Author's Notes| What type of Horror Story are you Writing?
As I wander through the interwebs researching my next book. I am reminded about the sheer amount of horror that exits on this planet. You have alien horror books, books about haunted toasters, and my personal fave ghost stories. For newbie writers, it might be a bit daunting for you just to plow into the deep end of the horror pool feet first. To keep others from falling into the paralysis that comes from sheer amounts of information; I thought I would make a horror cheat post! Let’s get to it, shall we?
Before we dive into the subcategories of horror it is probably best to explain what it is. This way there is a working umbrella definition for the sub-genres we are about to go into. Horror stories are books, articles, short stories that have the sole purpose of causing fear or dread in its readers. These tales are meant to frighten you. If you have a warm cuddly feeling as the story continues then you may not have a horror story. You may have an excellent story, but it may not be able to be classified as horror. With that being said, there are many types of horror. You can have vampires and werewolves chasing you down. Maybe there is a serial killer, or the aforementioned toaster stalking you through the halls. Whatever is coming it has to instill dread or fear.
Another thing you will note in that short list of things that go bump in the night is that they can all cross-genre. So you may have a Gothic vampire that lives in the middle of a city that only hunts girls that smell like shea butter and coconut oil because he likes the scent. You may have a serial killer who is stalking protestors from a recent rally who turns out to be immortals. Whatever is doing the chasing or the protagonist is chasing can show up in many different ways. Your horror could be erotic like the works of Laurel K. Hamilton. Your horror could have an underlying social message like the works of Octavia Butler. You could have seven different types of horror genres and connect them all through one character like Stephen King.
So, starting off you might find that you are sticking to one sub genre, and that’s fine. As you gain more experience you’ll also gain the desire to experiment. Do that! Experiment as much as you want. No one has to see what you write until you are ready to print it. If you want to mix werewolf cameras and pedicures you can! As long as you make the story scary you will have successfully created a horror story.
Now that we have that cleared up let’s begin!
These horror stories have a strong sexual element in them. It’s not that the characters are just having sex after a very intense event. That’s 45% of books on the market for any genre these days. Sex or sexuality has to be a very important part of the horror story. You have an incubus/succubus that can only get its power from having sex with people, so your protagonist makes themselves bait to lure them in. You have a mortuary assistant who is stealing body parts to make the perfect husband and finds them through a swingers ad. Whatever method you give the character to do what they do, they have a sexual component to make it work. With this one, you have to be careful not to lose the horror element when writing the sexual content. If your character is having sex just to have sex that’s fine. However, your market may not be horror. If your character is sleeping with a warlock that does not necessarily make the story horror. However, if the warlock seduces his human sacrifices so that he can collect the energy that comes from coitus then you are on the way to a sensual horror story. If you are a fan of Poppy Z. Brite, then you have most likely read an erotic novel.
This one can be a bit controversial. Because depending on who you ask they may or may not consider Splatterpunk horror. If you have a ghost who tears it’s victims apart because of the latent rage they feel for being trapped in a coffee pot for the last fifty years then you have a horror story because you are about to make it scary. The question becomes how you are making it scary. Is it scary because the build-up makes you afraid, or are you afraid because you described every gory moment of how the sinews in the victim’s arms tore away from their shoulder in a bloody mess? In both instances the reader is cringing, so what do you do? The answer is nothing. You do nothing. If going into descriptive detail about eyes leaving the sockets of someone’s head is what you do, then that is your writing style. If you consider your work horror then readers of that genre are who you are marketing to. Trust that readers will tell you exactly what they think of your work in vivid detail.
If Splatterpunk had an opposite then this would probably be as close to one as it would get. Psychological horror builds up fear and dread through the subtle placement of elements and timing. This is not to say that there aren’t moments that have gore, but they are not as prevalent and usually only used for shock factor maybe three times in a book at most. The fear here creeps up on you. You’re watching Thomas chase a serial killer through dank passageways and cold rooms. You’re a psychologist listening to someone recount their run-in with an ax murder only to find out they are the murder. The elements of fear are atmospheric as opposed to physically violent. They play on things that you are most likely already afraid of like the dark or skeletons falling from the ceiling. Out of context, they may not sound frightening, but put in the right order in the right way they trigger fear
This is probably one of the most popular sub genres and the easiest to get wrong. Throwing a vampire into a story does not make it horror. Putting Casper in a rage does not make it a horror story. If neither of those elements is set in a story that makes you afraid then it is not horror. Paranormal horror is supernatural beings or events that produce what you are afraid of. A practitioner of Voodoo curses a fisherman because he got away with murdering her son. A werewolf murders people during the full moon and forgets about it the next day. If you make these stories scary then they become horror because the supernatural event or being is the key to the protagonist’s fear. What makes the protagonist unable to sleep at night is not brought about by human hands.
When you think of horror novels you are most likely thinking of Gothic novels. The fear is driven because of the history and the locations of the events. These horror stories are characterized by moody atmospheric locations. Brooding mysterious men who you aren’t sure which side they are on. There is usually a damsel in distress as well. Dracula is an extremely popular horror story that typifies what Gothic horror looks like. You feel sorry for the antagonist who by all accounts is Dracula, but you aren’t sure because you are sympathizing with his longing for Mina. He is a supernatural being who is murdering and kidnapping people to get to his true love. You are taken to dark castles and churches with high ceilings. The fear is not only driven by the characters but the locations that they are in. As we move further into the new century you will note that Gothic horror is no longer the domain of European locals. You can have a Gothic horror that takes place in plantations and soaring city towers. If you’ve seen Candy Man then you have seen a Southern Gothic horror. Skeleton Key is a movie that would be considered a Southern Gothic as well. The fear works because of the history and locations for that area.
These are honestly just a few of the sub genres. They are also subjectively the most popular. A lot of the books you will see on the market normally will fall into one of these categories regardless of what they are about. Regardless they all fall under the heading of horror. What do you think? Are you ready to scare us yet? Comment below and tell me what type of horror you write, and any links to books you’ve already published!