This week: Horror Sub-Genres and TropesEdited by: LJPC - the tortoise
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This newsletter is about Horror styles and experimenting to broaden your skills.
"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear. And the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown."
~ H.P. Lovecraft, author
"To suffering there is a limit; to fearing, none."
~ Sir Francis Bacon, Renaissance author
"Japanese horror is different. It messes with your head."
~ Sarah Michelle Gellar, "Buffy" actress
"Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free."
~ Jim Morrison, lead singer "The Doors"
"I think of horror films as art, as films of confrontation. Films that make you confront aspects of your own life that are difficult to face. Just because you're making a horror film doesn't mean you can't make an artful film."
~ David Cronenberg, Horror film director
Horror Sub-Genres and Tropes
What's a Sub-Genre or a Trope?
Sub-genre is another word for style. There are many styles of Horror in literature, film, and TV.
Tropes are somewhere between a cliché and an archetype (a pattern or mold). They are either ideas (like the Oedipus complex), certain stereotyped characters (like a gruff police captain or blond bimbo), or plot devices (like a deadline) that appears across the board in fiction and film.
While it's good to stay away from clichés or tropes in general, it's helpful to know them. Tropes or archetypes can be a shorthand way of getting your point across to the reader quickly -- they'll recognize what you mean right away because they've seen it before. Plus, you can always update tropes by going against expectations and twisting them into something new and different.
In my last newsletter "Your Next Great Story Idea" , I presented ways to find inspiration. My Happy October! gift to you is a list of sub-genres and tropes. Experiment with a new style and find your next great story idea! And don't forget the Horror/Scary Newsletter Halloween Contest I'm running. (Details at the bottom.)
Horror Sub-Genres and Tropes
ATMOSPHERIC HORROR -- This kind of story that gets under your skin and gives you a sense of eeriness, a feeling that something bad is going to happen, rather than relying on obvious action or gore. There's no specific monster to slay and there's rarely a happy ending. Tropes: There is mistrust between the characters, paranoia, and well-guarded secrets or a family curse. The setting is usually an old house or a town where nothing seems normal. The servants or townspeople appear creepy and slightly threatening, but whether or not they're actually villains remains a mystery through most of the novel/film. Examples: Movies like "Turn of the Screw," "The Others," "The Wicker Man," and "Burnt Offerings" are examples of this style.
GOTHIC -- English Gothic -- The kind of horror which uses dark castles, convents, mansions, and cemeteries as a backdrop. It often focuses on a mystery that deals with the past returning to plague the present. Tropes: There's usually includes a love story, and the hero is often melancholy, disturbed, and Byron-esque while the heroine plays the innocent damsel-in-distress. A family secret, from a murderer to a psychotic, or an evil cult is usually at the root of the problem. Things often appear supernatural but are later proven to have a rational explanation. Examples: Writers such as Victor Hugo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), Emily Brontë (Wuthering Heights), Charlotte Brontë (Jane Eyre), Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), Gaston Leroux (Phantom of the Opera), and Oscar Wilde (The Picture of Dorian Grey) are good examples of Gothic authors.
GOTHIC -- American Gothic -- Instead of taking place in aristocratic mansions or castles, it often uses lonely rural settings, farmland, or forests. It explores the bleak, tragic, and wicked side of humanity. Tropes: American Gothic focuses on moral decay, family ties, and secret perverse appetites, such as adultery and incest. The characters seem incapable of escaping temptation and often meet with horrible fates that are punishments for their sins. As with English Gothic, love sometimes saves the day and the hero and heroine are the only ones to escape -- but sometimes not even they do! Examples: Edgar Allen Poe and Phyllis A. Whitney wrote American Gothic.
GOTHIC -- Southern Gothic -- Steeped in the atmosphere of lonely plantations, dilapidated slave quarters, aging Southern belles, dusty downtowns, and Spanish moss, Southern Gothic is grand and dirty all at once. It features very eccentric characters and elegant veneers hiding macabre secrets. Tropes: Southern Gothic literature often deals with the plight of those who are ostracized or oppressed by traditional Southern culture, such as blacks, women, and gays. It is known for its damaged and delusional characters, such as the heroines of Tennessee Williams's plays, like Blanche in "A Streetcar Named Desire." Like American Gothic, it focuses on family secrets, the inability to escape from fate or prophesy, guilt, and ultimately being punished for past sins. Examples: Anne Rice (The Vampire Lestat) and Charlaine Harris (True Blood) write Southern Gothic Horror.
