On Writing: Horror v Terror


August 30, 2015 by Laird

Horror is a complex realization of disorder; it is related to disgust. Terror is a visceral reaction to a threat; it is related to violence, especially the fight or flight defense mechanism.

Yes, Virginia, Horror and Terror can and do overlap.

6 thoughts on “On Writing: Horror v Terror

  1. So, by this distinction, why do we not have a genre of fiction or film called ‘Terror’ ?

    • Magenta Fuchsia says:

      I believe you can find stories labeled as such. They might not necessarily have supernatural elements, then again they might. Think about the times you, yourself, felt terror, and what caused it. Horror is what you would feel if, for instance, you looked at your hand and saw it covered with hot black slime. You might be terrified, too, but you’d definitely feel disgusted. Wouldn’t you say that the story in which the shark known as Jaws starred is a story based on terror? There’s nothing disgusting about a shark, you’re just terrified at the idea of being eaten!

  2. Laird says:

    Or fear. There are people who will claim horror is not a genre, it’s an emotion.

  3. Martin says:

    I feel the over abundance of terror invoking portions of a story might lead to fatigue. But, if you have horror, a build of tension, and a dash of terror, maybe you’ve excitement. That’s why it’s art.

  4. Magenta Fuchsia says:

    Listen to this man; he knows. For proof, read any of his novels and short stories. He captures horror, terror and, my favorite, existential dread, beautifully. I first discovered Laird Barron’s stories in his collection of short stories, The Imago Sequence. I think his concepts are very unusual, and the better for being so! Just dreadful, as in that’s what you’ll feel: filled with dread.

  5. Joseph Trau says:

    I like to say that horror is all about a particular moment or event, while terror is all about possibility. I think possibility in this case is the same as the threat mentioned by Laird; that threat can be explicit (“Pay me back, or I’ll kill your whole family…”) or implicit (“His engine failed, leaving him stranded on the Amazon River, in the dark…”).

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