One Genre to Rule Them All
Given that I’m writing this blog for a horror website, you can probably guess what’s coming.
Before we go any further I should give you a warning, this blog is a bit bracket-tastic. (You’ll see what I mean.)
I’m going to go out on a limb and claim that horror is the master genre. I’m preaching to the choir here (or screaming at the sinners) but, in very broad terms, it could be said that horror, in particular fear, drives all writing. It is essential to fiction.
But what about the tropes? What about the cliches? Don’t they define genres?
OK, let’s have a look at some common ones.
Sci-fi needs advanced technology which is integral to the plot and without it the plot would fail. (Think The Matrix films.)
Historical fiction needs to be rooted in history. (Duh!)
Young adult novels need a teenage protagonist, preferably a female, struggling with her role to save the world, and an elderly mentor whose death galvanizes the young girl into realizing her potential whereas before she would have blah blah woof woof. (Don’t get me wrong. I love a good YA novel. But… You know, just but.)
Hard-boiled needs a cynical, borderline alcoholic detective with matrimonial issues. Ideally, he is bald. (Is that where the hard-boiled tag comes from? An egg reference? #dadjoke)
Swords and sorcery needs… (Do I really need to finish this one?)
Bangsian needs… (Yes, really. Bangsian. Go look it up. And no, it’s nothing to do with fireworks or, stop sniggering at the back, porn.) Bangsian needs dead people interacting with each other.
Fantasy needs dragons. (Yes. It does. Fantasy without dragons is as interesting as a vegan vampire. Or anything vegan, to be honest.)
And so on. All of the genres have tropes that need to be satisfied to classify as that genre and keep the readers happy. That’s old news. My point is that fear and love are universal and belong in all genres.
But, Horror (fear) and Romance (love) – that’s two genres. You said One Genre to Rule Them All.
An optimist (my wife) would argue the latter is the master genre. A pessimist (me) would argue the former. Seeing as I’m writing this blog post, I get the last word. (Today.)
Q: What puts the thrill in thrillers?
A: A fear of danger.
Q: Where’s the suspense in suspense novels?
A: A fear of the unknown.
Q: Where does the angst in YA novels come from?
A: A fear of being different.
Q: Where does the tension in romance novels come from?
A: A fear of being rejected.
Q: Where does the Bang in Bangsian come from?
A: A guy called John. (Honest.)
This fear applies to real life, too. (And I would love to wheel out Oscar Wilde’s quote of ‘life imitates art’ here but I don’t want to come over as all pretentious. But. He was right and way ahead of his time. Look how people are now using social media to ‘artify’ their life. Why? Because of a fear of being boring? Feeling left out? Not being able to ‘keep up with the Joneses’?)
Are bullies bullies because they fear being bullied?
Are high-achievers driven by a need to achieve, or because they ‘want to be someone in this town’ and are afraid of being a nobody and ‘disrespected’? (Don’t get me started on respect as an excuse for blatant bigotry.)
Parents protect their children for fear of something happening to them.
A child’s initial love for its parent is not ‘love’ but a need to eat and a fear of the unknown. (On that note, I’m not sure I agree with the ‘suck-it-up buttercup’ approach to parenting young kids. The world is hard to understand as an adult, why should kids be expected to ‘man-up’? Unless, of course, it makes an adult’s life easier to deal with, in which case, is that driven by a fear of confronting reality?)
Is a fear of failure ultimately a fear of a horror-reader’s old friend Death? (And a huge nod of respect to the late Terry Pratchett here for giving Death “A SENSE OF HUMOUR AND A CAPSLOCK KEY.”)
And so on!
In case it’s not blatantly obvious, I am not a psychologist. I am a man with a virtual soapbox and an overactive imagination having a bit of a rant. But, hopefully, you get the point that I’m making about fear ruling the literary roost.
I know very few people who are genuinely comfortable in their skin. (I’m writing this blog post for readers of horror and dark fiction, so I can imagine a few of you thinking, “Don’t like your own skin? Wear someone else’s! If it’s newly harvested, it’ll still be warm. Like a freshly drawn bath.”)
My wife is one of those people comfortable in her own skin. (She doesn’t wear anyone else’s.) She is also an optimist. Maybe there’s a lesson in there that I should heed, but for now, much as I don’t always like being scared, I’ll stick with the idea of horror being the One Genre to Rule Them All.