Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and a few to be chewed and digested….Essays : Francis (1561-1626)
For the last few days I have been busy editing my new horror novella, Never Reaching the End. The storyline is more about an obsession, which is never ending, but how many readers will never read my tale because of the word horror.
It has come to my attention while marketing my books that many readers have formed a negative view of what horror books are all about, and why they’re not on their to-read-lists. Like all main fiction genres, horror has many sub-genres, but some readers are unaware of this. I can understand this as in life in general we have a nasty habit of labelling something we don’t fully understand under one simple label, rather than investigating it further.
I always say I don’t do romance, but in fact I have read and enjoyed many books which are classed as being a romance. This is because the storyline has grabbed my attention. The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller is a romance and it is on my top best-ever-reads list. As a writer, I know that it’s hard to classify one’s book, when you feel your plot covers a wide array of sub-genres.
My novel Seeking the Dark is an interesting example of this. The story is about a desperate journalist Jacob Eldritch who is obsessed with solving the mystery of the dead men sleeping a series of unexplained deaths. With this simple description you would say it’s a Crime novel. And you would be right. The book does have a crime that needs solving. Could it be classed as a Police Procedural? Once again, yes, but the focus isn’t on the police solving the crime. In a way the crime in the novel has been classified by the police force as a cold case.
So could Seeking the Dark be classed as a Mystery? Yes, quite easily. Jacob can slip on the shoes of an amateur detective as he tries to piece together the puzzle that links the death of his parents and the series of unexplained deaths. Ah, so you’re saying there a Historical element in this book. Yes, there is. It covers quite a wide timeline from the dawn of ancient history to the ruins of a civilization Jacob’s parents were uncovering with their team of archaeologists.
Oh, so we mustn’t leave out the Romantic element to this tale. Well, as I said, I don’t do romance but as all writers know our characters lead their own lives in our books. Jacob has three leading ladies in this tale. There’s the owner of the nightclub, a childhood friend and then the mysterious white-haired beauty. Jacob has a big heart and he’s the kind of man women are comfortable to be around, though his obsession has left him with a broken heart and alone.
Now let’s look at why Seeking the Dark is classified as a Horror tale. This is easy to answer. It has a Supernatural element. Most reader see the word horror, and automatically think it must be full of blood, guts and lots of gore. This is so untrue. Yes, if you are a die-hard horror fan you will want a gory horror read, but if you are like me this is the last thing you want. I read to be entertained, I enjoy chilling tales that allows my mind to decide just how much I want to be scared.
The Victorian Gothic Writers were brilliant at taking their readers to the edge of their seats, without over describing gory scenes. Remember the Victorians were all about the family and high morals so if such books and stories were going to be read aloud they couldn’t be too graphic. The Victorians also tidied up the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales which we allow our children to read. In the original story Cinderella’s stepsisters cut their toes off to make the shoe fit. And, as for the wolf eating granny in Red Riding Hood, well isn’t that too graphic for you?
What are the sub-genes for horror?
- Dark Fantasy: A mixture of supernatural and fantasy, example Johnathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
- Dark Mystery/Noir: these are normally tales about a detective who is sent to investigate some paranormal activities whether it be criminal or morals, example: The Nightside series by Simon R. Green
- Quiet horror: the equivalent to cosy crime in the horror gene: subtly written by using atmosphere and mood to create fear and suspense rather than graphic description. This allows the reader to use their imagination, examples: works by Edgar Allen Poe, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Daphne du Maurier, Charlotte Riddell
- Psychological: stories that a based on insanity, altered realities and fears but of the human kind rather than supernatural monsters, examples ROSEMARY’S BABY by Ira Levin SILENCE OF THE LAMBS by Thomas Harris
- Creepy Kids: Often children under dark forces, normally directed at the adults but can be other children, example. We have always lived in the castle by Shirley Jackson, Lord of the Flies by William Golding
- Splatter: This category is what most readers think of when the word Horror is mention. It’s the extreme storytelling which cuts right to the core of gore, examples The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum, The Traveling Vampire Show by Richard Laymon
- Religious: These tales puts angels, demons and religious icons and mythology at the heart of the stories, examples: The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty, The Omen by David Seltzer
- Historical: are tales set in a specific and recognisable period of history. The Woman in Black by Susan Hill, Dracula by Bram Stoker, 1922 A novella by Stephen King
- Erotic Horror: Sexuality and love between humans and the creatures in the Neverworlds, anything from vampires, werewolves and, dare I say, zombies etc, examples Voice of the blood by Jemiah Jefferson, Feral Sins by Suzanne Wright, Erotic Zombies by Tracy Wilson, (please don’t ask me, I just keep imagining parts keep dropping off)
- Supernatural Menace: this is when the normal rules of existence no longer apply. Ghosts, demons, vampires and werewolves rules examples: Pet Sematary by Stephen King, Midnight by Dean Koontz
- Technology Horror: tales that features out of control computers, cyberspace and genetic engineering example: Parasite Eve By Hideaki Sena, House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. Demon Seed by Dean Koontz
- Weird Tales: Strange and uncanny events example: Spawn by Shaun Hutson, Rats by James Herbert
- Zombie: Committing mayhem example: Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry, The First Days by Rhiannon Frater
So next time you see the word Horror on a book cover, ask yourself, “I wonder, what sort of tale is it?” Who knows you might be surprised and find it’s an enjoyable read that will take you outside your comfort zone, just a little. And, if you’re wondering what category my writing comes under, then its very much quiet horror. I’ll let you into a little secret,😊 I can’t watch horror movies because they scare me too much, but I can read horror books as long as they are quiet horror.
Thank you for taking the time to read my post.
You make good points. I can’t read true crime because they scare me too much. But I can read the most gory, menacing, cruel story as long as it’s fiction.
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Very informative, Paula!! Thank you so much for this post 🙂
Useful and informative blog post on horror and its sub genres. I get told all the time, the same refrain – ‘oh we/I don’t read (shudder) horror…’
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What an interesting post, Paula. I’m definitely into quiet horror.
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