Horror Subgenres, Part Four

If you missed them, here are links to parts one, two, and three.

Welcome to part four of our series of horror subgenres. I’ve been loving the research I’m doing for these posts. My TBR pile keeps growing with every one. And, if you’re a writer like me, this can help a ton when marketing your horror stories. Knowing what you’re working with can certainly help you narrow down your markets.

So let’s get into the subgenres.

Monster literature

This is a pretty easy to define subgenre. A monster story is all about good against evil. Evil is usually in the form of a monster. Of course, it could just as easily be in the form of the absolute idiot who put together a human being out of spare parts and then took off and left it. Or the human who made a potion to turn himself into a different man so he could do all the dirty twisted shit he wanted to do and not get noticed. Or the human who thought all the creatures who couldn’t go out into the sun were going to kill him. 

What I’m saying is, even if this subgenre seems straightforward, it’s really not. These examples (Frankenstein, Jeckle and Hyde and I Am Legend) are much deeper than most people give them credit for. I’m not saying the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein wasn’t a delight. I’m just saying there’s more to the story than popular media would have us believe. 

Mumblegore

Most horror content is fake. We’re all fully aware of this. And if it’s not, it’s called a snuff film and that’s a sin against God and Man. 

The blood is fake, the lines are rehearsed. The acting is well paid. Even in my horror podcast, we use a ton of sound effects and other fakery.

Mumblegore focuses on a more natural approach. It focuses more on improv. The actors aren’t well known, the budget is a shoestring. It’s basically an amateur film, but on purpose. 

I haven’t had the chance to watch many of these films yet. But some examples from recent years are Save Yourself, Rent a Pal, and The Rental.

New Weird

This subgenre is an updated version of Weird Fiction. Starting in the ’90s and early 2000s, it’s a lot of pulp, lots of camp. There are always some sci-fi and speculative fiction elements, of course. And since this was the time I was starting to get into writing, and since I write speculative fiction, I’d say this is more my genre than any we’ve talked about so far.

Organ Transplant 

The first thing I thought about with this one is the old kidney heist urban legend. The one where a guy wakes up in a bathtub full of ice, about 160 grams lighter than when he passed out. 

And that’s the subgenre. We’re talking about people donating organs who didn’t plan to, or people getting extra bits grafted on that they didn’t need.

A classic example is the story Donovan’s Brain. But another good one is the storyline in the show Gotham. Fish Mooney is captured by a man who calls himself the Dollmaker. He’s taking bits off people to sell to others who need them. The rich eat the poor. Nothing new.

Penny Dreadful

Penny dreadfuls were the trashy entertainment of their day. That day being the 19th century in the UK. They were cheap paperback horrors full of gore and rather risque content. For the time, I mean. They sound like they were damn fun. 

Several were based on some true crime stories that were happening around that time. Most notably, the tales of Spring Heel Jack and Sweeney Todd. 

Psychological Horror

This is the stuff that gets to you. Most adults aren’t lying awake at night quaking because of a clown in the sewers. They’re thinking about whether they’re going to run out of food before payday. They’re thinking about what would happen if their kids didn’t come home after school. They’re thinking about that lump they felt, and whether they should make a doctor’s appointment.

The best horror makes us think of these sorts of things.

Psychological horror reminds us of our mortality and that of those we love. It makes us question the safety of our immortal souls. It relies not on monsters, but on the monstrosity, we all fear might lurk within us. There might very well be some supernatural elements. But that’s just a vessel to get us where we need to go. Smack in front of a mirror that shows us our darkest self, and the darkest corners of our world.

Some great examples of this are Saw, Butterfly Effect, and Split. The first two, I have no intention of ever watching again.

They scared me too much. 

That’s it for this time. I’ll be back soon with more horror subgenres.

Sleep tight.

Quiet Apocalypse is available for pre-order now! You can get it on Amazon or Smashwords

The end of the world began with a winter storm.

