Screaming Into the Void

What Do We Mean When We Say Horror?

“In literature, horror is a genre of fiction whose purpose is to create feelings of fear, dread, repulsion, and terror in the audience—in other words, it develops an atmosphere of horror. The term’s definition emphasizes the reaction caused by horror, stemming from the Old French orror, meaning “to shudder or to bristle.”

It’s an easy mistake to make thinking that all horror ought to scare you, or that the mark of a good piece of horror media is how many times you feel your heart pounding in your throat and you have to look away. Being an avid horror reader, I so often see people speaking in these terms. “Oh, that book wasn’t scary at all.” I feel some of them are missing the point of what really makes good horror…well, good.

What really defines horror to us here at Graveside Press is dread.

Plain and simple.

Horror spans a wide range of sub-genres, from slow-burn Gothic to the classic Slasher trope. It’s true that horror can be intended to frighten, but there are so many pieces of incredible horror media out there that wouldn’t make even the weakest of us jump.

Dread is the building anxiety as Dr. Louis Creed carries his dead son to an ancient burial ground while the reader keeps hearing the warning, ‘sometimes dead is better1. Dread is the feeling of claustrophobia as a diving crew investigates the mysterious wreckage of the SS Arcadia2. Dread is the overwhelming terror of trying to face a force of nature so much bigger than you…especially when it resides inside someone you love3. Horror can be as simple as a terrifying monster eating campers in the woods, to a complex and analytical look at a person’s unraveling psyche, with a lot that fits in between. In fact, horror is less about there being a ghost in the house, and more about how our characters perceive and respond to that ghost.

Horror is a beautiful genre in its limitlessness. The characters have more room to be flawed individuals, pulled into their nightmares because of their own shortcomings and failures. The atmosphere within a horror setting is often a character within itself and can make or break an entire story. We’re looking for horror that invokes some big feelings, whether it’s fear, dread, anxiety, unease, discomfort, or repulsion. You’ve got a lot to play with.

And, perhaps the most exciting thing about this beloved genre…

Horror doesn’t expect happy endings.

1 Pet Sematary by Stephen King
2 From Below by Darcy Coates
3 Echo by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

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