The Cosmic Horror Story is a treat for speculative fiction fans: Science fiction, fantasy, and horror and blended into one work of literature. The "father" of this genre is generally considered to be H.P Lovecraft, "founder" of the Cthulhu Mythos. A recurring theme in cosmic horror stories is the idea that good and evil are simply human concepts, and humanity inhabits a bleak and uncaring universe.
- Puny Earthlings: The idea that humanity is completely defenseless in the face of the gibbering horrors from beyond the stars, and that Earth is an insignificant little blue planet or no interest to anybody, except the occasional brain-eating monster from beyond our universe.
- Eldritch Abomination: One of the staples of the cosmic horror story genre. Cosmic horror stories very rarely feature rubber forehead aliens. Expect to see starfish aliens, starfish languages, and a whole lot of tentacles. Humanoid Abominations can also occasionally work, ala' the Slender Man. They can be whatever embodiment or presence you want, as long as they are incomprehensible greater beings. Another option is to invert it and make the humans incomprehensible, to a degree they are the true horror compared to the genuinely innocent and neutral cosmic entities, even within the inversion, the pessimistic and powerless nature of men never change.
- Eldritch Location: Usually where the monsters originate from. It can be an underwater city housing an alien monster, another planet, or another dimension.
- Downer Ending: Cosmic Horror Stories rarely ever end happily. If it does, it's usually an ending that can only be considered happy in the broadest sense of the term. If it has an obviously happy ending, or a Bittersweet Ending, it's probably Lovecraft Lite.
- Go Mad from the Revelation: The eldritch knowledge is not meant to be known, this is the result of one attempting to understand and correlate the contents of the world.
- Humans Are Insects: The easiest way to sum up the role of humanity is that under a cosmic scale of horror, they are a group of clueless, defenseless ants, whereas the otherworldly monstrosities are more like people who step upon ants for various reason we cannot comprehend, be it accidentally stepping on us because they don't care about creatures as tiny as ants, or they're somehow interested in playing with ants and decided to pour a bucket of hot water on us and see what would happen.
- Pyrrhic Victory: Even if you can permanently stop this thing from ever being a threat again, the price tag attached is unthinkable. It has to involve the destruction or permanent alteration of enormous swathes of civilization, a Fate Worse than Death within sight (often involving a Deal with the Devil or some other sort of foul bargain that was only made because the alternative was much worse), or some other sort of absolutely gigantic loss that is only acceptable because the other option was just that bad. Bonus points if no guarantee is made of a complete defeat, or if there is a solid chance that all of this attracted the attention of worse things. Even more bonus points if there is a very reliable chance that it will come back courtesy of some cultists who don't know what they're doing, an idiot occultist whose thirst for knowledge exceeds their common sense, or the simple likelihood that this thing is very patient and will just wait until future civilizations have forgotten about it, and then pose as some relic from the past in order to get the new civilization to let it loose.
StoryboardHow you integrate your Cosmic Entity into your story is important, one should avoid shoving your cosmic horror elements into the world without planning. If an Eldritch Location can be accessed by everyone effortlessly, it would render the horror element redundant.
There are many ways to begin your story. Do you prefer an Urban Fantasy escue opening? Disguising your cosmic horror story into other genres (Such as a heartwarming Slice of Life, an overly generic Slasher Movie, or a seemly-logical Dystopian Downer Beginning) and then bombard the insanity later on? Anyway, one must leave enough clues to foreshadow the events.
Assembling your Eldritch AbominationHow would you assemble your Eldritch Abomination? Do you prefer a Humanoid Abomination or a Starfish Alien? Just use your creativity and assemble your creature as you desire.
- Adorable Abomination: Some of them are cute, but beneath their cuteness, they can still be deadly.
- Almighty Idiot: Sometimes, it's scarier when the Eldritch Abomination doesn't know what it's doing.
- Animalistic Abomination: When the being bears at least a superficial resemblance to an Earth animal, but is really something far more alien and terrible.
- Blue-and-Orange Morality: It may be an intelligent being, but its thought process may also be so alien that it simply cannot effectively communicate with civilization or understand it. Common human approximations of inhuman thought processes include "pragmatic self-interest", "ignorant apathy", and "incidental curiosity".
- Body Horror: Gruesome body parts are scary.
- Body of Bodies: In case body parts weren't scary enough, stack thousands of corpses into a creature.
- Brown Note: When the being's visage is so hideous or utterly divorced from the spectrum of human perception that it nukes the mind of anyone who sees it.
- Combat Tentacles: Several Eldritch Abominations have tentacles to make them resemble aquatic creatures.
- Cthulhumanoid: Octopus head resembles a large human brain, or a human skull, and they feed on your mind.
- Dem Bones: Bones and skulls are the motif of death.
- Draconic Abomination: When the being is recognizably draconic, but is something far more powerful and alien than a big magical lizard, or is from a setting where dragons have special significance.
