How important is knowing your genre? Incredibly, in fact it’s so important that you really should know the genre before you even start writing. Don’t get me wrong, it can evolve as you write, but do identify which one you’re working in sooner rather than later. Writers who don’t know their genres tend to go for the lazy option of saying they write ‘fiction’ or worse ‘general fiction’. As a writer, if you do this, you’ll end up in a massive slush pile of other lazy writers and worse, publishers won’t know what to do with you! When you approach a publisher or an agent you need to be able to tell them what genre your manuscript fits into, and hopefully add in an extra sub-genre to not only make you sound more exciting, but also to describe your work better.
Below you’ll find a sample list of genre/ sub-genres of horror (can also lend themselves to paranormal romance) along with a few links to examples in film, TV and literature. These can be great for inspiration, so pick a few, mash them up, heat it all up in the oven of inspiration, and let your readers feast on what you’ve made for them…
Gothic Blue Book:
These are usually set in a churchyard, a monastery/ convent or a gothic castle. Because of the specific location requirements these can be kind of limiting. There’s not much call for this genre any more, as in the past they were considered the Shilling Shockers/ Penny Dreadful and as such were hard to maintain for longer than novella or short story. At a push I’d say Bram Stoker fits in here – although there are few anthologies worth looking at. Burial Day Books are on their 3rd anthology.
Grind House/ Splatterpunk/ Extreme:
Think gore dripping in blood. Think the literary equivalent of a balls-out slasher film. There are probably small difference between them, but really these 3 genres (in my mind) are in the same camp, sat round the same camp fire telling stories that’ll make you nauseous and downright uncomfortable. Crank it up on these – no holds barred! Grey Matter Press have an anthology of this coming out soon called ‘Splatter Lands’.
More tense than horrific, these are the stories that make you think. Could be stalkers, serial killers, or even supernatural monster lead, but the main difference here is that it relies more on the scare than the gore factor. Go for the twist in the tale and have your characters, and their journey, infect your readers mind – make them sleep with the light on. Sometimes it’s what you don’t say that can be the scariest thing of all! The Dexter series by Jeff Lindsay is a great example of this.
This is a mash up of fantasy and horror. Usually it’s your typical horror story that unfolds in a fantasy realm with characters who could be elves, orcs, wizards and warriors. A serial killer elf, a wizard summons an army of ancient vampire gods who spread a bloody plague across their fair land – you get the idea. Think Game of Thrones on this one – mixing zombie-like creatures and dragons into an epic family saga.
This sub-genre has always scared me as a writer, as the plot holes could be the size of trucks! Moving back and forth in time plays major roles in all sorts of genres, specially Sci-Fi, but it can also cover travelling to and from parallel dimensions too. If you take this sub-genre on you need to be meticulous in your planning and structure and stick to your world’s parameters like glue. Of course for the romance side there’s the obvious ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ by Audrey Niffennegger.
This is one of my favourites. Think The Maltese Falcon with vampires or Humphrey Bogart the werewolf. Noir is set in urban surroundings where the very base of human nature takes over: lust, obsession, paranoia, revenge and corruption. Shady characters with limited morals are a bound. Then mix in a supernatural element and/or creature and bingo! Supernatural Noir
This is the opposite of Utopian. Think of a society where everything is going wrong and the gap between rich and poor is ever-growing. Where the government looking after the people only seem able to look after themselves – well that’s my rant about modern Britain over! Just kidding! Dystopia is a very interesting sub-genre and it’s whole essence is in the hands of the writer. Remember that, when using this, you really need to ensure an appropriate back story of how things ended up that way. Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is a classic example of this.
This refers to the fiction which lives so far out of the box, that the box itself is a distance memory. It is the genre that pushes the boundaries of all the sub-genres here and really should only be attached to your genre description if you have really pushed that abnormal boat out.
The key here is that you have an urban setting with some sort of supernatural or paranormal element – usually monsters. The time period can vary greatly and run from anytime where there’s an urban setting- so from historical to futuristic – so as long as its set in a city, the choice is yours! A great example is Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr.
The opposite to Extreme and Splatterpunk. Quiet horror is a sneak attack from the writer. There’s no blood and guts or shocking scenes. Here the atmosphere is crucial, build tension and ramp up the reader’s fear. Crank everything up nice and slow until the reader realises their shoulders are hunched up and they’re holding their breath!
Dark Suspense and Thriller:
Here’s where the detective and investigatory angles come in. Throwing in some action will land it more on the thriller side. To me these are where the traditional serial killer crime books come in. They’ve got strong visceral horror in spades but the main draw is the trail of clues, along of course with the trail of dismembered bodies! Kiss The Girls is a great example of this one.
This is a fairly common used sub-genre, but can be very dangerous. The whole point of horror is to scare the reader, the whole point of comedy is to make the reader laugh – it’s hard to tie these together, or it use to be. Now the likes of vampires and werewolves have invaded the main stream, its pretty easy to use them as stooges in comedic situations. The new Johnny Depp film ‘Dark Shadows‘ fits this genre perfectly.
This covers everything that is a bit bizarre – dreams for example are usually described as surreal, they don’t make sense yet still leave you feeling a heady cocktail of emotions. Like adding banana to a smoothie, adding this into the mix will overpower any other genre, so do use it sparingly. Think, pretty much, any Terry Gilliam film.
