So last week I took a break from blog posts because I wanted to focus on the great Memorial Day sale that was happening with some authors in one of the author groups I’m a part of. Some did great, some did poorly, but overall I think it’s safe to say that everyone who participated sold at least one book. Which is pretty exciting because everyone can agree that May was like the worst book sale month of the year thus far.
But I digress (as always). You didn’t come here to learn about trivial things like book sale stats. You’re here to read about
HorrorI think of all the genres of books out there, horror has the worst reputation thanks to B movies and cliche-filled horror novels of the 70s and 80s. I mean really. There’s only so much blood and sex that should be in a film, right? And how many kids are going to be like possessed by demons or have demons attached to them or be the spawn of the devil? Perhaps because of the misconception of the horror genre and every thing that B movies evoke into the average person’s psyche is the reason behind the disappearance of the horror genre in bookstores. That’s just my guess and I didn’t research it, so I don’t really know.
But let’s take a step back. Before Stephen King ever penned and had Carrie published, what exactly was horror? Literature-wise, horror wasn’t what it’s perceived to be today. Horror evoked a true emotional feeling of utter terror.
Stop and think back to some of the greatest literary works that everyone seems to praise and love. Edgar Allan Poe’s work has been critically acclaimed and well-loved. Frankenstein and Dracula have never been scoffed by literary critics and are instead welcomed with open arms. Why are these horror stories considered literary works where as literary critics won’t give Stephen King the time of day? Perhaps it boils down to formula. The modern horror novel follows a certain formula to work. There’s plenty of gore and monsters ranging from the mythological to the real (I’m looking at you Hannibal).
In his 1982 anthology Prime Evil, author Douglas Winter stated, “Horror is not a genre, like the mystery or science fiction or the western. It is not a kind of fiction, meant to be confined to the ghetto of a special shelf in libraries or bookstores. Horror is an emotion.”
— Extract from “What is Horror Fiction?” , Horror Writers Association
Of the most recent movies/novels to really evoke a true sense of horror to me would have to be Silence of the Lambs. The brain eating scene is enough to make me squirm but what really terrifies me (and terrifies me so much that I’ve never seen the entirety of the movie) is the way Anthony Hopkins plays Hannibal Lecter. He plays him so well that just listening to him say “Hello” is enough to keep me looking around to make sure a cannibal isn’t about to eat me. And I think horror done well shouldn’t just make you feel fear, but it should get into your head.
Horror works on three levels: mind, heart, gut. Our mind reels at trying to dissect horror, and good horror asks troubling questions.
— Chuck Wendig, “25 Things You Should Know About Writing Horror”
The interesting thing about horror is because it’s an emotion, it sort of seeps into other genres of fiction. You might think you’re writing a romance, but there might be a horror element. Perhaps the wife fears that her husband is cheating on her and might leave her for another woman. Wait, how is that horror? you might ask. Well, according to Merriam Webster the definition of horror is:
A painful and intense fear, dread, or dismay
And for our wife in our example, then her fear definitely qualifies as horror. You don’t need to gore or monsters. In order to write exceptional horror, the kind of horror that sneaks into other genres, you need to scare yourself. If it’s not authentic, if it doesn’t creep you out even a little, then how can you possibly scare someone else?