In this five-part series, I'm breaking down the different genres from the perspective of a debut novelist: How to recognize what genre you're writing, what the readers of those genres expect, and how to reach them. Today is Part 4 - Horror.
What is Horror?
If your intent is to give your readers nightmares, if you have an antagonist (or a protagonist-you do you) who takes a childlike glee in ripping apart other human beings and an aversion to well-lit locations; if you just have a knack for describing all that blood and gore in intimate detail, if the first time someone who knew you read your story they said: "there is seriously something wrong with you;" if, at numerous point in the writing process, you said to yourself "oh, lord, that's just wrong. But totally awesome;" if you'd consider it a badge of honor if a fan vomited after reading one of your chapters, or if they developed an unhealthy aversion to common household objects featured in your story, then you've probably written a Horror.
Who is Reading Horror?
Very often Horror is grouped together with Thrillers and Mysteries, and to be fair the plot, the constant suspense and the subject matter makes this seem like a natural sorting, but when you look at the demographics and target audiences, you're talking about two entirely different target audiences.
I admit I've had a heck of a time finding hard numbers for this particular genre. Most data seems to either group Horror with Mysteries and Thrillers or groups Horror books with Horror movies, so most of what I've been able to gather isn't the sort of thing I can reference-I've talked to people, listened to people, people who own book stores, people who write horror books, those sorts of people.
The perception is that the average Horror reader is the same as the average Horror moviegoer-a teenaged boy. From what I'm hearing, the age skews older. Not as old as the average Thriller or Mystery reader, but still solidly in the 20s and 30s demographic, or the post-baby boom generations, with a more or less even split between men and women. Women seem to be drawn to the more complex horror novels, those more likely to include a significant romantic subplot and/or work as a crossover into fantasy or science fiction, while men seem to dominate the demand for the more hardcore horror subgenres.
What do Horror Readers Expect?
Fear, and lots of it. Horror readers want to be scared out of their minds, and that means figuring out how to make just about everyone who picks up your book fear something that they may not inherently fear. Stephen King, the undisputed King of Horror, is an expert at this. Even the most clown-loving reader is going to be terrified of Pennywise.
One of the truly interesting dualities in the Horror genre is the absolute need for both ample foreshadowing, yet a parallel and just as crucial need to not be predictable. Your readers need to know something is coming to have that critical suspense, but at the same time a predictable storyline will remove the fear that your readers come to your book to experience in the first place. In Romance, everyone knows the two lovebirds are going to end up together-it's a genre standard, but there are no such standards in Horror. The unexpected is the standard.