Saturday, October 24, 2015

Horror: What is it?

Since I've been reading nothing but horror books this month, I was interested to read the posts Kelly Jensen, of Stacked Books, has written about it. I've never given much thought to what makes a horror story--does it have to include paranormal elements? Or is it something that could happen in real life? If someone asked, I suppose I would say horror needs to include a paranormal element, based on the fact that so much of Stephen King's novels could never happen in real life.

But then I read the Horror Writers Association's definition of horror fiction, which to summarize, is any fiction that elicits a painful or intense fear, dread, or dismay in readers. As the Horror Writers Association goes on to mention, this means horror fiction doesn't have to be limited to just one thing. It's not just supernatural stories, like a ghost story. It can be anything that elicits the emotions, so it could be a story about a serial killer. According to author Ellen Hopkins, horror has the possibility of being something like peer pressure (though in an interview, she stated she's not sure if peer pressure can be horror fiction, though it can be horrifying to teens).

Since reading some of these ideas, I've been thinking about what horror is to be. Can horror fiction be supernatural? Absolutely. Any ghost story written with the intent to scare is horror. Stories with serial killers can also be horror, but not all of them are--some are mysteries. To some people, maybe that's the same thing. What I think is interesting is that some people think a series like Barry Lyga's I Hunt Killers is horror, because it deals with a protagonist whose dad is the world's most notorious serial killer, and the dad wants the protagonist to be exactly like him, but to me, the I Hunt Killers series isn't horror at all. For me, it's a mystery series.

As some people, such as Kelly Jensen, have suggested, horror fiction is getting harder and harder to define, and I agree with them that it's in part because what elicits intense fear in one person is different from what elicits intense fear in another person. It's such a personal thing that it might not be easy to define what is horror fiction and what isn't, hence the blurring of boundaries.

What is horror fiction to you? Whether it's just a definition of what it means, or a list of some books that you consider horror, let me know in the comments!

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