The horror genre goes beyond life and death and explores the fates worse than. The mind-hack, as Dan Wells would say, that you are trying to evoke in your reader is a sense of fear and dread. According to Shawn Coyne, the key scene in any horror story is “the victim at the mercy of the monster” moment, and the thing that set the story in motion is the attack of that monster, real or otherwise, that forces the protagonist out of their safe zone.
The object of desire in horror tends to be survival, both in the literal sense and the coming back from the edge of sanity sense. When the protagonist doesn’t care about their own life, a small child, woman, or dog tends to be thrown into danger to spur the protagonist into action.
That antagonism between the forces of good (or neutral) and evil are king, and the antagonist must, according to Coyne, always be evil. An evil that can’t be reasoned with. The horror subgenres tend to be broken down by the way the story explains the monster. Reminder, these subgenres can mix and match within or out of the horror genre. You can have a romance with a horror subplot, and you can have a horror with a romance subplot. It’s all in how the writer divides it.
- Uncanny – The forces of evil in the story cannot be reasoned with, but they can be explained. Think serial killer plots.
- Supernatural – These are stories in which the monster isn’t “real” or explainable. Possessions, hauntings, vampires, werewolves, those kinds of monsters fall under the Supernatural category, but in my opinion, this is where the most genre bending occurs. If you have a supernatural villain in a fantasy setting where werewolves are totally a thing and everyone knows it, then the werewolf if uncanny, not inexplicable.
- Ambiguous- The reader can never be quite sure if it is the supernatural at work or not. These stories tend to question the protagonists sanity on a deeper level than the outsider looking in a supernatural story. The Babadook is a good example of this. Was there really a monster, or was the monster symbolic of the mother’s depression?