried in the woods behind somebody's house, requires a rock-steady backdrop of right here, right now. The same thing applies if you're telling them the president is a foreign-born socialist Manchurian candidate.
To test the hypothesis, look at the flipside. Millions of Americans believe we didn't really go to the moon. They do believe 9/11 was an inside job. And Kennedy was killed by the Mafia. Why do they believe these things? Because what happened is impossible to believe. I mean, I look at the moon and I cannot imagine, despite a lifetime devoted entirely to imagining things, that a bunch of bird colonels played golf on that distant satellite. But they did.
So when real life sounds too nuts to believe, we don't believe it. When lies, on the other hand, sound too nuts to believe, we give them the benefit of the doubt. That's human nature.
The difference between lies and fiction is that fiction is not intended to deceive.
But it's the same set of tools.
*The word 'misstatements looks completely wrong, but that's how it's spelled.
3 weeks ago