What makes a good horror story? I often ask myself this. It seems everyone has different ideas on the answer. A great horror novel to me usually involves suspense, mystery, drama, and sometimes a little romance.
There are a ton of subgenres for horror: gothic, contemporary, supernatural, psychological, science-fiction, erotic, satanic/religious, and more. I’m a reader who loves suspense much more than gore. So contemporary dark fantasy horror is probably my favorite subgenre.
It seems many books I pick up that are categorized in the horror genre regardless of subgenre have bloody violence in them. Although I do think some scenes call for such graphic displays for impact, I don’t support adding abhorrence just for the sake of it. I love dark, creepy characters. I think they add more to a story than an isolated display of terror. Complex, eerie characters draw in my attention. I want to know what makes them tick. Strange situations and sinister plot twists are also delectable to me. I enjoy the startling feeling when something happens in a book I never expected.
I guess I just think it’s a mistake to add a gruesome scene to a story just because the writer assumes it must have that in order to be considered real horror. There have been many stories I’ve read that would benefit from deleting a blood-soaked display that seemed to be only added as unnecessary description. I think the story itself is much more important than the pageantry of a hideous monster devouring a bloodied, screaming girl. Of course, that’s only my opinion. Considering the popularity of the many Saw movies, I could be way off base here.
I believe a good story has many facets of the genres available out there. Real life covers many different domains. Why shouldn’t a written story as well? As a writer I think every story reflects reality. Even fantasy has realistic attributes that have readers believing fictional characters and places truly exist. I would love to some day crawl through the back of an old wardrobe and find myself in another world. Maybe Narnia, maybe some place more like the Overlook Hotel.
So why do we consider any story a representation of the horror genre? Well, a good horror story frightens and even shocks its readers. The story usually focuses on death, evil, or a demonic presence, or the after-life. All this seems like enough creepiness to keep me reading without adding causeless carnage.
A great story involving deep, dark characters keep me loyal to many authors of the horror genre. Kathryn Meyer Griffith’s Evil Stalks The Night is a great read that still causes me to shiver when darkness floods the woods around my home. Of course, Stephen King is a huge favorite of mine too. The suspense he builds is phenomenal when little Danny Torrance fears the fire hose mounted on the wall is going to strike at him. I felt like I was holding my breath for four pages. The short stories of Joe Hill and Edgar Allan Poe are also favorites I’ve reread many times.
Ultimately I just don’t believe gore equals good. It’s more like gore equals gross for me.
What do you think? Is an unholy bloodbath necessary in the horror novels you read? Or are you happier when the thrill and suspense are the more prominent characteristics?