Brain Babies: The Horror of Genre

The Horror of Genre

So, I have this friend, also one of my editors, who classifies what he writes as “dark Speculative Fiction.” I like that. Rolls off the tongue. Sounds classy. I use it myself sometimes. Mostly when I’m talking to someone who likely sees horror as something vile, repulsive, grotesque.

Now, I have no problem with those adjectives, and I know most of you probably don’t either. Horror, as a genre (I know it’s an emotion, but for the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to refer to it as a genre), is supposed to evoke a reaction of fear, revulsion, and/or shock. Horror is supposed to make you uncomfortable. That’s a big part of its draw, I think.

Now, for me, writing as well as reading, I care far more for the quality of the story than for whatever’s happening on the page. I can take or leave gore, but I need solid writing.

I think that what a lot of people fail to understand is that horror is so incredibly diverse. That it is layered, nuanced, and encompasses a vast spectrum of styles.

If you want to get readers interested in your wonderfully diverse genre, you might have to cleverly spin the whole thing. “Oh, this isn’t horror,” you might say. “It’s dark, Speculative Fiction.” Of course, it is horror. We know that. And that’s wonderful. Horror is great! It’s my favorite genre.

However, I am well-aware of the stigma my favorite genre has among the vast majority of readers. You say horror, and their minds immediately flash to tragically bad ‘80s slasher films, or torture-porn movies like Hostel (which I haven’t actually seen, but I’ve heard enough about to use an example). Horror evokes a visceral reaction. It should. But, and here’s the annoying part, people don’t even give it a chance. You say your work is horror, and they say, “Oh, I don’t like horror.” That’s like saying, “I don’t like cheese.” There are roughly 127.000 different kinds of cheese, Bob! (If you’re name is Bob, relax. I’m just grabbing a name out of the air. I do that. It’s not about you, Helen.)

We, as writers of horror … ahem … dark, Speculative Fiction, must overcome this ingrained prejudice against our genre. It’s not fair. But it’s true. It’s not likely to change anytime soon either, because people continue to write the kind of horror that makes a lot of people sick. This perpetuates the prejudice against the rest of the genre. Not that there’s anything wrong with splatter. I write it sometimes. I’m proud of it too.

I don’t think we should stop writing the kinds of things that cause nasty, visceral reactions. I think there will always be readers who clamor for that sort of thing. And it pisses off the establishment, which is a bonus.

I do think we could maybe educate people about horror: give them some examples of highly literate, beautifully written things that are also dark as fuck. One fine example I just saw the other day was “Killing of a Sacred Deer.” Holy smokes! What an amazing movie! Dark, twisted, disturbing, and absolutely a fine example of horror that has minimal blood and guts onscreen. If you haven’t seen it, you might want to check it out.

Let’s get people excited about our genre. Make them aware of just how rich it really is. Maybe this would help remove the stigma, so we, as writers, don’t have to hide behind euphemisms. We don’t have say, “Um, it’s a thriller.” Instead, we can proudly proclaim, when asked, “I write horror.”

Meanwhile, as long as the public believes that all horror is blood all over the walls and someone slumped in the corner, wearing their own intestines as a fashion accessory, I might continue to use “dark, Speculative Fiction,” so I can actually sell a few books.

As always, Thanks for listening.

Ken MacGregor

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Ken MacGregor

Ken MacGregor’s work has appeared in a whole mess of anthologies and magazines. His story collection, “An Aberrant Mind” is available online and in select bookstores. He edits an annual horror-themed anthology for the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers. Ken is an Affiliate member of HWA. One time, he even made a zombie movie. Recently, he co-wrote a novel and is working on the sequel. Ken lives in Michigan with his family and two cats, one of whom is dead but still haunts the place.

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