According to Joyce G. Saricks, “From classic ghost and vampire tales to hauntings and supernatural visitations, Horror stories, and the thrill they produce, fill our waking and sleeping hours. From ancient times with stories of Lilith and the ghosts of the dead, Horror has always held its own among fiction genres, although the popularity of these stories has waxed and waned throughout the centuries. Horror in literature has been termed mankind’s effort to invoke and subdue the demonic. There is a certain pleasure to be derived from the chill that Horror creates, as well as from the relief at being able to close a book to escape its thrall – temporarily at least, as the best of the genre tends to stay with its fans.” (p.112)

“But what constitutes a Horror story? Horror, despite the numerous themes that propel its stories, is one of the most straightforward genres to define and understand on a very basic level. The goal of Horror fiction is to produce fear in readers, sometimes through psychology, sometimes through gory details, and its appeal occurs on a very deep emotional level. It contains a monster of some type, and supernatural elements figure prominently.” (p112)

“The atmosphere in Horror novels must, the fans tell us, evoke an emotional response: a chill, a sense of menace, a feeling of supernatural terror. This special atmosphere or setting pervades the novel, and it is what readers are expecting and looking for when they ask us for Horror fiction. Unlike Science Fiction, which appeals first and foremost to the intellect, Horror appeals first and foremost to the emotions, and primitive ones at that.” (p.113)

“In Horror all elements (story line, characterization, pacing) help create this sense of menace and contribute to this emotional impact. These novels are infused with this mood. Readers never escape this feeling, at least not for long. In fact, many Horror novels highlight the horrific or supernatural element by employing different typefaces, such as bold type, capitals, or italics.” (p.114)

Characteristics of Horror

“1. A nightmare mood dominates these novels and creates a feeling of menace, evoking a strong emotional response from the reader. A dark tone and a sense of foreboding characterize these stories.

2. Monsters of some kind frame the stories, along with supernatural and paranormal phenomena. Graphic violence, strong language, and explicit sex often enhance the effect of the supernatural and the impact of the stories.

3. Endings are unresolved. Although it may be beaten down temporarily, the horror lives on.

4. Language is rich in adjectives and description, generally of the evil that threatens. These sharply imagined images intensify the readers’ reaction.

5. Protagonists are often haunted, shattered individuals. Antagonists are always sinister and often monsters in some form, whether real or imaginary.

6. Unexpected appearances and attacks, designed to jolt the reader, accelerate the pacing and keep the story moving quickly.” (p.113)

Ref: Joyce G. Saricks (2009) The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction (2nd edn.) American Library Association: Chicago


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