Five parts terror, three parts horror with a dash of repulsion….

If you want to write something with a better-than-average chance of selling, you can do worse than take a stab at the horror genre. Today’s readers really, really like to be scared. In the past twenty years, more horror novels have been published than in the previous 650 years since the invention of the printing press. More than 100 million books by Stephen King alone are in print.

The Horror Writers Association says the horror genre is all about emotion, but because the emotion isn’t always horror, HWA prefers to call it dark fiction. In an 1826 essay, gothic novelist Ann Radcliffe (THE MYSTERIES OF UDOLOPHO) drew a distinction between two elements of dark fiction: "terror" and "horror." Terror is the feeling of dread that takes place before an event happens, horror is the feeling of revulsion or disgust after an event has happened.

Former English Gothic scholar Devendra P. Varma wrote in his 1966 book, THE GOTHIC FLAME: “The difference between Terror and Horror is the difference between awful apprehension and sickening realization: between the smell of death and stumbling against a corpse…. Terror thus creates an intangible atmosphere of spiritual psychic dread, a certain superstitious shudder at the other world. Horror resorts to a cruder presentation of the macabre by an exact portrayal of the physically horrible and revolting, against a far more terrible background of spiritual gloom and despair.”

Think of the difference between a mind-game sort of book and one that is full of monsters.

Stephen King added “revulsion” to this pair, although he does not hold it in high esteem. “I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I'll go for the gross-out. I'm not proud.

And dark fiction writer Robert McCammon sees no reason to stop at merely three emotions. "Horror fiction upsets apple carts, burns old buildings, and stampedes the horses; it questions and yearns for answers, and it takes nothing for granted. It's not safe, and it probably rots your teeth, too. Horror fiction can be a guide through a nightmare world, entered freely and by the reader's own will. And since horror can be many, many things and go in many, many directions, that guided nightmare ride can shock, educate, illuminate, threaten, shriek, and whisper before it lets the readers loose." (“Twilight Zone Magazine,” October 1986)

Members of the Horror Writers Association have drawn up a list of their favorite authors, and you might assume, the authors who have influenced them. It can be found at:

Happy Halloween!