Q&A

How Do I Portray Cosmic Horrors in the Open?

questions and answer talk bubbles

Hi, I’m Josem from Spain.

I am and write in Spanish but found your site a trove of information for any aspiring writer in any language. That said, my apologies if my English is a little rusty.

My question is about setting, or rather the descriptions. I’m writing a story (novel-sized) that takes place in an alternate present in which the Lovecraft mythos are real. Not only real, but known by the general populace with most major Old Ones and External Gods being worshipped. The question is: how can I describe the everyday look and feel of “gloomyness” and gothic horror to the inhabitants of the world, who are accustomed to it, without the descriptions being old, fast?

I find trying to maintain Lovecraft tone for big chunks of texts repetitive and tiring, but I really want the reader to experience the world and its strangeness but also get the feeling that their inhabitants find it absolutely normal.

Thanks for your answers and, please, keep on with the web!

Hey Josem, thanks for writing in!

A world wherein the Old Ones are publicly worshiped sounds super interesting; however, I don’t think it’ll mix well with the atmosphere of a traditional Lovecraft story. Cosmic horror stories, the genre Lovecraft wrote in, depend a lot on keeping things mysterious, especially the supernatural elements. At the same time, most of Lovecraft’s pantheon is so destructive that they would probably need to be toned down somewhat to work as part of an everyday religion. Even an extreme religion would have difficulty maintaining the kind of horror we see in most mythos stories.

You could up the horror by using a protagonist who’s not from this world, but that will only work for a limited time. Eventually, they’d get used to it as well. People can get used to almost anything, given enough time.

My recommendation would be to go with a more serious version of something like the audio-drama Welcome to Night Vale. Sure, everyone knows about Cthulhu and Azathoth, maybe they even go to the temple square and pay their respects on Sundays. But for most people, life is fairly normal, as they don’t actually have to deal with these gods personally.

Then, you can add elements of hidden danger and paranoia. Most people don’t have to deal with eldritch horrors, but every once in a while, someone will disappear or see something that leaves them permanently scarred. Everyone knows this happens, but they don’t like talking about it, because the cults are basically in charge. They have all the magic, so anyone who speaks out against them quickly disappears.

That wouldn’t exactly be cosmic horror, but it’s horror nonetheless, and it leverages the unique strength of your world rather than working against them.

Hope that answers your question, and good luck with your writing!

Keep the answer engine fueled by becoming a patron today. Want to ask something? Submit your question here.

 

Comments

  1. Slayd

    I love Welcome to Nightvale! Would completely recommend it.

  2. Mrs. Obed Marsh

    I saw this question and immediately thought of “A Study In Emerald” by Neil Gaiman. It’s a Sherlock Holmes/Mythos story set in a world where Old Ones conquered the world centuries ago and rule the humans as gods and monarchs. I suspect the tone is very close to what Josem would like to achieve. There’s also a twist that blew my mind as a fan of the original Holmes and Mythos stories. The text is available as a free pdf on Gaiman’s website. Don’t miss it!

    • Cay Reet

      Thanks to you mentioning it again, I finally got around to reading it and I loved it – especially the twist end.

    • Tony

      Speaking of Gaiman, the novel Good Omens (co-written with Terry Pratchett) mentions that the satanic nuns’ cult is similarly normal for most of its members. Apparently, the average cultist approaches the faith like the average Christian approaches Christianity, attending Black Mass once a week and then going about their lives. Gaiman and Pratchett contrast this with the kind of “Satanist” you occasionally hear about on the news, the twisted criminal who claims “the devil made me do it” as an excuse even when their deeds are perverse enough to shock even demons like Crowley.

Leave a Comment

Please see our comments policy (updated 03/28/20) and our privacy policy for details on how we moderate comments and who receives your information.