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The Horror Genre

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Anonymous asked: “I’m writing this book and I can’t decide whether or not I want it to be contemporary or horror. I have plots for both and I’m leaning towards horror, but I also don’t know how to write a horror book. And can a book be contemporary and horror?”

I absolutely hate talking about picking a genre, so instead, I’m going talk about all things I love about the horror genre. It’s so cool and fun and I love it and ‘tis the season. Right? 

So, a little just on picking a genre first. Don’t ask me what genre your book is. I can’t tell you. Genre is tied into how you market a book. There’s more to it than that though. When I start writing, I already know exactly the audience it’s going to be for, or maybe not exactly, but I have a pretty good idea. There are a few limited options. I can say it’s like this other book and that book and a few other titles, but it’s not like them because of this, that, and that other thing. 

Not everyone can do that when talking about their book and that’s fine. It’s not essential. Most new writers don’t know what genre they’re writing in. By and large, it has to do with what kind of books you like to read. Look at the genre for the last 5 books you’ve read and you may have your answer – not always the case, but often, yeah. Otherwise, just do your best to put an appropriate genre label on it. 

Now onto horror. This is by no means a complete lecture on the genre. It’s huge and deserves more. But these are my musings for now. Some genres are a bit hazier than others. Horror is a hazy genre. Horror is about a feeling of fear or eeriness the reader gets while following the character through the story. If it’s not scary, it might fit better into a genre outside of horror. Sometimes a premise along will easily fit a story into the horror genre – like a masked serial killer on a rampage, it’s probably horror. Though there’s potential for it to be a thriller based on the lens of the story. If it’s someone running from the killer, it’s probably horror. If it’s a cop trying to catch them, maybe a thriller or police procedural. 

Like so many horror fans, I went through a Stephen King phase. I was 14. It scared me silly. I highly recommend it. It’s a fun thousand page book and moves like a book half its weight. Outside of Stephen King, I love Richard Matheson’s work. His short stories were an integral part of my childhood and among them, I loved I Am Legend the most. It’s nothing like the Will Smith film by the same name. 

The thing about these stories is that from early on we know exactly what these characters fear and it isn’t long before we see them come into conflict with that exact thing. We also usually see and know well what the danger is. We can fear for these characters not only because they’re facing their nightmares but because these nightmares have potential to kill. 

If you want to write horror, start reading, start watching. Figure out what scares you and what needs to be present in your own work. When I hear someone say “reading horror doesn’t scare me,” the truth is, you probably just haven’t found the right book yet. I felt that way a lot as a kid, but some books have stayed with me in a way nothing else ever has. Additionally, take it as a call to action, write something that will scare even you. 

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