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What is horror fiction? Horror is:
  • A broad genre of fiction that focuses on and involves frightening, creepy, dark or uncomfortable themes with the intent of inciting fear or anxiety in the targeted audience.
  • Including elements that incite fear, fright, disgust, and shock, or meant to elicit negative reactions in viewers.
The horror genre focuses on creating feelings of fear in the audience, whether it be full-blown fright, or a subtle and creeping disturbance. Horror comes in different varieties, from things such as supernatural or unknown elements hunting or tormenting human victims to very human, very realistic killers stalking their victims' footsteps. Since horror is such a broad genre, there are many different things that could count as horror to one person that could be different to the next. But one thing remains very much the same for horror and all its varieties: it is meant to cause anxiety and upset.

This is a guide that defines the subgenres of horror that are currently listed as tags on Iwaku as of 16th of August, 2016.

Special thanks to @Hana, who collaborated with me to write this guide! And big thanks to @Chewy Rabbits, @Ringmaster, @Sir Basil and @Astaroth for their input and advice!

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  • Body horror's primary focus is on the horror or fear of altering or changing the body in any way, often with twisted results. Falling under this subgenre are the concepts of disease, decay, parasitism, mutation, mutilation, all things that change the body to unnatural conditions or shapes that cause a primal feeling of disturbance or disgust in the audience. This subgenre also includes unnatural poses or movements to cause a feeling of unsettlement or unease, or anatomically incorrect placement of limbs and body parts to create a 'monstrous' appearance to repulse the audience.

    The subgenre is put into effect because the mind has an instinctive knowledge of what a body should look like, and what it shouldn't. Examples of body horror would include having your body slowly change and deform on its own, eyes where there shouldn't be eyes, and mouths where there shouldn't be mouths. Twisted and mangled limbs? It could also count for body horror.

    Simply put, body horror plays upon the primal fear that humans have. The primal fear of having the body change in unnatural ways.


    Copyright: Junji Ito
  • Cosmic horror is a subgenre of horror fiction that is heavily influenced by the philosophical notions of existential nihilism and philosophical pessimism. It has a focus on the human's perception of reality being a mere veil, often flimsy, that protects the humans from the true horrors of the universe, evil or indifferent. To catch a glimpse beyond this veil is often to descend into insanity at the mere sight of these horrors, often pronouncing the idea that there are simply some things humans aren't meant to know or understand.

    Lovecraft is often attributed to cosmic horror as one of the biggest influences on the subgenre. His works have created a subset of cosmic horror that is known as Lovecraftian horror, which will be defined under the Lovecraft section.

    Cosmic horror's elements often include visceral textures and materials such as slime, tentacles, and eldritch abominations. It is often written with an anachronistic writing style.

    What is an Eldritch abomination?
    A creature that defies natural laws, often so alien that the mere sight of them can drive anyone into madness. This is a staple feature of Lovecraftian or cosmic horror. Such creatures are often portrayed to be evil, or simply indifferent to the conditions of the humans in the world where both reside in.

    Cosmic horror also often includes themes of isolation, hopelessness, helplessness, falling into insanity, fear of the unknown, and ultimately, the insignificance of the human struggle in the infiniteness of the universe and reality. In cosmic horror, humans are often depicted as being mere and insignificant footnotes in the history of the universe.

    Cosmic horror is also more than just the depiction of monsters, tentacles, and slime. Any creature that invokes an alien, indescribable response in a human can count for an eldritch abomination. Remember that anything that isn't quite right - that shouldn't look like that at all - counts.

    This is not for roleplayers who are not interested in exploring eldritch abominations and cosmic indifference.
  • A genre born only quite recently in the past years, creepypasta is focused on horror-related urban legends or rumors, as well as images that have been copy-pasted around the Internet. The term creepypasta itself has its roots in the term 'copypasta', a word used on the website 4chan to describe viral copypasted text. Creepypasta stories are often brief, user-generated and featuring ghosts or aliens meant to scare readers.

