Shivers down my spine…


We all have had those moments of spine-chilling fear…when the shivers of chill make their way slowly down our spine, every hair on our body rises, our bones seem to turn to water and the back of our necks prickles. Our bodies surge with adrenalin and we fight the instinctive response to flee or fight. Fear is one of the core base emotions. We all know what it is. We all know when it has struck…

Sleep, those little slices of death, how I loathe them. – Edgar Allen Poe

I am a part of a stellar group of authors called TESSpecFic ** We are “The Emissaries of Strange: A Speculative Fiction Writer’s Collective” is a group of writers whose fiction fits under the speculative fiction umbrella. Our captain, the lovely Marie Loughin set us a question that stirred in each of our hearts this week: What is Horror?

This is a question that I faced at the end of 2011 when I was getting ready to pitch my WIP to an agent. Genre can be a tricky question. Especially these days when there are so many variations on the classic genres and so many sub genres to further muddy the genre waters. When I set out to write my WIP, I was not thinking in terms of genre. I was thinking STORY and CHARACTER. I wrote the story that poured forth and decided to leave the question of genre until it was absolutely necessary to come up with an answer.

Right up until the moment that I sat before the agent, I was second-guessing how to genre-alise* (Yes, it is a term I made up.) my story. The days before my pitch I researched other stories similar to mine to see how those authors had genre-alised their stories. One term kept on cropping up: Horror.

There is a quake that rips the soul asunder. . . it is the pain of remembering. – Nrb

The day of my pitch arrived and as I sat before the agent and she asked me what genre the WIP was, out came the word: Horror. She allowed me to continue with my allotted 10 minute pitch and then kept me talking because she was intrigued and wanted to know more. After I had basically given her the synopsis, she sat back, clicked her pen on the table-top between us and told me that though she could see how I genre-alised the plot into HORROR, she thought it would sound better as a Paranormal Historical. She was concerned that the term HORROR would limit the marketability of what she thought was a very marketable story.

We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones. – Stephen King

Mmmh I wonder what Stephen King  would have said if someone had told him HORROR would make his market limited? Seriously, who has not heard of a Stephen King story  whether in books or movies. I think the HORROR genre has served Stephen King very well and he has done more than ok with finding a market for his work.

So what is HORROR and why are so many people afraid of that term? Pun intended*

I think Hollywood and B-Horror movies have given us a vision of blood, gore, guts and general grossness. But that is just one variation of HORROR. Below is the Dictionary.com definition of HORROR…

horror |ˈhôrər, ˈhär-|noun1 an intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust: children screamed in horror.• a thing causing such a feeling: photographs showed the horror of the tragedy | the horrors of civil war.• a literary or film genre concerned with arousing such feelings: [ as modifier ] : a horror movie.• intense dismay: to her horror she found that a thief had stolen the machine.• [ as exclamation ] (horrors) chiefly humorous used to express dismay: horrors, two buttons were missing!• [ in sing. ] intense dislike: many have a horror of consulting a dictionary.• (the horrors) an attack of extreme nervousness or anxiety: the mere thought of it gives me the horrors.2 informal a bad or mischievous person, esp. a child: that little horror Zach was around.ORIGIN Middle English: via Old French from Latin horror, from horrere ‘tremble, shudder’ (see horrid) .

I think the very origin of the word answers the question: What is Horror? Horror is an involuntary trembling and shuddering from sheer terror. For me however, true horror is those scenes that play with your mind. Psychological fear is far more intense and horrific than mere physical fear. The mind is a scary place. It’s capacity for imagining the worst and the darkest is scary. Think of your favourite horror movie, the imagined monster behind the shadow at the foot of the door that is ajar is far scarier than the monster that is seen and can be fought. What is unknown is far scarier than the known? For me, that is true HORROR.

We do not have to visit a madhouse to find disordered minds; our planet is the mental institution of the universe. – Johann von Goethe

So I take the stand on my trilogy. It is HORROR Paranormal Historical. It deals with death, ghosts and revenge. There are scenes that gave me the creeps as I was writing them. There are scenes that I still don’t like reading after midnight because they literally have me seeing the ghosts I have written become real.

It is dark. You cannot see. Only the hint of stars out the broken window. And a voice as old as the Snake from the Garden whispers, ‘I will hold your hand. – John Wick

Horror is the difference between the UNKNOWN vs the KNOWN and the UNTHINKABLE vs the IMAGINED. Horror is those shivers down my spine, that prickling on my skull and the bone-deep chill that makes my heart want to stop.

This is how Stephen King defines Horror:

“The 3 types of terror: The Gross-out: the sight of a severed head tumbling down a flight of stairs, it’s when the lights go out and something green and slimy splatters against your arm. The Horror: the unnatural, spiders the size of bears, the dead waking up and walking around, it’s when the lights go out and something with claws grabs you by the arm. And the last and worse one: Terror, when you come home and notice everything you own had been taken away and replaced by an exact substitute. It’s when the lights go out and you feel something behind you, you hear it, you feel its breath against your ear, but when you turn around, there’s nothing there…”

What is Horror to you? Is it a misunderstood and misaligned genre-alisation of a core human instinct? Is HORROR just a label or is it more a style of story-telling?

