“There’s a major difference between real-life horror and fictional horror and how we respond to it on a visceral and emotional level. There is nothing scarier than the 3am phone call, the sound of breaking glass when you’re in the house by yourself in the dark, or the slow-motion horror of watching the truck in front of you popping a tyre and jack-knifing towards you on the highway. This kind of fear is all encompassing and you’d have to be a psycho to find it pleasurable. However, fictional horror is written, produced and created primarily to entertain – to provide a safe thrill. For me, fictional horror works best when it warps the everyday, where the mundane is twisted and becomes threatening. Stephen King’s horror novels work because he is honest about his characters’ reactions to whatever freakiness they encounter. He places everyday characters in extraordinary ‘unbelievable’ situations (Under the Dome is possibly the finest example of this), and it is his understanding of how ordinary people tick that keeps us believing, and drags us kicking and screaming along for the ride.” – Sarah Lotz
What is horror is a question that most horror writers ask themselves at some point. It is also a topic that is debated at the World Horror Convention every year. It is also something that keeps changing. We all have our own ideas as to what is horrific and what isn’t.
So let us start with what the Collins English dictionary has to say on the subject.
- Horror (n) :
- extreme fear; terror; dread.
- Intense hatred
- a thing or person causing fear, loathing, etc.
- (modifier) having a frightening subject: a horror film
According to the definition, horror fiction or literature, it doesn’t just have to be about demons, werewolves, vampires, or zombies. Horror is about whatever scares you. It’s those phobias that you don’t tell anybody about. Horror is about provoking extreme fear; terror; or dread. Horror is an emotion, not just a genre.
Our emotions are extremely personal and so are our fears. Some people are afraid of dogs, or rats, and others are afraid of other people. Imagine being so afraid of other people that you can’t even leave your own home. Imagine that fear keeping you trapped, keeping you a prisoner inside your own four walls. Can you imagine how scary that could be?
There are many things that scare me. They range from the mundane to the supernatural. I’ve questioned my own sanity at many times in my life and I can guarantee that that, for me at least, is incredibly frightening. Not being able to trust my own mind is my biggest fear.
Make a list of the things that really scare you. Think of the things that make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. What makes your mouth go dry? Think back to when you were a child. What gave you nightmares? What gives you nightmares now as an adult? This is a list that you can use in the future for inspiration behind your stories, because the things that scare you will most probably also scare us, the reader.
One of the things that I love about horror is that it pushes boundaries that other genres don’t. Horror is not safe. Horror is not about happy endings. Horror is about surprises and shocks that you never saw coming.
Now tell me, what is horror to you?
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