Well, I thought that I’d talk about adding horror elements to other genres of fiction today. This is mostly because the final novel I’ll be reviewing for this month’s horror marathon (“The Apprentice” by Tess Gerritsen) probably isn’t technically a “horror” novel. After all, it’s technically a detective thriller novel.
Yet, at the same time, there are a lot of horror genre elements in it. Whether it is the grisly crime scene descriptions, the scenes written from the perspective of a serial killer, the fact that the detective is haunted by one of her previous cases etc… there’s a surprising amount of horror in what, due to mainstream publishing’s aversion to the horror genre at the time it was published, is presented as a mainstream crime thriller novel.
Of course, this is far from the only “non-horror” novel to incorporate elements from the horror genre. So, I thought that I’d offer a few tips for how to do this:
1) Relevance: This is the most important and obvious thing to remember. Any horror elements you add to your story have to be a good fit with the story that you’re telling. In other words, they need to emerge naturally from the story that you’re telling. After all, at least some members of your audience might not be fans of the horror genre and might be put off by sudden and unexpected moments of horror.
Luckily, most genres have a few things in common with the horror genre. For example, thriller/detective fiction and horror fiction both often include suspense, evil characters and brutal violence. Science fiction includes the potential for dystopian futures, terrifying alien lifeforms and the misuse of technology. Fantasy fiction includes things like scary monsters, abandoned buildings, dark magic etc…
So, yes, horror can be blended seamlessly with most other genres if you are willing to see what they have in common with the horror genre. Plus, if you find this difficult, then there is always the old technique of including a nightmare/dream sequence in your story. However, be sure to clearly signal to your reader that your character is dreaming in an early part of the scene (seriously, there is nothing worse than the corny old “It was all a dream!” plot twist, however dramatic it might seem to you).
2) Read some horror fiction!: If you want to add some horror to your non-horror story, then read some horror fiction first! Not only is this the best way to learn how to write horror, but it will also give you some idea of what does and doesn’t “work” in the horror genre. It’ll also give you something to compare your scenes of horror to too.
Likewise, it’ll also show you the wide variety of different types of horror you can include in your story. Like heavy metal music (which is often assumed to be just one genre), there are numerous sub-genres and types of horror that you might not know about if you haven’t really had much experience with the genre.
Well-known types of horror include psychological horror (eg: horror designed to mess with the readers’ and/or characters’ minds), gory horror (pretty self-explanatory), body horror (horror focusing on mutations/distortions of the human body), character-based horror (eg: scary characters), gothic horror (brooding, gloomy, tragic horror) etc…
So, if possible, read a wide variety of horror novels. Not only will this show you all of the different types of horror you can use, but it will also show you that most horror authors will use several of these types of horror in their stories. After all, if you just include one type of horror then your audience will get used to it after a while. Still, if you just want to include a couple of brief moments of horror, then just using one type will work.
3) Comedy horror: If you want to include some horror elements but are worried that they won’t fit into the emotional tone of your story, then one way to get around this is to include some comedy horror in your story. And, yes, this is a genre. It can include things like parodies of the horror genre, obviously silly scenes that use the techniques of the horror genre (eg: watch the movie “Gremlins 2” for an example), characters who react to horrific moments in hilarious ways etc…
A good literary example of this can be found in Clive Cussler’s 1975 thriller novel “Iceberg“. Although the novel is a (somewhat dated) action/adventure thriller novel, it includes a brilliant moment of comedy horror.
The first couple of pages of “Iceberg” read like something from a thoroughly cheesy and sleazy vintage horror novel… only for it to be revealed that this is a scene from a horror novel one of the characters is reading to pass the time. Cue a brief, but hilarious, conversation about horror fiction with another character.
So, yes, comedy horror can be invaluable if you want to include some horror elements in your story without drastically changing the emotional tone.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