    These often include stories of murderers, serial killers, suicide, and otherworldly occurrences. The themes and the events in the stories often end up gruesome, meant to shock and to scare.

    When applied as a roleplay genre, creepypasta is often based on the well-known creepypastas around the internet. An example of these famous stories include the urban legend of the Slenderman, which has risen to fame on the Internet and has gained a franchise of its own. Other well-known stories include Jeff the Killer, BEN Drowned, and The Russian Sleep Experiment. Lately, creepypastas based on rituals have also arisen to include The Midnight Game, The Three Kings, and such.

    The common traits of creepypasta are creepy and surreal imagery, a transformation from the wholesome to the perverse, and a fear of the unknown. Simple things that were once considered as fun and entertaining will often be found to have a dark and horrific background or secret, such as a hidden glitch or easter egg in a video game, a lost episode of a television program, and abandoned parks or amusement parks.

    This genre is for you if you enjoy writing about or exploring the unnerving legends and the rumors circling around the internet.
  • Dark fantasy is fantasy that incorporates dark and scary themes of fantasy. It usually is a unity of fantasy and horror. The term dark fantasy usually focuses on a very dark and gloomy atmosphere. Graphical gore, mature themes regarding suicide and lust mixed with supernatural and paranormal activity can also be labeled as dark fantasy.

    The main focus is ATMOSPHERE. It doesn't need to have serial killers like one would see in horror, something as simple as the unknown or something that makes the characters - and the players - uneasy can be called dark fantasy. Focus on creepy cults, evil magic, and the paranormal.

    If you're not into monsters, dark and brooding atmospheres, dark fantasy is not for you. Many dark fantasy roleplays are simply just horror stories with a fantastical plot, with the whole point to scare the readers or players.
  • Devil lore is a subgenre of horror that focuses on the folk beliefs, stories, and customs that concern evil spirits or devils. Focused on topics such as demonology and Satanic rituals and influences, this is the type of horror where demons from theology, religion, mythology, and folklore are encountered. Supernatural encounters such as demonic possession, or demonic or evil spirits terrorizing humans, are usually the most popular forms of devil lore as a horror genre. Whether it is the devil itself, or its demon servants, religion and demons have always been a major source of inspiration for horror.

    A famous example of devil lore in fiction or story would be the TV series Supernatural. If you are interested in such encounters as demonic possession and terrorizing, deals with the devil and Satanic rituals and mythology, this genre is for you. This genre is often also closely related with occult horror, which explores similar themes.
  • Gothic horror is one of the oldest of the horror genres. It combines horror, death and sometimes romance in its works. There is heavy emphasis on both fascination and fear for the unknown, making great importance in the atmosphere for a pleasing sort of terror. It also uses many symbols, whether it be in general or religious to help create a more antique setting for the story. Because of this, most Gothic horror fiction is set in Catholic countries.

    The sanity of characters are often tested in Gothic horror, stories focus on the growing psychosis of characters within eerie settings and don't tend to focus too much on the plot itself. Violence is usually not a focal point of this genre, and is usually written tastefully and not for shock value like in other horror genre.

    Gothic horror is not for players who prefer a more modern setting, as the styles and themes and atmospheres come from eras in history.
  • Also a part of the fantasy and speculative genres, grimdark is a subgenre and setting to fiction that uses dystopian and amoral themes, or violent and realistic. The word was inspired by the tagline of Warhammer 40k: "In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war." Several attempts to define grimdark have been made, and it is agreed that it emphasizes brutish, violent tendencies, as well as cynicism and realism in a harsh world.

