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No story makes your skin crawl more than the horror story. The horror story takes suspense to a higher, usually more explicit, level and generally contains more graphic material than the Thriller.

The overall story problem in this genre is a mortal threat to an individual or group. Therec can be a mystery at the heart of it, but it is separate from the mystery genre.

Antagonists include the abnormal and paranormal: ghosts, zombies, vampires, serial murderers, killer sharks, giant spiders, viruses, vampires, werewolves or clowns. The antagonist must be nearly impossible to beat and to fail means death. 

The reader expects to be not only thrilled and anxious, but horrified and you need to start from page one. You can start slow and build on the horror, but true fans won’t appreciate a slow, horror-free build-up to a final, horrible truth.

The point of the Horror story is to make the readers squirm, scream, and confront their fears either individually or as a group. The fears can be everyday things such as fear of being alone, of the dead, of the unknown, or of the dark. The horror genre magnifies our fears so we can examine them safely.

There must a sense of being trapped in a room, a house, a town, or on a planet that you can’t escape and therefore must turn and face the threat. 
It’s scariest if the reader doesn’t know where the threat is hiding or where it will strike next. It’s that feeling of “there’s something in the dark, I can’t see it, how can I protect myself from it?” that preys on our elemental fear of being defenseless.

It can also be the “who will die next” plot.

The reader asks: What brought the danger near and how will they get away from it?

There are several subgenres of horror from suspenseful to gruesome.

Alien Horror takes Science Fiction to a darker place. The source of the horror is either on another planet or something brought to Earth from outer space.

Creepy Kids Horror features children who turn out to be evil, possessed by demons or Satan himself.

Erotic Horror features explicit content: sadomasochism, torture, the dark side of sexuality and the sex trade.

Extreme Horror contains explicit violence and is often a “who dies first plot” with no real rhyme or reason other than to kill the victims off in horrendous fashion.

Holocaust Horror contains mass deaths, either in the past or future. They can be due to human slaughter, a rogue virus, monsters, zombies, etc. They are often dystopian or post-apocalyptic settings.

Humorous Horror combines the horror structure with the comedy structure. It is scary, but also funny.

Mind Control Horror plays on our fear of not being in control – especially of our own minds. The mind can be taken over via sorcery or via technology. Victims are forced to act against their will and nature and are horrifying aware of it – unlike a mindless zombie.

Noir Horror
uses a gritty, urban setting with cynical protagonists who must fight the horror facing himself or everyone.

Paranormal Horror
features a mortal protagonist who must fight off immortal or supernatural threats. These include exorcist tales, possession, ghosts or demons.

Psychological Horror keeps the verbal camera in tight focus on the protagonist. He and the audience are kept in the dark. They aren’t certain what they are fighting until the end. This subgenre can also follow the evil or insane protagonist such as a serial killer, where the protagonist actually turns out to be the antagonist.

Rampant Technology Horror examines our fears that man has gone too far in their technology or achievements. It can feature monster toasters or robots that kill. It can be the ghost in the machine or the machine that steals your soul.

Satanic Bargain Horror features a protagonist who strikes a deal with the devil, like Dorian Gray. They end up paying a horrible price for their decision.

What are your favorite horror subgenres? 
Can you think of others? 

You can learn more about the genre through Horror Writers Association at 

You can join their group on Facebook group at

For the month of October, we will examine story building block layers as they pertain to the horror genre.

For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.

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