Cosmic Horror: A Checklist for Writers

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January 14, 2023

When working in the subgenre of cosmic fiction, it is critical to remember that the atmosphere of creeping dread is key.

Real-world issues such as climate change, racial violence, and political upheaval work well in the realm of Lovecraftian horror.

It is the sensation of fear centered on the unknowable that creates this existential panic and madness experienced by characters who can't come to terms with their own insignificance.

Thinking about the unknowable can be tricky. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Seek Revelation: 
    Above all else, cosmic horror is based on change and discovery. Explore topics on the outer limits and the existence of entities beyond comprehension. What profound truths might your characters unveil? What fears might you uncover?
  • Research References: 
    Lovecraft’s mythos is a grand universe to explore. While it’s not mandatory to connect to Lovecraft’s themes, characters, or settings, they do offer a natural starting point for writers of cosmic fiction. Some of the most engaging contemporary examples come from subverting Lovecraft’s themes through the lens of “the other,” but you need to be familiar with the source material in order to take full advantage of existing tropes and motifs. This is especially true when working with the extraterrestrial entities in Lovecraft’s pantheon.
  • Creating Characters: 
    Unlike many subgenres, characters in cosmic horror do not need to be particularly likeable or sympathetic. They are a path to discovery for the reader, and they often don’t survive the madness that awaits them. Your characters must be keen observers. It’s through them that the reader experiences the shifting balance between our common expectations of the known and the abyss from which our greatest fears emerge.
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