LOVECRAFTIAN HORROR -- H. P. Lovecraft had such a strong imagination it turned his writings into its own sub-genre populated with "The Old Gods," a race cast out but always on the fringes (or in another dimension) and ready to take back the Earth and make it their own once again. Tropes: Creatures in Lovecraft stories tend to be huge, slimy and tentacled as opposed to standard horror tropes such as ghostly, deformed, or corpse-like. Heroes are usually isolated individuals with an academic or scholarly background. They often find themselves unable to fight and unable to run away. They rarely understand what is happening to them, and the stress of finding the world isn't as they thought it was often drives them insane. Examples: Well -- er -- Lovecraft!
NATURAL DISASTER HORROR -- Whether it's a rogue asteroid, a sun flare, a volcanic eruption, a plague, or even a giant, killer shark, disaster stories emphasize a deadly natural event that will kill everyone (or a lot of people) unless the hero can find a solution. Tropes: This style almost always has a love story, lots of action, and a group of characters who are eccentric but mostly loveable. There are sometimes interludes of comedy and relationship bonding. Although lots of people and some beloved characters will be killed along the way (just to prove the deadliness of the natural disaster) a happy ending usually results. Examples: "Volcano," "The Day After Tomorrow," "The Happening," "Armageddon," and "Jaws" are good examples of this sub-genre.
OCCULT -- This often has religious and satanic overtones or anything relating to exorcism and the end of days. Tropes: Symbols, such as the cross or a pentagram, often make an appearance. There are pacts with the Devil, selling souls, demons, as well as witchcraft and sorcery, spells and curses. Examples: David Selzer (The Omen), Peter Blatty (The Exorcist), and Jay Anson (Amityville Horror) are good examples of this style. Films like "Drag Me To Hell" and "The Reaping" are also good examples of this sub-genre.
PARANORMAL HORROR -- This is soft horror and usually has a strong romance storyline. Tropes: The hero or heroine often has a super-power or is non-human in some way. There can be magic-users or races of supernatural creatures, like vampires or shapeshifters. The supernatural hero or heroine usually doesn't like their power and longs to be human. Female protagonists are usually the opposite of Gothic; instead of fainting or running away, they're often funny, tough and feisty. Examples: "Twilight" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" are examples of this genre.
PSYCHOLOGICAL HORROR -- Based on abnormal psychology and madness. This is the largest sub-genre and the hardest to explain. Either the main characters or the villain can be the one afflicted by a mental disturbance. Sometimes the main character turns into the villain, like in The Shining. The characters are all human and the supernatural rarely plays any part in this sub-genre. The point is that humanity is the real monster. Tropes: Psychological tropes include split-personality characters, characters with phobias, and serial killers. The settings are often surreal, and sometimes the whole story turns out to be in the mind of a character, like in "Silent Hill." Examples: (Phobias) "Black Swan," "Copycat," (Split-personality) "Psycho," "Identity," (Serial killer) "Silence of the Lambs," and "American Psycho."
SCIENCE RUNS AMOK -- Started by Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, this genre includes Godzilla and on up to the dinosaurs of "Jurassic Park." These tales feature man's misuse of science to create mutated monsters, viruses, or things like nano-bots or lethal, self-aware computers. There is no supernatural cause of the disaster. (A zombie plague is under the "Supernatural or Creature Features" heading.) Tropes: There's usually a mad scientist or a murderous (or misguided) doctor as the villain, a group of protagonists trying to save the world or just stay alive, and sometimes a romance plot. The protagonists often find that supplies, resources and medical attention aren't available. Their own attempts at using science to counter the problem often fail at first, but they keep working at it and usually succeed in the end. Examples: Michael Crichton (Andromeda Strain, Prey and Jurassic Park) and Robin Cook (Nano and Outbreak) write these.
SLASHER HORROR -- Also known as Teen Slasher Horror, this type is probably the best known style in Hollywood due to "Friday the 13th," "Halloween," "Nightmare on Elm Street," "Scream," etc. It's a formula plot: take nubile teens, throw in a monster or psycho-killer, stuff them all into an abandoned asylum, haunted house, or a college dorm, shake briskly and see how much blood can spurt out. Tropes: This sub-genre always starts with a group of people who inexplicably split up to search the area. They die one by one, especially any young couples who sneak off for some "alone" time. There's usually a hero or a heroine who are completely innocent, but often have traumatic pasts, including murdered parents. All the characters may suspect one another of the killings in the beginning. Once they manage to find and fight the killer, he just won't stay dead; even if he's really, really dead -- he keeps coming back! Examples: (Listed at the beginning and so many others, too.)
