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What is Horror Fiction?

What is Horror Fiction?

“The short story is absolutely wonderful. This is considered horror? It’s not horror! It’s spectacular. Should be made into a movie!” says DKeur of The Deepening. She’s commenting on Tonya Moore’s short story, Seeking Bones.

This is one of the major problems with today’s horror fiction. No one seems to know what it is.

I’ve never had to answer the question “What is horror?” I always knew. I could point at something and say unequivocally “This is horror.” Didn’t need a definition.

As a Horror Editor, my readers aren’t going to let me off the hook that easily.

So, here goes… At the most basic of levels, horror fiction is something that makes us feel fear, it scares, unsettles or horrifies. From the 1980’s, primarily due to the influence of Stephen King, until now, horror has been about the supernatural and blood and gore. It has also been about the weird. Prior to this, horror didn’t really exist as a separate genre, being lumped in with science fiction and fantasy.

In fact, it was the famous science fiction author Damon Knight who made the first successful effort to create a specific genre for such stories. Knight founded the SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America). You’ll notice there’s no mention of horror. I believe this is due to the fact that almost all of Damon Knight’s fiction was intended to disturb. Recipient of the Hugo Award, cofounder of the Milford Writer’s Workshop and cofounder of the Clarion Writers Workshop, he was a man with a wry and biting sense of humour. His fiction always had a message, and it was almost always uncomfortable to read.

From his 1949 short story Not with a Bang to the rather stark The Enemy (1957) to his somewhat unpopular novel The Man in the Tree (1984), Damon Knight sought to stir the reader from complacency. This trend is most noticeable in his 1973 story Down There. Both Barry N. Malzberg and Knight himself considered Down There Damon’s best writing ever. Knight’s comment about the story’s meaning? “Wake up, America!”

Fiction that disturbs. That is my definition of horror. It’s vague, almost wide open. And so it should be. I believe horror can appear in virtually every genre that exists today. Keep reading this blog; you’ll get to experience exactly what I mean.

Clayton Bye
Horror Editor
The Deepening World of Fiction

Copyright © Clayton Clifford Bye 2009

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