This is limited to the time periods of Victorian England and the American Wild West and there has to technology that shouldn’t be there powered by steam. Combining tight corsets, goggles and futuristic technology can make up for the time period restrictions; I particular like adding elements of Steam Punk into other genres, such as Dystopian. There are two strong movie examples of this that I always give when asked about this genre: The Wild Wild West & The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
H.P. Lovecraft’s work gravitates about the idea that the world is ruled over by an alienesque being which lies just out of sight. Using this as a loose theme can enter in all sorts of possibilities of an outside evil-being pulling man’s strings. It can lend itself to thriller and quiet horrors, where its suggested that there’s a great evil on the other side of the door – but the reader never gets to see it. That can be risky though, as I know when I read stories like this I can feel cheated if I don’t get a good look of the monster.
So the end of the world is not just nigh, its actually happened. There’s a number of ways it could happen, and the reason will have a dramatic effect on both your characters and events. The majority of the population have been taken out of the picture and these stories will fixate on a small band of survivors – think The Walking Dead and Falling Skies.
I hope I don’t have to go too far into this one…that’s really a conversation that your parents should have already broached with you! What I will say is that this is becoming an increasingly popular genre. Make it a good horror and ensure that your explicit sex acts are vital to the plot and not just shoe-horned in there for titillation. You definitely cannot leave the reader at the bedroom door with this one, so find the language that you’re comfortable with and stick with it. Here’s an anthology which is including one of my stories, coming out Valentine’s Day this year: 50 Shades of Decay.
This encompasses quite a few different angles: disease, parasites, mutation and mutilation. Thinking about it Alien could actually be called a sci-fi body horror, as the most horrific part is that the alien gestates in the human chest, then bursts forth. Also The Tattooist is a great film example.
As it says on the tin… a horror story that is based on a fable or myth. Roman and Greek myths are rich with plots and characters and can be great foundations for other sub-genres. Great journeys seem also to be covered here and so The Hobbit could also be called a Mythic Fantasy Fable. Careful with these ones though, don’t stick word for word to the originals – we’ve all heard them before.
Any fiction set in an accurate historical time period can sit in this genre – although the events within don’t have to be at all accurate, however I do find that the more you tie to actual events, the more realistic your story becomes. Do your research on this – unless its Steam Punk – you can’t include anything that comes after your chosen time period. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostava is a great example of this genre.
Vampires, werewolves, demons, witches, oh my! Well anything beyond the natural applies here. Typically these powerful beings live outside of the normal and have a habit of messing about in human affairs. These are incredibly popular nowadays and adding the Supernatural will spice up any other genre set out here. Not that you need an example, but Anne Rice’s books still rock the supernatural!
The best example of this I can give is the film Event Horizon. It was horrific but set in a Sci-Fi space ship. This can also include alien invasions, science experiments which go horribly wrong, and pretty much any sci-fi theme which can be made scary, fearful or incredibly tense.
Popular in gaming, these can be amazingly tense too. The trick to a good one, is a large cast of characters which you make the reader care about. Richard Laymon did this to the ‘nth degree. Build up to each death and make them all count, until you you’ve whittled them down to just one survivor – if you want one that is…
These really drop in to all the above, but are limited to a man made event of horror. The most famous example is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – in Man Made horrors the protagonist really brings it upon himself, just like the grave robbing scientist. It can also cover viruses, mutation and general pollution – I have a nasty feeling that right now the world is writing this one as we speak!
As much as Supernatural can come into this, think less intelligent and more animal-like monsters. Jaws is a great example and let’s not forget all the cryptoid animals out there in our urban legends: Loch Ness, Big Foot, Chupacabra and even zombies to a degree. Or even create your own monster…
Set in deepest, darkest space and often on faraway planets where the characters are no strangers to spaceships. Feel free to flaunt the laws of physics here and create intricate character relationships. Aliens are abound and naturally speak English – Star Trek, Star Wars are both loosely under this heading.
Usually features people with severe psychological disorders which have been cultivated by society. The film ‘Whatever happened to Baby Jane’ is a great example of this and also the book ‘American Psycho’ by Bret Easton Ellis. If you’re working with a human serial killers, chances are you are writing one of these.
So this would cover all the more religious paranormal and horror concepts such as: possession, devils, witches, demons, angels and even cults with religious ties. These can end up very strong themed stories, so you need to careful if you’re tackling religion – don’t go randomly insulting people and their beliefs for effect. Do your research on this one too, religions have great stories and myths within them and there’s usually a moral component as well. Apex Books have published 2 anthologies called Dark Faith, which are worth a look.
These can be a lot of fun, but also a little scary. What if Hitler won the war? Or if the Guy Fawkes had blown up the Houses of Parliament – the questions themselves open up into rich and horrific stories waiting to be written – Loosely you can count Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter in this genre. You can even take famous books and give them an alternative take – just like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
Fairy Tale Horror
Becoming very popular with publishers, fairy tale horrors can be atmospheric and dark. Although to be honest some of them are pretty weird and horrific already! The Grimm’s ‘The Mouse, the Bird and the Sausage‘ was just plain crazy and, if you look it up on Wikipedia, you’ll find an incredibly disturbing drawing of it too! There’s hundreds of fairy tales to choose from, so don’t get hung up on the well known Disney ones – look about and let your imagination chew them up and spit out an even more twisted bloody horror.
Now you have a list of sub-genre ingredients you can mix them together and come up with stories that are easy to describe to publishers, and hopefully inspire you to bake up dark batches of yummy scary craziness. Don’t forget your apron, it can get messy!