All this time, I’ve been referring to myself as a horror writer. I write scary stuff. But just what the heck is horror fiction anyway and why do I care to label myself?
Lets start here. Merriam Webster defines horror in this manner:
Definition of HORROR
a : painful and intense fear, dread, or dismay <astonishment giving place to horror on the faces of the people about me — H. G. Wells>
b : intense aversion or repugnance
a : the quality of inspiring horror : repulsive, horrible, or dismal quality or character <contemplating the horrorof their lives — Liam O’Flaherty>
b : something that inspires horror
But wait … it doesn’t say it’s a genre of writing? How could I be a horror writer if it isn’t a genre. Let’s check with, say, Western.
Definition of WESTERN
a : coming from the west <a westernstorm>
b : lying toward the west
capitalized :of, relating to, or characteristic of a region conventionally designated West: as
a : steeped in or stemming from the Greco-Roman traditions <Westernculture>
b :of or relating to the noncommunist countries of Europe and America
c : of or relating to the American West <Western clothes>
Well I’ll be darned, no genre here either. Maybe “of or relating”, but not specifically. Maybe it’s in the idea of a genre that we’ll find our key.
Definition of GENRE
: a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content
A-HA! Genre is a means of categorizing literature and other stuffs by form, style or content.
But yet again, according to Douglas Winter as posted by the Horror Writers Association:
In his 1982 anthology Prime Evil, author Douglas Winter stated, “Horror is not a genre, like the mystery or science fiction or the western. It is not a kind of fiction, meant to be confined to the ghetto of a special shelf in libraries or bookstores. Horror is an emotion.” He was correct and his words have become a rallying cry for the modern horror writer.
Wait … they also said:
Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary gives the primary definition of horror as “a painful and intense fear, dread, or dismay.” It stands to reason then that “horror fiction” is fiction that elicits those emotions in the reader.
Let me grab my soap box now … just a minute … *huff, grunt* … one more second … okay, here we go. Why was Douglas Winter correct and, in my opinion, incorrect at the same time? Because Western isn’t a genre, we saw that by the definition. As a matter of fact, I can take a Western setting, introduce elements that elicit horror in the reader and now I have … what? Is it a Western? Is it Horror? Pretty sure it’s not Romance.
No, I have a horror story. The reason I have a horror story is actually quite simple. Marketing. My story meets the definitional requirements listed by Merriam Webster above.
Artists don’t like to get tied down with labels “Booo! Hisss!” They don’t want their works to neatly fit a certain shelf of Barnes & Noble. I say … get over it. If you want to write the most disgusting and violent story ever written and have it sit next to Doctor Seuss, that’s fine. But I, as a reader, want to know where I can find that horrible story. I don’t want to have to go through every book in B&N to find a story from a writer that isn’t as big as Stephen King.
By removing the genre label, we may be inadvertently burying new and rising authors under a slough pile. If, without a means of categorizing a story, we remove genres from the industry, people will have to find the authors they already know or try something completely unknown. Great for Stephen King, baaaad for writers like me. Darn you Snooki and your marketability!
According to Horror.org:
Chain bookstores have for the most part now done away with horror sections, allowing writers to stand on the strength of their prose instead of how their work is labeled.
Why would that be bad? Take The Seraphim Protocol for example. If you see it sitting on the shelf, what do you think it’s about?
Trust me, most people think it’s a Christian book and they couldn’t be farther from the truth (Christianity doesn’t exist any more in the world of The Seraphim Protocol). If somebody thinks it is a Christian book and then starts to read it, they are likely to give me a bad review on Amazon and now people aren’t going to buy the book.
Bingo, since I’m not a well known writer and readers don’t know what to expect, I get buried by incorrect assumptions. Clive Barker sells 20,000 more books, I get a job at Wal-Mart. So much for art.
Therefore, I submit that Horror, as well as the other genres, remain labeled on the shelves. It provides the readers with a good starting point for finding the kind of story in which they are interested and helps new writers avoid being lost in the shuffle.
So as far as genres go … label me SPLATTERPUNK. I’m good with it.