What Makes Horror, Horror
I don’t like to think of myself as a Horror writer.
That’s maybe a bit strange because on Wednesday the third episode of The Raventree Society, a collection of serialized ghost stories, is released. Most of my reviews would describe them as “horror” or at least as “creepy”.
My readers probably judge them as compared to other Horror literature.
And in fact, when I started writing The Raventree Society it was with the full intention to write horror. I call myself a “Speculative Fiction Author” and it was important to me to show my readers just what that means. Even now, most people think of me as a “Science Fiction Writer” because Malfunction has been, so far, my defining work. By the end of the year, the majority of my published words will still be focused on Science Fiction.
And don’t get me wrong. I love Science Fiction, but I don’t want to only write Science Fiction. I also love fantasy, and building worlds and exploring new genres. I like things that scare me and thrill me, and occasionally things that don’t make sense scientifically. So I decided to play around with Horror to spread out over the full length of Speculative Fiction.
A bit of Sci-Fi. A bit of Fantasy. And a bit of horror.
But I don’t really like horror. If you tell me that a book or movie is in the horror genre, I will be much less likely to pick it up. I don’t troll through the Horror films on Netflix, and I never look in the horror section in Barnes and Nobles.
Funny, because some of my favorite books could be defined as Horror. In fact, if you tell me that a book is a “Gothic Horror”, you probably have my attention. Frankenstein, The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Right now I am listening to The Invisible Man. All these are defined as "horror" stories
They were probably terrifying at one point in history, but now most of those concepts no longer give us a chill. Modern Horror films are all jump scares, blood and gore, and serial killers. These are all concepts that I just don’t have a ton of interest in.
Recently I went to watch The Quiet Place with my husband, and it clicked. What makes Horror, Horror is what makes me dislike Horror. Horror as a genre is all about scaring the consumer. It’s about inciting that deep-down fear. A good horror film should keep people up at night, stick in their brains, and maybe make them sick to their stomach.
It’s like a roller coaster ride. I don’t like roller coasters. That pure rush of adrenaline in and of itself is just too empty to me. Early in my marriage, I went on the Manta in SeaWorld and after the initial rush of fear, the ride was just a bunch of fast twists and wind. But I love the Splash Mountain Ride at Disney. The immersion in the story makes the adrenaline rush of the drop that much better.
We are never more vulnerable than when we feel afraid. The moment when we feel like there is something far more powerful than us just about to strike. Because of that, there is never a better time for a good writer to bring in a powerful message.
In Quiet Place, they used the fear the monsters induced to bring across the message of a parent’s sacrificial, protective love for their children. I didn't leave the movie thinking about how many times I jumped, or how scary the monsters were. And I didn't look over my shoulder to see if I was going to get attacked on the way home. What I thought about was the way the parents struggled to keep their family together and safe. About how their kid's emotional health was just as important to them as their physical safety. And about how they struggled to teach them how to keep themselves safe, knowing that any moment might take one of them away.
And perhaps this is what I love about the horror stories I do enjoy. I love how terror can be the conduit for something comforting and beautiful.
Can we still call this Horror? Because Horror is a genre focused on creating fear, while stories like these, like what I’m striving to do with The Raventree Society, are focused on using that fear to inspire something else.
What do you think? Can you include deeper messaged into horror books and movies without losing the genre, or should they simply be used to incite emotions?