SUPERNATURAL or CREATURE FEATURES -- The point of these stories is to kill or escape from the monster(s) terrorizing the city/building/ship, etc. Tropes: Frequent monster-characters include vampires, werewolves, ghosts, zombies, mythology-based monsters (like medusas, sirens, hydras), or odder creatures like gill-monsters, plant-creatures, or aliens. The monster cannot be reasoned with, it isn’t human and is driven by hunger, rage, or revenge, and it must be killed. Examples: Dean Koontz (Phantoms and Watchers), Stephen King (It, Christine and Dreamcatcher), and Robert McCammon (Stinger and They Thirst) write these. Films are too numerous to name. Everything from '30s and 40s films like “The Mummy” to “Cloverfield” and “Deep Rising” (one of my favorites! ).
SURVIVAL or APOCALYPSE HORROR -- In Survival Horror, the traumatic event has already passed, leaving a few refugees struggling to stay alive. The event can either be traced back to a scientific cause or a supernatural one. Tropes: The settings of this sub-genre are usually either a ruined city or a remote area. Sometimes the characters are on their own, and sometimes there is a "new world order," which is often a totalitarian government or gangs of thugs. In literature, it's often referred to as a "dystopian" setting. These stories often have many chase scenes with the characters running back to safety or trying to escape from the area. There are urgent goals, such as a quest to find a magical or scientific item, a supply of food or arms, or the one protected place left in the world. Yet no matter where the characters are, the monsters/bad guys can always find them. These works are full of action and untrustworthy people. Sometimes there's a romance sub-plot, but it often ends unhappily. Examples: Stephen King's The Stand, Dean Koontz's Swan Song, F. Paul Wilson's Nightworld and Richard Matheson's I Am Legend are good examples of books in this sub-genre.
URBAN LEGENDS -- These are tales usually set in the present with creatures or curses from the past rising up to claim new victims. Tropes: The story often begins with an urban legend being related by a friend. Or the hero/heroine or a group of kids accidentally set loose the creature by "innocently" dabbling in a supernatural game or dare, and the characters must work to find out what the creature is, where it came from, what it wants, and how to get rid of it. And then they find out about the legend. The villain/creature is often a ghost motivated by revenge and wants payback for some old wrong. Like the Slasher sub-genre, urban legend baddies are almost impossible to kill; they keep coming back for more. After a suitable number of the characters are killed, the hero/heroine usually vanquish the creature at the end (until the next book/movie sequel is released). Examples: "Candyman," "Urban Legends: Bloody Mary," "Child's Play," "When A Stranger Calls", and "The Mothman Prophesies."
* Thanks to lotte and Pennywise for helping me come up with sub-genres and examples. *
Special Horror/Scary Newsletter Halloween Story Contest!
To celebrate Halloween, I'm running a contest just for subscribers to the Horror/Scary Newsletter. Read on for entry rules and great prizes!
Story must be about Halloween. (It can be fiction or a true account of something scary that happened to you on Halloween.)
Must be 1000 words or less. Any stories over 1000 words will be disqualified.
Story may be any rating (E through GC), but no erotica or XGC ratings.
Story can have been written in the past but cannot have an awardicon already attached to it.
Must be completed and link sent to me BEFORE midnight (WDC time) on Sunday, October 28th.
Winners will be announced and highlighted in the Oct 31st Horror/Scary Newsletter!
First Place: 10k Awardicon and a Merit Badge
Second Place: Merit Badge
Third Place: 5,000 GPs
Email the bitem link of your story to me, LJPC - the tortoise -- BEFORE MIDNIGHT (WDC time) ON SUNDAY, OCTOBER 28TH!
Until next time: Let the horror bleed onto the pages with every word!
Here are some great WDC Horror Group forums where you can get advice or chat about anything Horror related.
WDC Horror Groups:
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To my delight, some writers took the time to comment on my newsletter from last week "Your Next Great Story Idea" ! If you can think of any Horror Sub-genres I haven't covered, please write in and tell us about them.
Comments posted in the order they were received.
Jeff writes: Thanks for featuring the Sinister Stories contest in your most recent NL!
You're very welcome. It's a great contest!
BIG BAD WOLF submits "Eggnog and Werewolves Part 2" and writes: Be careful during the holidays- werewolves are out and about.
I'm always careful but thanks for the warning.
Vampyr14 writes: I find inspiration all over the place, but especially from movies!
Movies and TV are great places to find inspiration. With some tweaking, you can mold their ideas to fit your needs. Thanks for replying to the NL!
Taniuska writes: Great suggestions for story inspirations. I also get a lot of inspirations from old myths and folklore:) Love the sound of the contest.
Yes, myths and lesser-known folklore from other countries are awesome places to find ideas for stories, and there are places on the web that have lists of legends to look through. Thanks for your thoughts!
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