Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Horror Palette

I was trying to describe my new, first and so far only published book to someone over the weekend at Crypticon here in Minnesota. Because most of my short stories are horror and I publish a horror magazine and also because I got the idea for the book from a nightmare I had, I assumed my book was a horror book. There are numerous threads and even more discussions and debates on what exactly is horror. Don't worry, I'm not trying to add to that debate.

There are some books that a vast majority of people would agree are horror books, but many more that would have less concurrence. I am self aware enough to know that my book is a heck of a lot closer to some of Koontz's work than it is Barker's, but this explanation seems to be lacking.

I had the kernel of an idea some time ago that I finally was able to put to paper this weekend. What I am about to share with you is a first concept. A very rough draft of what I hope can be developed into something useful. It is not a measure of a story's quality or literary merit, it is a graph which places a story based on an X and Y Axis. X is a scale of how scary the story is and Y is the measure of gore. These are two data points, but I think a third helps clarify a story further.Instead of going 3-D, I decided to use labels. Some of the labels I have so far are their own genres, and I am using them only for stories that have a strong horror element or are indeed cross genre. Some of the labels are just meant to clarify. Remember please that this is a draft that I put together with the help of Greg Hall, and not meant the final product. In the corporate world, we would call it a straw man. Something to discuss, yet has enough context to be able to be modified to the final product.

The scale could be anything, but I think a 0 to 20 would have enough range to be meaningful. But, maybe 0-100 would give more stratification. Regardless of what range is used, I have a few examples that I hope are at least in the correct quadrant, if not necessarily spot on. The hardest part I thin will be for a writer to place their own work.

I'm looking for feedback. Please focus on big picture. Let me know if the concept seems viable. If so, what additions or modifications do you suggest. Once I get a solid final product, I think it will be a good tool. I would then like to send a survey out to several people to get their perspective on how they would rate some distinct examples for each of the four quadrants so we can populate the chart with a baseline for comparison. Thank you in advance.


  1. Is gore horror, or is it just gore? Many "action" movies and books have gore, even drama shows gore to make a point, but they're not really scary (which, sadly, says something about our society when we've become so numb to the idea), just disturbing.
    Then again, it's really only psychological horror that grabs me personally. Vampires of any sort don't really scare me, nor zombies, nor any traditional "horror"creatures, gore does not scare me. They are fluff. They don't invade my dreams. The things that I imagine popping up behind trees or in my dreams—personal terror. So what do I know?
    And the book Clockwork Orange was originally a study on the evolution of language. I never thought of that as scary, or even attempting to be scary, merely disturbingly honest.
    I like that you have the Telltale Heart high on the Incontinence meter. As that is terror personified for a reader like me. Something that sticks with you, and a situation you can imagine yourself in.

  2. Danny beat me to it - gore is not horror. I think that's an 80s thing which many dark fiction writers want everyone to get over.

    Yes, some people find gore horrific, but I don't think it is an essential component in what defines how horrific a piece is.

    It's only a small thing, but that label will annoy plenty.

  3. Instead of gore, how about Violence. While not all people are into it, there is a fan base so I want to represent it. This isn't necessarily a graph for only horror, but meant to capture even those things with a horror element.

    Danny, I agree on the Scare level of clockwark, which is why it's far to the left. There is a lot of violence it it if my memory is accurate so I had it high on the violence scale. These are only place holders. Once the tools feels ready, I plan to send out a survey and let X number of people rate a handful of books on from 0-20 on both the fear factor and violence rating.

    Do you guys think it is a worthwhile pursuit regardless of some details? Thanks

  4. I think it's worthwhile, and definitely thought provoking! So many shades of grey.

    As for gore, I always found it fun in books/movies : ) I like seeing stupid naked people get sliced up.

  5. Nat has a thing for stupid naked people, I think.

    I do think this worthwhile, to gauge what peoples' views on things really are. I do't personally see either things like Twilight or even the Fri. the 13th movies or more recent King-based films or books as horror, nor most "beast movies," just as other forms of "entertainment." Their content may make me uncomfortable, though. I know I'm not most people, however, and would be interested to see what multiple people think all graphed out.

  6. Danny - I have a thing for naked people in general. The smart ones should live ; )

  7. And maybe violence/gore works. As some slasher-type stories people consider "horror" are very violent, though don't show much, and some seem to love to describe viscera quite a bit.

  8. Awesome idea with the chart...maybe Twilight should be half-on, half-off the page?