    It has three components: a grim and dark tone, a sense of realism, and the agency of protagonists. No one is purely good or moral, and no one is purely evil and amoral. Heroes are flawed, fallible characters just as prone as the villains to their own downfalls and shortcomings, and monarchs and rulers are often with their own selfish agendas or quite useless. In contrast to High Fantasy, which has everything predestined and depicts how a heroic group of people defeat a dark lord, grimdark focuses on how characters have to choose between good and evil with all of their choices, and how heroes are just as lost as everyone else.

    This subgenre is often generalized as being 'bloody and violent', with more fighting, more blood, more swords. However this can also provide a depth and perception like other subgenres: namely delving more into realism, cynicism and humanity at its worst. There are no real heroes in this.

    Its horror elements come from psychological horror: the ideas that humanity is just as nasty, brutish, and short as nihilistic commentary makes it out to be, and that good does not triumph over evil. Despite all the blood, gore, death, and torture, that's not the true horror of grimdark. It's the fear and the thought that humanity is exactly as it is portrayed in grimdark.

    Grimdark is not for people who enjoy and prefer lighter and more heroic depictions in fantasy and fiction.

  • Lovecraftian horror is a subgenre of horror fiction that emphasizes the unknown and the unknowable more than gore and shock, common elements in other horror fiction. It is named after the American writer H. P. Lovecraft, who wrote stories detailed monstrous and ancient gods and monsters. Lovecraftian horror centers around the theme that ordinary life is just a thin veil that hides us from the reality that is so strange and so alien in comparison to the 'real world' we believe in that if characters thought about it, it would drive them insane. The real terror waited outside this veil, where nothing is known - is the unknown and uncaring. Old gods and monsters have control over humanity's destiny, and humans can do little - if anything - to stop it.

    Works of this genre are pessimistic and misanthropist in general. Characters are usually isolated individuals, lone wolves, though usually due to academic reasons. They rarely understand fully what is going on around them or to them, and often go insane if they try. The difficulty of being able to mentally cope with the incomprehensible reality is a core focus for these protagonists, as well as their diminishing mental state. Despite all of this, these characters are not the ones that are focused on, but instead the monsters and gods behind the scenes are the true stars. In the end, the unknown always wins. Victories for protagonists are temporary and in the end, they pay the price.

    Not for players who dislike stories with no closure, or prefer a more heroic story where the protagonists win. Some players who also want to go for the true Lovecraftian horror experience may find difficulty with his intricate writing style and prose.

  • Occult horror usually focuses more on the supernatural side, and a popular movie under this genre would be The Exorcist. Occult horror sometimes overlaps with paranormal horror, but they are distinct in their own ways. Usually, occult horror is based on real religious belief systems or folklore, focusing on the evil aspects of these beliefs to create villains and antagonists for the protagonists to understand and fight. Voodoo and witchcraft are favourites and are explored often, and creatures like the Wendigo and Incubi are written too. Sometimes, these creatures can take on the form of a human or take a human's body, which forces characters to find a way to get rid of it - most common method being exorcism. Cults, rituals and sacrifices to supernatural entities are considered stables of occult horror, with a person or a group of people using black magic to summon creatures from the other side.

    Due to the exposure of these supernatural creatures tormenting the protagonists' everyday life, the genre focuses on the mental decline of the protagonist and their companions as they deal with the problem. Occult horror leaves writers the freedom to choose and pick from existing demons and witches and ghosts from folklore all over the world, and stories do not need violence to progress the story onward, either.

    Occult horror is not for players who are uncomfortable with cults, demonic possessions and use of black magic.
  • Paranormal fiction is often, nowadays, confused with supernatural fiction. However, there are marked distinctions between the two subgenres, despite their perceived similarities. Paranormal horror deals with phenomena that is yet beyond the explanation of current science and its boundaries, such as - ghosts, UFOs, aliens, cryptids, and psychic abilities. Whereas supernatural is stuff that simply cannot be explained by science, paranormal is the weird stuff that can be explained one day, but currently, cannot be defined clearly yet.

