Well, after reading a horror thriller novel that managed to be both grippingly thrilling and suitably scary, I thought that I’d talk about how to blend the horror and thriller genres today.
After all, this is something that is very easy to get wrong – resulting in either a horror-flavoured thriller novel (that is thrilling but not that scary) or a scary novel that is more like an old-fashioned slower-paced thriller than the kind of fast-paced thriller readers might be expecting.
So, how can you blend the two genres well? Here are a few tips.
1) Suspense and mystery: Both the horror and thriller genres rely heavily on suspense and mystery. So, use this to your advantage! Whether it is the suspense of someone facing almost-certain death or a chilling mystery that the main character has to unravel even though they know that the answers will haunt their nightmares (and the reader’s) for many nights afterwards, it is very easy to use these two things to create a story that is both thrilling and scary.
So, why do people get this wrong? Well, the main reason is that they forget that both genres can use these things at the same time. In other words, they might include suspenseful moments that are thrilling but not scary, mysteries that are scary but not thrilling etc… This tends to result in a novel that is more like one genre than the other.
The trick here is to look for mysterious and suspenseful things that contain elements from both genres at the same time.
Let’s start with suspense. Thriller novel suspense revolves around the a character suddenly finding themselves out of their depth (eg: outgunned, outnumbered, outfunded, outwitted etc…) and the clever way that they survive or avoid this danger by thinking on their feet. Traditional horror suspense tends to revolve around slow, creeping dread – with the character gradually becoming more and more threatened by something terrifyingly unstoppable.
So, to blend these two things, you might want to – for example – introduce a thriller-style immediate threat (eg: a horde of hungry zombies) whilst also hinting at a much greater threat (eg: the zombies look like the plucky band of survivors the main character met two chapters ago, hinting that everyone will eventually turn into zombies). Or you could show a character surviving a dangerous situation in the short term, only to slowly realise that they have placed themselves (or someone else) in even more danger.
As for mystery, both genres usually focus on the main character investigating some kind of nefarious and/or evil series of events. In a thriller, the villains are more likely to have “practical” motivations/goals (eg: money, power, revenge etc..) and will use “realistic” methods to get these things. In a horror story, the villains’ motivations are likely to be a bit more twisted, strange and/or disturbing, and they are also more likely to resort to crueller and/or more bizarre methods too.
So, the trick here is to blend both of these things – to come up with a mystery revolving around an evil scheme that has a practical purpose, but has chillingly evil horror-style motivations or methods behind it (or vice versa).
2) Characters: Thrillers and horror stories are at odds with each other when it comes to characters. In a thriller, the main focus is on the plot – with the characters being more of a secondary thing. In a genuinely scary horror story, the characters are usually more important than the plot. Good horror relies on good characters, good thriller fiction relies on a good plot.
You can probably see where I’m going with this. To write a good horror thriller novel, you have to devote more time to characterisation than you would in a thriller novel and more time to the plot than you would in a horror novel. But, unless you want to write a giant tome, how do you do all of this in a sensible number of pages?
There are several ways of doing this. One way is to include a lot of characterisation for one or two characters (usually the main character and the villain), but slightly less for the other characters. Another way to do this is to make the characters’ personalities and backstories the main driving force behind the complicated events of the main plot. Yet another way is to use personality-filled first-person narration that allows you to focus on the plot whilst also frequently showing the narrator’s reactions/thoughts about what is happening.
In short, both the characters and the plot are important in a good horror thriller story.
3) Violence: One of the easiest ways to blend both the horror and thriller genres is to take a horror genre approach to the scenes of violence in a thriller story. In thrillers – especially action thriller novels – violence is often a fast-paced and sanitised thing that is designed to “look” spectacular and/or get the reader’s adrenaline flowing. In horror stories, violence tends to be a much more painful, drawn-out and ugly thing with extremely grisly immediate consequences and much longer-lasting psychological consequences. It is written in a way that is meant to be horrifying to read.
So, is it just a simple matter of blending the two things? Yes, but…
One common mistake that you’ll find in horror-flavoured thriller novels is that they will just focus on the gory elements of horror-genre style violence. Yes, adding lots of blood and guts will make a thriller story feel grittier and more intense – but it won’t be particularly scary. If you want a more balanced blend of the horror and thriller genres, then you also need to give equal emphasis to all of the other horrifying effects of violence too (eg: pain, suffering, fear, psychological after-effects etc…).
So, if you want a good horror thriller story, then you’ll need to do more than just make your thriller novel a bit more gruesome.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