WHAT IS HORROR?
As most of you that have been following my articles for a while know by now, I call horror icky bug. Horror is the genre I picked for my second and first serious novel after I honed my chops on that science fiction attempt, The Cave. The result was The Greenhouse. I still have high hopes of publishing it one day. Even though I also write fantasy and adventure/thrillers, I consider myself as much an icky bug writer.
A site I visit regularly and participate in is called the Absolute Write Water Cooler. It’s a forum for writers. There are sections for just about every genre of writer. Even though I’ll be publishing a fantasy at the end of this year and my adventure thriller will be coming out in 2015, the only forum I participate in is the horror forum. Why is that? It’s the only one that draws my interest. For various reasons, the others go way out on limbs I just don’t care to follow. Horror is one of my first loves and even though it’s the genre least likely to make me any decent money, even if I successfully publish, it’s the one genre where I can write no-holds-barred, where I’m free to say what I want and create whatever scenario I want unrestricted or unfettered by audience sensitivities. My audience is not likely to be very large anyway, so I’m not really shooting myself in the foot by graphic language, sex or violence.
I’ve talked in a previous post about knowing your genre and the past week I’ve been involved in a discussion on what are the elements of horror. What is horror, how, as authors, do we define our genre? Henceforth, even though most of you don’t or never will write horror, you may be able to apply these thoughts to your own genre to help you define yourself and your audience.
My style of horror has always been B-movie horror. I joke about it by saying that the monster eats half the characters, they curse a lot and there’s gratuitous sex that has nothing to do with the plot. I’m only being half-facetious here. My style has a monster of some kind, there is a high body count, the language is graphic, there’s a lot of humor, and there may be a love interest, but nothing gratuitous. It’s always in the spirit of the old B-movies of the 50’s and 60’s, but with hopefully a bit better science!
As for the definition of horror, the forum discussion went all over the place, spanning more than just the thread that inspired this article. I’ve come to my own conclusions, whether right or wrong. At our writer’s group meeting Monday evening, during member’s introductions, a person tried to describe their genre and couldn’t. It was a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I’m going to give you my take on icky bug (horror), whether right or wrong, as I think it should be. Then you can see my predicament at the end. I sincerely hope you don’t have the same troubles with your genre, though regardless of what I think icky bug should be, I still know what shelf my book will be on (well, I would if there were more than one store left).
To me, horror has to have some unnatural or supernatural element to it. Whether it be a monster, a ghost or just an unnatural, undefined threat, that element is essential. There has to be an element of threat to the main character, something scary, horrifying. The threat doesn’t have to be overt and doesn’t have to be seen in the end or even defined, but it has to drive the story. Finally, there has to be a payoff. The hero has to triumph over it in the end. If the hero dies or the bad guy (or evil entity/monster) wins, that’s no payoff, that’s letting down the reader.
What is not horror, to me, is slasher, serial killer, rape, torture, general mayhem stories. Sure, they are horrible, horrifying things. However, they’re just amped-up crime, not horror. They’re just regular terrible people being horrible to other people. That’s crime, not horror.
Ahem… vampires. Most vampire stories nowadays are bloody romances. They’re in a category by themselves. Though at one time they were considered horror, to me they no longer are unless the vampire really is a horrible threat with no redeeming qualities such as the vampires in They Hunger by Scott Nicholson. Now that’s a horror story!
The problem is that I’m almost alone in this definition. Just go to the now-defunct Borders (ha ha) and look at their horror section (maybe Hastings?). Or more to the point, go to the video store. What do you find in the horror section? Saw, Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Those movies are not horror! There isn’t a thing supernatural in them at all! They’re terrifying and scary movies, but they’re not horror! Then look at the monster movies. Where do you find them? Yup. In the science fiction section! Aaagh!