Horror is a tricky beast, even at the best of times. It’s hard to get right. And when it goes wrong, it can go so very wrong. But what does make a good Horror book? What is it – to me, anyway – that keeps me hooked into the genre, and what makes my heart really pound when I’m stuck in?
These are not hard and fast ‘rules’ for crafting a good horror story – these are just the things I particularly respond to! And horror is such a vast genre with lots of little subgenres – there’s a lot in the genre no matter what you prefer in a book, and some of the things I like are going to be the same things others dislike, and vice versa.
With any book I pick up, I want the sense the author has empathy for these characters, and the skill to create that empathy in the reader, too. To me, this is crucially important in the horror genre – even if the character you’re reading about is an absolute arsehole, you still need to feel like you care if they live or die. It feels like it’s one of horror’s biggest draws that not everyone considers – you don’t know how the story will end. It could be an upbeat ending, or bittersweet, or downright bleak. But it doesn’t matter if there’s no empathy for the characters and the reader has bene kept at a remove from them.
A Good Threat
Characters I care about don’t really mean anything without a good threat hanging over them, do they? There has to be something that feels like it could damage or take their lives at any moment, some undercurrent even if it isn’t a full, constant presence. Whether it’s demons, ghosts, monsters, shifters, or a more human threat, whatever shape it takes, I like the sense that it’s constantly lurking around the next corner.
A Killer Ending
The ending is where a book can really make a strong impact with me. Leave me feeling unsatisfied, and it’ll probably be a 3 star at most. But land the ending, make it truly worth the journey, and a book can bump up from 3 to 4 or maybe 5. I mentioned above that horror has the luxury of different endings. If you pick up a Romance, you’re expecting a HEA or HFN, which is a huge appeal of the genre, but for horror, the ending has to nail it. Whatever type of ending a horror book has, it needs to be satisfying, it needs to feel earned, both for the reader and the character. If I finish a horror feeling like the ending has really hit home, the book has succeeded, whether the main characters survive or not.
So there we have it! The parts of horror I absolutely love. Is there anything you think makes an excellent horror novel? Let me know in the comments!