Join my fellow TESSpecFic members on their blogs below as they delve into: What is Horror?

Schedule for blog tour: What is Horror?

Marie Loughin – Wednesday, 9th May

Jaye Manus – Thursday, 10th May

Paul D. Dail – Friday, 11th May

Aniko Carmean – Sunday, 13th May

Jonathan D. Allen – Monday, 14th May

Penelope Crowe – Tuesday, 15th May

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15 Comments

  1. Yay Kim!
    Stick up for your trilogy!
    Stand up there proudly with Stephen King and wave your bloody flag.
    Glad you would not have it any other way.
    Nice post 🙂

    • Thanks hun 🙂 Hey, sometimes one just has to take a stand on something! 😉

  2. I like how you are standing for what you believe in and are trying to make a point in marketing your novel as Horror. I also write in the genre and most of what I read could be catalogued as Horror, however I think Horror is such a broad genre with implicit associations with gore and visuals Hollywood style that it scares most of the main-stream readers.

    Stephen King is called the King of Horror, however he has never called his own books Horror. By his own definition of his work (not of Horror as a genre) he writes Thriller/Supense. I know, shocking. But the thing is, Horror has always been marked as cheap stuff that is better suited for Halloween nights and movie theaters, reason why most best-seller authors choose to go for Paranormal-something or simply Suspense. It works, it attracts regular readers who are afraid they can’t handle Horror and Publishers feel more comfortable selling to the main-stream.

    This is very interesting question and I can see it sparking a nice debate. Good!

    • I agree with you Georgina…Horror is a massive genre with many sub-genres under it. It definitely is a question that needed to be addressed as it does tend to spark a “hate it/love it” response in readers, writers, agents, editors and publishers. Glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  3. Hello again, Kim. I don’t get to watch much horror these days since my family won’t have much to do with it. When you asked the question, my first thought was about the great American version of the Swedish: Let Me In. It had some moments, but for the most part it was more horror than gross. I thought it was brilliant for that. The scene where the vampire girl hugs the boy, all the while covered in blood from her fresh kill…absolutely amazing – and what I call true horror. I love those moments so much better than the torture porn that seems to be so widespread these days.

    -Jimmy

    • Hey again Jimmy 🙂 Two comments in one week – I am honoured 😉
      Yes there is completely the blood/gore/guts part of horror (the way you described it as – torture-porn) but there is so much more to horror than just the blood/gore/guts. Personally I cannot watch a slasher movie, they give me horrible nightmares. But the question, what is horror is an interesting one and already there have been completely different responses to the question from all the participants as well as all the commentators. Thanks for stopping by and giving me your opinion too.

  4. I find it interesting that you put “Unthinkable” versus “Imagined.” I would agree with Jaye. Very interesting take, but I like it when it is worded as such. Because in a way, you have aligned “Imagined” with “Known.” And that it is also a physical sensation.

    Great continuation of the topic.

    Paul D. Dail
    http://www.pauldail.com- A horror writer’s not necessarily horrific blog

    • Hi Paul… Like in my own story, some of the scenes came from somewhere untapped – I can’t say I imagined them, they just surged forth…until they were on the page they had been unthinkable and unknown to me. That is horror in literature for me. When even you as a writer don’t recognise the horror you are writing, then it truly is horror. I still have moments when I read certain scenes in my story and I wonder: Did I really write those? I know my hand typed the scenes but did the scenes come from my mind or somewhere else…mmmh makes one think, doesn’t it. 😉

      • I like Stephen King’s thoughts on this. He has said (in “On Writing,” I think) that he often considers himself almost more of an archaeologist than a writer. He is merely digging up, brushing the dust off and unearthing these relics. I’ve always liked that. Has a nice tie-in with the ideas of Joseph Campbell and the archetypes first discussed by Carl Jung, of which I’m also quite fond.

        Paul D. Dail
        http://www.pauldail.com- A horror writer’s not necessarily horrific blog

  5. You’re exactly right. The part of horror that disturbs me the most is the waiting. For me, Alien was so much scarier than Aliens.

    I like that you scare yourself with your scenes. You must be seriously tapping into your inner boo factor. When I write the scary bits, I’m more like Jack Torrance in The Shining: kind of wild eyed and maniacal. I try to write those scenes when I’m home alone.

    • I know when I have typed out a scene that gives me shivers down my spine, I have hit pay dirt. As Robert Frost stated: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” I would add no chills of horror in the writer, no chills of horror in the reader.
      Thank you for asking the question that got all these blog posts rolling Marie. 🙂

    • Thanks Jaye 🙂 I love how everyone has come at this question from slightly different angles. Makes one realise how large the genre-alisation of Horror truly is.

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