    This subgenre deals with the fear of the unknown and the inexplicable, its horror elements dealing with humans encountering things that aren't seen in normal everyday life that they cannot simply explain away. It deals with pseudoscience in the form of extrasensory perception (ESP), ghosts, telekinesis, afterlife, poltergeists, reincarnation, so on and so forth.
  • Psychological horror relies less on supernatural and unnatural themes and focuses more on building up tension through fear and emotional instability. This genre focuses on causing discomfort by exposing common or universal mental and emotional vulnerabilities, fears, and the darker parts of the human psyche that most would repress, turn away from, or deny.

    It often employs, referring to Jungian psychology, these characteristics:
    • Suspicion
    • Distrust
    • Self-doubt
    • Paranoia

    Elements of psychological horror rely on mental conflict. These become more prominent and important as characters are faced with bizarre and perverse situations, which can involve the supernatural, immorality, or conspiracies. Unlike other horror media which emphasizes fantastical situations such as attacks by unnatural creatures, monsters, ghosts, and other paranormal or supernatural elements, psychological horror tends to keep the monsters hidden, or and to involve situations that are more grounded and realistic.

    Unexpected plot twists are an oft-used device. Characters often battle within themselves against their subconscious desires such as lust and the desire for revenge.

    The horror is often subtle and built up by the atmosphere, as well as the changes and struggles within the characters as the tension builds up.

    This genre is for you if you enjoy unsettling mental and emotional conflict, subtle horror, and are less interested in the more tangible forms of horror out there.
  • A horror sub-genre that usually revolves around a cast of characters - usually teenagers with archetypes ranging from stoners to jocks and the like - who are hunted down by a villain who's often a serial killer who uses a bladed weapon. The killer usually takes out most of the main cast before being defeated by the final girl-the girl who didn't partake in sex/drugs like the other characters. In most cases, however, the killer usually isn't dead. Whether or not they're supernatural or just to hint at potential sequels, there is usually a catch at the ends of these stories that not everything is quite as it should be, even if the main conflict has already been resolved.

    Simply put, this genre features a killer, natural or supernatural, usually a psychopath, which for some reasons hunt and kill people. This genre often mixes thriller, crime, and psychological.

    This genre is for people who enjoy writing a more realistic genre of horror that features killers that decimate people and protagonists, and not for those who enjoy a more clearcut victory for their characters.
  • Splatterpunk is a controversial movement within horror fiction from the 1980s that still sparks controversy up to today. It is distinguished by extreme depictions of violence, gore, often all graphic with no limits. It has been regarded as a revolt against the traditional horror story and defined as a literary genre characterized by 'graphically described scenes of an extremely gory nature'. It has been criticized as a genre that induces more 'nausea' than actual fear, but has also been praised for its survivalist themes and moral chaos in humans.

    Simply put, splatter and splatterpunk focuses on graphic portrayals of gore and graphic violence. It tends to display an interest in the vulnerability of the human body, and the theatricality of its mutilation. There is emphasis on visuals and descriptiveness, on detail and on technique. Splatterpunk thrives on a lack of social or moral order, where violence is the main spectacle to be beheld.

    A famous example of this in film is Blood Feast, a 1964 film that is also known as the first splatter film.

    This genre is not for people who are uncomfortable with graphic depictions of gore and violence and squeamish to such details, and those who prefer a more structured plot.
  • The supernatural genre is a literary genre requiring as plot devices and themes things that contradict the natural or material world, and cannot be explained by science. This is differentiated from paranormal horror by the fact that the supernatural genre deals with unearthly and inexplicable things that have been confirmed as nonscientific. Creatures such as vampires, werewolves, witches and demons fall into the supernatural category though may also stray into the paranormal. One way to differentiate the two is to think of the supernatural as falling more into the 'mystic' side of the inexplicable.

    That said, supernatural horror also deals with the fear and terror of the unknown. The fear that vampires, inhuman and unearthly creatures that prey on humans, exemplify this clearly. Humans can clearly differentiate vampires from humanity and this helps them focus on the fear of what they can't explain and can't fight with normal methods more.

