Whether you call yourself a reader or writer of romance, mystery, thrillers, science fiction, Westerns or any other genre, chances are you’re actually reading or writing horror. Here’s why.
Most genres are defined by specific story elements. Science fiction stories emphasize the science and technology within the stories. Mysteries are stories where the characters work to discover things that are unknown to them at the start of the story. Adventure stories emphasize action. The foundation of any romance is the development of a romantic relationship between the main characters. It’s clear that these genres emphasize the focus of the story content and require that content to contain specific elements. Historical fiction is similar; it emphasizes stories that are set during a specific historical period.
All of those genres differ from horror because horror prioritizes the emotional reaction. Its focus is on fear.
One reason I’d been deterred from embracing horror was because of how people often explained horror. What was commonly presented as horror were actually the sauces and spices. Horror is not defined by monsters, ghosts or gore. It may contain those things, but horror is larger than any one element.
To put it another way, horror is like steak or pasta. Perhaps you prefer horror sprinkled with some pepper. Perhaps you prefer your steak with Old Bay. Maybe you like your pasta smothered in alfredo sauce while your significant other prefers theirs with marinara. You may want your main dish dripping in barbecue sauce or seasoned with a blend of spices. No matter what you put on top, you’re consuming steak, but it may taste a little different from the steak someone else chooses.
That doesn’t make one version better or worse, right or wrong. They are simply different variations of the same root product.
Horror’s emphasis on emotion is one of the reasons horror is actually one of the most diverse genres that there is. Any story that emphasizes fear—particularly fear of the unknown—falls within the scope of horror. Horror can easily blend with romance in a story that explores the fear of conflict in a relationship or being separated from the person you love. Horror has been present throughout history and can be a key ingredient in stories that are contemporary, a hundred years old or a thousand years old.
Horror also centers on the unknown. This means that it often presents events or experiences that the characters may not understand or be able to explain. In this respect, horror compliments the mystery genre effectively. From Aliens to Game of Thrones, you will also find horror playing an important role in stories that might be classified as science fiction or fantasy.
In this respect, horror is both a genre and a seasoning. It is a tool in a writer’s toolbox that they can use to increase the tension in their story, no matter what genre they write.
There are some writers, such as children’s picture book authors, who do not use horror in their work. But once you move into YA and adult fiction, almost every single author seasons their work with horror.
If you’re a writer, you are almost certainly a horror writer. It may not be your primary focus, but it’s there in most works.
And if you’re a reader you may be surprised to find that horror is an essential ingredient in every genre, including romances and cozy mysteries.
The more I understood horror, the more I realized that I’d been reading and writing horror for most of my life.
Leery about trying horror? Consider some of these cross-genre books that use fear-inspiring scenes to advance the plot.
Gracie’s Movie Recommendations
Sam’s Book Recommendations
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – Gothic stories contain horror elements
Rebecca by Dame Daphne du Maurier
Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrew
Night Film by Marisha Pessl
Bunny by Mona Awad
Olly’s Book Recommendations
Naked Lunch by William Burroughs
Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis
Olly’s Movie Recommendation
High Plains Drifter
Fairy Tales – Fairy tales are children’s stories that often contain strong horror elements
Brian’s Movie Recommendations:
I Saw the Devil
Eliza’s Book Recommendations
The Mermaids Singing by Val McDermid
The 50/50 Killer by Steve Mosby
Hard Night by Allan Guthrie
Eliza’s Movie Recommendations
A Monster Calls