Horror versus Fantasy?

Someone once said that the difference between Horror and Fantasy is that in Fantasy the protagonists are capable of defending themselves against the monsters while in Horror, they’re not. I think I’ve paraphrased rather horribly but let’s be honest, I can’t even remember who said it in the first place. I think it is incredibly true.

If one looks at the Lord of the Rings (the movie) and take the orcs out of the move, drop them into a random American suburb and had them chase after big breasted women who ran up the stairs instead of out the house, it would be a horror. Similarly, if one took Freddy Kruger and dropped him into Lord of the Rings, the elves would figure out it was only a dream/nightmare create brilliant weapons and slay Freddy.

You might wonder why I’m thinking about these things, but picking the right genre can be critical to breaking into the publishing world. According to the market, it is almost writing suicide to write a horror novel and expect it to sell and according to Query Shark, there is only one agent currently accepting submissions for the horror genre. What this really means though is that if you write a horror, you’ve taken all of your eggs and put them all in one basket and if this agent doesn’t like your writing, your work or the font you chose to use in the query letter, you’ve flushed a year or more of your life down the crapper.

Put in a protagonist who is capable of defending himself against the horrors thrown against him and you have a fantasy and there are a lot more agents and hence a bigger market you can submit your work to and possibly break in.

This is particularly important as my latest project Spoil the Child treads a dangerous line between the two.


7 thoughts on “Horror versus Fantasy?

  1. That’s actually a really good distinction and I never looked at it like that.

    Although, I think it’s sad, because I absolutely love horror movies. And I think well written horror novels are fantastic. I’m really surprised to hear we’ve moved so far away from the Stephen King genre that seemed to flourish . . . or maybe that’s just Stephen King and the rest, not so much?

    1. I think ninety percent of the horror category is tied up in the movie industry and a lot of people’s idea of horror comes from horror movies. The biggest problem is that what works on the screen doesn’t always work in a novel. Imagine reading a SAW novel, I’m not sure if it would be as frightening in a novel as it is on the silver screen.

      I have to admit that I love Stephen King’s work and the only novel of his I haven’t read is Firestarter. He’s certainly set a standard in the industry which is difficult to meet though. He actually led me to the Great God Pan by Arthur Machen through his short story N, which I am eternally grateful.

    2. I don’t konw if you listen to the podcast Writing Excuses, but back in the third season they did an episode about genre blending and they said the worst genre blend which would definitely turn any editor away was blending the western genre with the horror genre.

      My first thought was ‘Guys, have you never heard of the Dark Tower?’

      Of course, anyone trying to blend horror with a western would probably be compared to the Dark Tower and definitely not favourably.

  2. It seems I am finding more parallels with our writing aspirations. My first two attempts at novels were both Stephen King-esque horror. One was an epic with a major supernatural bad guy and an army of L.A’s homeless and the other was a near-cannibal hiding in a small Southern California mountain town. I love those stories, the first I started 21 years ago and had no idea how to write anything longer than a simple short story. It rambled and rambled. The second I began using the Marshall Plan and found the structure and outline steps so limiting that I gave up after a 106 page outline and 100 page first draft.

    So, I too have a soft spot in my stomach for horror fiction, but I prefer the creepy, weird, tense, terror type to the splatterfest in horror movies. The Sixth Sense instead of Saw, etc.

    1. I have to agree with you regarding the type of horror movies. I love movies like The Sixth Sense and the other more psychological horror movies rather than the splatterfest type like Saw. In terms of your first epic with the supernatural bad buy and the army of LA homeless, it sounds very similar to a book called Drood by Dan Simmons but set in London with Charles Dickens as the protagonist. So you might’ve been onto something good there.

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