This is a question I get asked quite often…what makes a book horror, versus let’s say thrillers or suspense? Admittedly, it is quite confusing to discern the differences. To me, horror is any piece of writing that causes the reader to experience a sense of dread or fear. Horror forces us to realize and confront our fears. In many cases, as I’ve stated repeatedly, horror forces us to examine social issues that are often ignored or frowned upon. Notice I didn’t state that said writing must contain vampires, ghosts, werewolves, or anything supernatural? There are many ways in which this fear is elicited, including unnatural things like monsters or ghosts, but realistic situations, including mass murderers, serial killers, etc. can be used. Part of the way this fear is created is through the setting and atmosphere. Picture a dark, abandoned house, full of spider-webs, shadows, creaking with age. This setting quite easily evokes fear and dread, right? With horror movies, the chilling background music adds to the atmosphere as well.
Classic examples of what could be termed horror fiction include Dracula, Frankenstein and The Picture of Dorian Gray. Modern horror would include the likes of Stephen King and books such as The Strain and The Passage.
I’ve been a fan of horror for nearly 20 years. Throughout this time, I’ve noticed that horror gets a bad rap from readers or other writers. Why is this?
In the late 70s and early 80s, horror fiction was quite popular. We can thank Stephen King for that. All sorts of other horror authors came out of the woodwork but instead of creating a strong, established genre, horror lost its identity. So many books falling under the horror genre were published and it became hard to describe exactly what horror was. Then in the early 90s, the public’s view of horror changed. It was no longer good for writers to be labeled as horror authors. Instead, their books were published under other genres, including thriller, speculative fiction or science fiction. Somehow, in this time-frame, the term “horror fiction” became a bad label.
It’s a shame, really. The point of Fright Fest was to show there is some really quality “horror” fiction out there. It isn’t just blood and gore and chainsaws and violence. If you look hard enough, you can find some pretty outstanding writing hidden under all that gore, and frankly, hidden within the gore.