I am lucky enough to be in a group called TESSpecFic, a group of speculative writers, and we are the writers of weird. We are also the writers of horror, dark fantasy, and many other genres.
Our leader and group creator, Marie Loughlin, suggested we tackle the question, what is horror, and how does it differ from dark fantasy?
Oh, the delicious idea of horror, and oh, the dark and twisted and avenues we can meander down. There are many categories and subtle sub-categories of horror to explore--but I am going to reduce them to two.
For some, horror is very direct, shocking, and gory:
A group of unsuspecting and vulnerable teens is chainsawed, hung on meat hooks and destroyed...
Kidnapped victims are forced to run through razor wire, remove their own eyes, or cut off their limbs...
If there are no blood and guts, some do not consider it to be "true" horror. The fluff and psychological inferences do not fly as anything but boring. This faction of people likes nothing left to the imagination. They live for the cringe factor--the more in-your-face, the better. Zombies eating intestines, werewolves ripping throats, serial killers dismembering, and psychopaths torturing fit neatly into this category.
For others, horror is a subtle and divine head-trip. Not always as direct, and sometimes teetering on the verge of another category, this horror can be reminiscent of those fuzzy-vague nights of our teens...exciting, thrilling, heart-pumping, yearning, and sometimes terrifying.
A dismantling of reality is slowly replaced with a growing realization of madness...
A boy commits suicide by shooting himself in the head, and his surviving brother is given the horrible weapon as a birthday present by his parents...
When something is seductive and beautiful, we cannot help but look at it. When that something is slowly torn down, ruined, changed, and broken--we are riveted. When our inner voices morph and we question what is sane and what is madness, we ponder our own sanity, and we need to know more. When we watch a villain suffer and we feel a tingle of joy, we question our morals and we question our decency.
Whether you like subtle or in your face horror the need and satisfaction is all the same--we experience things we could never experience otherwise, revenge, murder, suicide, torture, sadism, masochism, cannibalism and a host of other treats from the safety of a theater, our living room couch, or our favorite chair as we read a book in the dark.
Fantasy is a category of writing where medieval myths and concepts are the main focus. I think it could be easy for a dark fantasy book to cross the line into the horror-zone simply because of the direction of the story. For instance, a queen kidnapped and tortured in a very Hostel-like environment would still, in my opinion, be considered dark fantasy and not horror because of the medieval premise.
But I am also a believer in sub-sub-sub categories that cannot be found on Amazon.
For example, where does possession fit? Is it horror? A memoir? Occult?
So dark fantasy should have more branches below it on the flow chart. Horror fantasy, black comedy, dark memoirs, and non-fiction occult are a few categories I would love to see added to our genre choices.
I also think that all genres can bleed into almost any other genre, no pun intended--and I don't want to take the magic out of the topic by dissecting (sorry) it too much.
Please visit the other members of TESSpecFic and read their views of horror.
* http://jonathandallen.com/ What is horror? Baby Don't Hurt Me...
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