    It also includes examples of weird fiction, fantasy, vampire fiction, and ghost story. The one genre that supernatural horror embraces entirely is the ghost story. It can also include dealings with the occult and devil lore.

    This genre is for you if you enjoy the concepts of unearthly and inexplicable beings inflicting terror or hunting human protagonists.
  • Survival horror was initially a subgenre of video games, and by definition focuses on the survival of player characters or protagonists in a setting that tries to frighten and to disturb with scary ambiances and horror graphics. When applied to written fiction, this genre makes the audiences feel as if the main characters and player characters are not in control of their situation - yet they must react and adapt to survive. This genre is characterized by limited vision, speed, health, and weapons or ammunition to combat against the forces that are trying to kill the characters. It also makes use of horror maze environments, and unexpected attacks from enemies.

    The videogame Resident Evil was the first to use the term survival horror and one of the longest lasting examples of the genre. Another famous example, though more fit within the psychological horror genre, is Silent Hill.

    This horror subgenre is for players who enjoy suspense and action, along with the struggles for survival.
  • Not to be confused with the weird west subgenre, weird fiction often eludes easy description. The most agreed-upon definition of this subgenre is that it is a genre of 'speculative fiction that when applied to horror, encompasses the themes of ghost stories and the macabre, and decidely anti-realist themes'. It is said to predate the genres of fantasy, science fiction, and horror but also blends with these other genres. In application to horror, this subgenre focuses on strange tales with the intent to impress upon readers and audiences an atmosphere of helplessness, of wrongness, and inexplicable dread. Things that go against the laws of nature and are of unknown forces, portrayed with seriousness.

    Popular examples of weird fiction writers include Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker and H.P. Lovecraft.

    This genre is for people who also appreciate science fiction combined with horror, and tales of the ambiguous and the fantastic.
  • The term 'weird west' refers to stories where fantasy and the supernatural meets the wild west. Skeletal cowboys, ghosts that are out for revenge because of the sheriff are all common themes. Native American folklore is also common in weird west stories. Many Western cryptids are focused upon in these roleplays, such as the chupacabra or the wendigo. It's a combination of mystery, western, horror and sometimes gaslamp or steampunk.

    Weird west fantasy focuses on the battle between order and chaos, the natural verses the supernatural and true good and evil. It may rotate around a typical Western town haunted by ghosts or demonic villains in gunfights while exploring the theme of betrayal and tragedy. Because of this setting, it is perfect for exploration and world expansion, but it is very restricted in historical themes. Certain cultural and social aspects need to be researched upon.

    Not for roleplayers who don't have much interest in cowboys and the like and if you are more interested in a more diverse setting.
  • A close sister genre to survival horror, zombie horror is a genre of fiction that focuses on the undead, usually, being created through the reanimation of a human corpse. Zombies are most commonly found in horror and fantasy works, blending the two genres together. It is differentiated from the vampire undead by the resurrection of the dead through a scientific process instead of a mystical one, as epitomized by Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. This genre has a rich history and can be traced back to The Epic of Gilgamesh, as the concept of reanimated dead has been explored even in the early and ancient civilizations.

    Nowadays, zombie horror is intimately connected with zombie apocalypse fiction, the horror there stemming not only from the reanimation of the dead, but also from the breakdown of society, its foundations and its morals as the result of the initial zombie outbreak that spreads. This archetype has emerged as a prolific subgenre apocalyptic fiction as well as survival horror.

    Clearly, the concept of unnatural, moving corpses strikes a primal fear in humans, and this is portrayed most clearly in zombie horror. This genre is for you if you enjoy the concepts of reanimated dead, science fiction, as well as apocalypse and survival.

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This looks great ! Lots of terms covered , and some great points about whether or not a particular subgenre is for you!

Glad that I could help ! :)
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