Horror 101: The Definition of Horror

Updated: Jul 21, 2018

Hello Readers!

I'm back! I have some energy, and my confidence is slowly but surely rising again.

First things first: No Camp NaNoWriMo for me. Using July to get back into my groove, do some outlining, that kinda stuff.

Second: I am part of an awesome collaborative project that I can't wait to tell you all about when I can :)

Lastly: I've been wanting to write a Horror 101 series for a while. If you followed my other blog these first 2 posts will seem familiar, but there wil be new stuff to come. Hoping to make this a 10 post series.

Horror 101: The Definition of Horror.

Fear is the oldest and strongest human emotion. I want to reiterate this because on the most basic level, my job as a horror writer is to instill fear in my readers. This creates a very broad definition of horror and allows for the inclusion of other sub-genres such as science fiction, thriller, fantasy, or supernatural. In fact, science fiction, fantasy, and horror overlap so often that i has its own literary term: The Fantastic Triangle (which sounds like a superhero that a 5 year old created, but whatever).

In his work "An Introduction to Studying Popular Culture", Dominic Strinati defined horror as a genre that "represents the need for suppression if the horror shown is interpreted as expressing uncomfortable and disturbing desires which need to be contained." I am not a huge fan of this definition because its wordy and confusing.

I am much more of a fan of Tzvetan Todorov's definition of theory of horror. Todorov breaks down horror into 3 forms: The Uncanny, The Marvelous, and The Fantastic.

In T'he Uncanny,' the end of the story contains some elements of the supernatural, or events that follow the laws of rationality but seem disturbing or unusual. The reader is also able to explain these unusual things in their own way, as oftentimes the stories are left open ended. Think of The Uncanny Valley, when animated characters in movies or video games look enough like humans, but there is still something or weird about them. This is my favorite form of horror to write in.

The Marvelous Horror is seemingly irrational and incomprehensible and can only be explained by accepting the supernatural reality created within the story. Stories with vampires, werewolves, and zombies fall into this category.

The Fantastic Horror does not allow readers a clear explanation of the irrational, but many. The reader can decide whether they will explain the phenomenon as the existence of the paranormal OR as a hallucination of the main protagonist. Often times this creates great debates between readers as it tends to create a divide. This is another category that I like to write in.

So from now on, you'll hear me (or read me?) talking about horror as one of these 3 things. The next post in the Horror 101 series is gonna be a personal one, where I discuss MY reasoning for wanting to teach people about horror, and then we will dig into some of those sub-genres and overall history in the posts after that.


Strinati, D. (2000) An Introduction to Studying Popular Culture. New York, Londong: Routledge, p. 82

Todorov, T. (1973) The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Concept. IN: (2000) An Introduction to Studying Popular Culture. New York, Londong: Routledge, p. 83

Prohaszkova, V. (2012) The Genre of Horror. American International Journal of Contemporary Research. Vol. 2 No.4;

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