Sadie’s quiet life is interrupted when a tree crushes the roof of her attic apartment. She’s forced to move to a smaller apartment in the building. Then, her aunt guilts her into clearing an ouija board of a particularly irritating spirit. 

But it wasn’t just the roof that was broken by the tree. There was something trapped within the building, waiting. Waiting to wake and bring about the end of the world. 

Not with screams, but with silence. 

Paper Beats World is a labor of love. If you found something of value in this post, you can buy me a cup of coffee on Ko-fi. 

My Horror Heroes, Stephen King

I’m starting a mini-series today, covering some of my heroes in the horror genre. I’ve been a horror fan all my life, ever since the first time I watched Nightmare on Elm Street. Horror has always been my favorite form of entertainment. Bad horror, good horror, it rarely matters. I love zombies, haunted houses, Poltergeist. Give it all to me.

So I thought it would be fun to talk about some of my favorite horror creators of all time. I want to talk about why they’re amazing writers, creators and people in general.

Anyone who’s read this blog for any amount of time knows I love Stephen King. Even if I don’t love many of his endings. I’ve learned so much from him as a working writer, as a storyteller, as a creative person who has to exist in the real world. And I’m far from the only one inspired by him. He is, after all the reigning king of horror and has been for basically my entire life. Who else has that long of a career, honestly?

Cover of Stephen King's Bag of Bones

King knew he wanted to be a writer as a kid, something I relate to. In his book, On Writing, he tells stories of nailing rejection letters on his wall with a railroad spike. But since writing rarely pays the bills, at least at first, he got a teaching degree. Jokes on him, teaching usually doesn’t pay the bills either. 

But the part of him that wanted to teach never went away. It fairly does with those passionate about helping others learn. And so King has written several books about writing and the horror genre. I talked about On Writing extensively here. I also talked about his amazing book, Danse Macabre on Haunted MTL. It’s a formative education on the horror genre, and everyone with even a passing interest in horror should read it. 

King has always been generous with his knowledge. He wants to help people be better writers. And he enjoys talking about his favorite topics. He’s also very good at talking about his favorite topics, which makes sense. After all, he’s made a fortune telling stories.

Most people are fully aware that King suffered from substance abuse. He’s never shied away from that. He’s critical of himself for it and honest about how his addictions hurt his family. This bravery is something to be admired. I’m sure it opened him up to armchair therapists who want to label people who create horror as sick individuals. People like that will be quick to say that something must be wrong with him. People like that will be quick to say that about almost anyone, though.

But his honesty should inspire all of us to talk more openly about substance abuse. If it was easier to find help without judgment, more people would.

King makes it clear that he never needed drugs or alcohol to create. There are a lot of jokes in the creative world that the real geniuses are always tortured. That artists and writers are always drunks or drug addicts. I hate that suggestion. It’s an excuse for bad behavior, and an invitation for young creatives to experiment with things they should be staying far the hell away from. And King didn’t need that shit to write horror that scares the hell out of us. Neither does anyone else.

Cover of The Stand by Stephen King

King was able to get himself clean and stay clean largely because of his family. When reading On Writing, it’s clear that King is devoted to his wife, Tabitha. She is his partner in every sense of the word. I admire that. He’s fully aware that he wouldn’t have been able to create what he did without her.

On a personal note, I read On Writing for the first time when I was sixteen. I dreamed of having that sort of partner then. I’m blessed to have found that sort of partner. The kind who will tell me clearly when my writing sucks, and then tell me how awesome I am in the next breath. I am always grateful for that.

The point I’m trying to make here isn’t to get married. It’s the same point King makes, again, in On Writing. I can’t say it better than him, so I’ll just go ahead and quote him.

Art is a support system for life, not the other way around. 

I try to keep this in mind. When it feels like the words want to suck up my whole day. When I want nothing but the page staring back at me. When I feel like I’m behind on all my projects, and I want to start even more, and who needs to sleep anyway, I remember that good advice from my teacher. And I put the work away for a little while. I walk Oliver. I play chase the pen with Harper. I watch tv with the darling husband. I sing along with the music while I wash the dishes and I remember that I am more than the words I put on the page. I am a writer, but I am more.

