This week: Horrified by Thrills, Thrilled by HorrorEdited by: Jayne
More Newsletters By This Editor
1. About this Newsletter
2. A Word from our Sponsor
3. Letter from the Editor
4. Editor's Picks
5. A Word from Writing.Com
6. Ask & Answer
7. Removal instructions
Looking at pieces of the mystery subgenres, here's a peek at the psychological thriller in comparison to another genre, the psychological horror. It's not just about the monsters.
Today's mystery crumb:
"There is no terror in a bang, only in the anticipation of it." ~ Alfred Hitchcock
Horror: Emphasises external conflict, with a monster or similar existing in the ‘normal’ world. Normal is relative to the world you’ve created.
Psychological horror: Keeps most horror concepts, but focuses on the MC’s inner conflict. Has the MC gone mad, or is the world upside-down? Pushes the gore farther than the thriller, but tones it down from the other horror subgenres.
Thriller: Evokes powerful fear or suspense, but tends to be formulaic in the reader’s ability to define good vs. evil, and the actions of the protagonist and antagonist meet those definitions.
Psychological Thriller: Should evoke powerful emotions - fear, dread, or even terror. Usually a fusion of the mystery and horror genres, the addition of supernatural elements is often used, but it is not a prerequisite. Characters aren’t defined as clearly as a conventional thriller.
The MC in a psychological thriller relies on their brains, not brawn. Enemies are often internal, but even when they’re not, the antagonist-protagonist dynamic is fraught with mind games, manipulation, and attempts by one to “mentally break” the other. While there may be some tussling, physical action isn’t a primary conflict. In fact, external conflict is rarely the primary focus - that would bring it back in line with a traditional thriller. The focus here should be the internal conflicts and the cause-and-effect that results. And unlike a horror, where the suspension of disbelief is pre-existing, the characters here must be plausible and believable.
The MC is often an unreliable narrator, bringing their actions into doubt. The antagonist, internal or external, is beyond the ‘bad guy’ trope, and may be downright monstrous without being the over-the top caricatures found in horror movies. Because this calls everything into question, the mind game isn’t reserved for the MC. You should toy with the reader as well.
Psychological Horror also messes with the character and reader’s minds and creates tension. You’ll again find unreliable narrators, confusion, and characters more subtle than those in a straight horror, though they can be slightly more in-your-face than the thriller. Again, the conflict is internal, and the “breaking point” of the mind games is overarching, even if the character is doing it to themselves.
The atmosphere in a psychological thriller is heavy and ominous, while in psychological horror it’s scary. At least that is how it’s supposed to work. “Scary” is relative to an individual reader, and the result is a blurring of the two. The psychological thriller will forgo the frequent use of ‘jump scares’ that psychological horror can get away with. In the thriller, what may seem paranormal turns out not to be—instead it’s in the character’s mind. In the horror, what may be paranormal turns out to be true. Thrillers have readers wanting to be creeped out, horrors have readers wanting to be freaked out.
The line between the two genres is thin with a lot of overlap. Both use devices from the other, and both bring in devices from other areas. The higher the degree of horror elements, the more likely you are in a psychological horror. A move from ‘whodunnit’ to ‘whydunnit’ also leans into a psychological horror.
Se7en, Shutter Island, The Silence of the Lambs, and The Talented Mr. Ripley are psychological thrillers.
10 Cloverfield Lane and The Birds are psychological horrors.
The perfect blend of the two: The Shining.
Probably the most argued about: Psycho.
The key to messing with the reader’s psyche is keeping the tension up. Whatever they think is the worst next thing - make it more terrible than they could come up with. Don’t let up on the characters or plot. String your reader along because they have to know what happens next. The thought of what might happen sticks in their head. Keep the twists coming. Like Hitchcock said, it’s the lead-up that makes the twists and endings work. The instant something goes bang, the thrill is gone, and the rest is just extra words on the page.
Want to find more contests?
Submit an item for consideration in this newsletter!
Have an opinion on what you've read here today? Then send the Editor feedback! Find an item that you think would be perfect for showcasing here? Submit it for consideration in the newsletter!
Don't forget to support our sponsor!
To stop receiving this newsletter, click here for your newsletter subscription list. Simply uncheck the box next to any newsletter(s) you wish to cancel and then click to "Submit Changes". You can edit your subscriptions at any time.