This question is almost impossible to answer, but I believe it boils down to atmosphere and the author’s personal goal. Horror is all-around a difficult genre to work with, because horror is just so subjective, but books, as I’ve found, are one of the harder mediums to make scary. Movies, I think, would actually be somewhat harder because they require a large, perfectly functioning team effort, but as far as something you would create by yourself, it’s books and stories. I love horror for its creative stories, but personally have only been not just unnerved, but genuinely scared by a very, very tiny handful of books. This makes me either an amazing or a terrible horror writer, because nothing I create scares me, either. Granted, once you’ve spent hours tweaking the details of a phantom, it kind of loses every ounce of its fear factor, but working on this latest book, I have learned a lot about what horror takes.
What kind of “scary” you’re going for can be changed instantly depending on how your concept and execution match up. If the concept is terrifying, but the execution is over-the-top and silly, a thrilling, serious horror could turn into an unintentional comedy. The overlap between humor and horror is really difficult to prevent, though I’ve found most good horror books have a bit of self-awareness about it when it happens.
When you are creating horror, consider what scares you, and what you want others to feel from your book. Dread? Panic? Fear? Sorrow, even? Or would you rather it be a dark comedy? Horror relies heavily on anticipation. The general feeling, and how this anticipation will be built up is the most important thing to know, before even deciding if it fits into any sub-genres. Genre labels are not actually that important, in the long run. Many of the greatest books I’ve ever read, or ones that are celebrated by the public, do not clearly fit into any singular genre. Some do, some don’t. It’s good to know, but it doesn’t matter nearly as much as succeeding at whatever atmosphere you want to convey. Continue reading “What Makes a Novel Scary?”