The great thing about this lesson, putting your life before your art, is that it doesn’t mean you don’t create. King has published 64 novels, plus his short story collections, nonfiction works, and all the work he does adapting his books into tv shows and movies. The man is a creative machine. And it’s for one simple reason. He treats the writing as work. This is to say that he shows up every day at the blank page and writes. He does not wait for the muse to come to him. He sits down and starts writing. And eventually, the muse shows up.

King does not believe, and I do not believe, in writer’s block. If you’re a writer, you write. If you’re not writing, you need to figure out why you’re not. Or, you can do what King does and what I do. You sit down and write anyway, even if it’s shit writing. Even if it’s the worst thing you’ve ever written. Because the only way to get past writer’s block is to write.

Honestly, I don’t know that I’ll ever hit the 64 novel number. I have four, and four novellas, and one radio drama podcast. And I’m pretty sure you could stack all my work together and it wouldn’t match the page count of the extended version of The Stand. But I’m young, and I still have a full-time job. I’ll get there.

Turning now to the quality of King’s stories, I don’t think anyone can argue that they’re popular. And if you ask him, he’ll tell you that this comes from two things. Reading a lot and writing a lot. 

I think it’s a little more than that, of course. King has been a horror fan his whole life. He has lived the genre. He knows the classics. He knows what scares the hell out of people. And he uses it. This takes time, years really. But it’s the only way to get good at something.

TLDR, here are the lessons that any writer can learn from Stephen King

– Put your life before the work

-You don’t need drugs to create

-Writing is work, treat it as such

-Know your genre inside and out

Paper Beats World is a labor of love. You can support this website on Ko-fi.

Writing Dark Scifi

Horror and science fiction go together so well that it’s often hard to write one without at least some elements of the other. Unless you’re writing something more akin to dark fantasy, which we talked about last week. 

Dark Scifi is a fun subgenre, and a popular one, too. I’ve always been a fan. One of my favorite shows of all time, X-Files, falls right into this category. Another great example is the Alien franchise. My science fiction tends to sway heavily into Dark Scifi territory. You Can’t Trust The AI in particular.

The trick to getting Dark Scifi right is balancing the expectations of each genre. Scifi readers expect to see technology that is beyond what we have today. Beyond even what we might fantasize about having. Horror fans expect a body count. I’m sure you can see how these two expectations can work together. 

What exact expectations you’ll be juggling will vary. Within each genre, there are a million subgenres. I’ve talked about Scifi genres here. So if you’re starting on a Dark Scifi story, it’s not a bad idea, to begin with, the expectations your readers might have. From there, consider how these lists might complement each other. Or, how you might use these expectations to surprise your reader and create a more original story.

When you’re considering the genre expectations of Scifi and Horror, your mind will likely also wander to the weaknesses of each genre. We are hardest on the things we love most, of course. And I really, really love horror.

It can be callous with human life, though. It’s not always great with character development. It often throws science right out the window. And I don’t mean advanced science most people don’t know. I mean some pretty simple shit. 

Scifi has its own set of issues. It can talk over people’s heads with the science. Worse, some authors are worried that they’re going to do that. So they spend way too much time making damned sure they explain every detail, derailing the story and boring the reader. Asimov, to my dismay, had that problem.

The great thing about writing Dark Scifi, though, is that the problems of one genre can be solved with elements of the second. Your horror story with a baseline of scientific understanding is going to feel more real, therefore scarier. 

Scifi tends not to be as character-driven as some other genres, but it’s often more so than Horror. This means that your characters will tend to be richer, more fleshed out. So, when one of them dies it’s worse. This means that there’s more worry and anxiety over their deaths, upping the tension of every page. 

Dark Scifi is a beautiful marriage between two genres. Where one is strong, the other is weak. And when done right, it’s a genre that is rich, thrilling, and scary as hell.

Paper Beats World is a labor of love. If you want to support this site, you can check us out on Ko-fi. 

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