- Eyes Do Not Belong There: To make them see through everything, we need more eyes.
- Freud Was Right: Imagine someone jumping out of a bush/alleyway/etc. and flashing you. This would essentially be the cosmic equivalent.
- Giant Spider: Spiders are scary, how about alien spider gods?
- Humanoid Abomination: If you want to invoke Uncanny Valley, make them partially human-like.
- Inscrutable Aliens: You can't communicate with this thing, it can't or won't communicate with you, and you know next to nothing about it. It just is.
- Mad God: Common candidates for ascension into abominationhood, if they don't already qualify.
- Mechanical Abomination: Sufficiently powerful, alien, and/or unrelatable mechanical beings are likely to be this.
- More Teeth than the Osmond Family: When your creatures are in a dire hunger.
- Sea Monster: Deep sea creatures are good templates because we can't comprehend them.
- Space Whale: For benevolent creatures who prefer a softer appearance.
- Starfish Alien: When your creature doesn't resemble anything natural.
- Starfish Robot: Robotic counterparts of starfish aliens, and they are often cold, inhuman.
- Sufficiently Advanced Alien: A race of aliens with a level of advancement hopelessly far beyond our ability to relate to or comprehend, who cannot or will not explain themselves to us, and whose attitude towards us is, at best, ignorant apathy, and any sort of genuine curiosity or interest in us is likely to have effects comparable to a child frying an ant with a magnifying glass.
- Tentacled Terror: If they were to possess tentacles.
- The Worm That Walks: If one Eldritch Abomination isn't enough, let's make an Eldritch Abomination made of multiple creatures, or even multiple Eldritch Abominations.
- The Ghost: For the logical conclusion of incomprehensible beings, who needs form?
- Undead Abomination: When the being is undead, but is something much worse than your average undead being, or is from a setting where undeath is fundamentally reality-violating and abominable.
- Winged Humanoid: Wings are angelic, godlike.
- You Cannot Grasp the True Form: Some eldritch horrors are such that it is impossible for the human mind to grasp them completely without going completely mad. Such beings may select A Form You Are Comfortable With when dealing with other beings.
Human CharactersEven when writing about Eldritch Abominations, human characters are still necessary. There are several common human characters in cosmic horror stories:
- Humans Are Insects is a very common trope in cosmic horror. Most of the time, this makes the majority of humans helpless bystanders, or accidental bringers of doom. The Eldritch Abominations couldn't care less about them, and don't usually take notice when crushing them.
- There is also sometimes a human who summons the Eldritch Abomination, either thinking they have it under control, or to worship it. These characters work well as minor villains, and usually come to a bad end by the hand of whatever they've summoned.
- Occasionally, there is a human who might manage to banish or otherwise defeat the Eldritch Abomination. Usually they come out of it a little worse for wear, but that doesn't always have to be the case.
- More often than not, the human protagonist or narrator either dies or goes insane by the end of the story. This is still a cosmic horror story, after all, and that traditionally means a Downer Ending.
- Abominations with little to no "human" morality are almost the norm of Cosmic Horror Stories, so why not going with something different? Maybe the abomination really is as sadistic as it seems on the first place. Or maybe the abomination is actually benevolent, but the same doesn't apply to his appearence, leading to a ultimately benevolent being that ends up being the doom of those lesser than them.
- Humans will generally get the short end of the stick in any Cosmic Horror History. So why not give them a bone and actually have them triumph over the abominations for once? One can still keep the Cosmic Horror tone while this happens by either having humanity become as horrible as the abominations they fought against, the victory being only against an avatar of the real abomination that is still very much alive and is just biding his time or it turns out that humanity really IS Cthulhu. Or maybe they genuinely won this time against the Eldritch Abominations, but beware on using this as it's very difficult in doing so without becoming a more "Post-Lovecraftian" fiction.
- The origins of the Abominations are generally kept secret simply because the very idea of understanding such alien beings might be ridiculous at first. But why no actually delve into that? Maybe your Deus Ex Machina that controls the entirety of Earth had completely human origins before it turned rogue. Or maybe the monstrous octopus that lives in the depths had to become like that because the other things dwelving in the ocean are even worse. All in all, a well-made backstory can make your abomination even scarier by there being a "rational" explanation on why something so alien exists.
Examples of Cosmic Horror Stories
- Cthulhu Mythos (Forefather to the genre)
- The Slender Man Mythos
- House of Leaves
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica
- War of the Worlds
- A discussion of what made H.P. Lovecraft's work so ground-breaking can be found here. Musings On Lovecraftian Horror by the The United Federation of Charles.
- Similarly, by the same site, there's a discussion of what not to do by pointing out the pitfalls of Post-Lovecraftian Horror. What is Post-Lovecraftian Horror?
- Terrible Writing Advice produced a video on the subject. Needless to say, following every one of his pieces of advice will ensure the production of a truly horrible work of Cosmic Horror.