Category Archives: Tropes & Archetypes

Oh, The Horror! How Horror Fiction Differs from Horror TV and Movies

I’ve already got a confession to make, and it’s the very first line of post. This is actually one of my biggest pet peeves: when people assume horror fiction is the exact same as horror movies. But can I blame them? Both are the horror genre, so why wouldn’t someone assume they were the same?

First, let’s take a look at horror movies. Georges Melies, a French filmmaker, created the very first horror film Manior Du Diable (The Devil’s Castle). It’s about three minutes long, and reminds me of a little bit of Jack the Giant Killer from 1962. Manior Du Diable is a quirky exploration of the magic of camera work and editing at the time, but it’s also a great frame of reference in which to see horror: horror deals with the supernatural, things in which we don’t quite understand, and the unexplained.

But the actual definition of horror is much different. Horror means a very strong feeling of fear, dread, and shock, or anything that causes feelings of fear, dread, and shock (Merriam Webster).

Unlike Manior Du Diable, more contemporary horror classics focus on the later part of the definition: shock. Friday the 13th. The Exorcist. Saw. We cringe in the theater seats at these movies saying, “Oh no. Don’t do that!” and “Oh no, don’t go in there!” We cover our eyes and peek out between our fingers. We see characters getting their limbs torn/ripped/chopped/pulled/blown off. Blood and gore are a cornerstone for many a horror film, in particular the B-movie variety. Some films even go so far as including triggering subject matter, like rape and violation. But most horror movies are going after the same effect: to make the audience jump in their seats, to scare audiences. A lot of thought, time, and care is put into production in order to achieve just the right music, lighting, and make-up effects for the big scary moments and the big reveals in order to make the audience all but pee their pants.

Horror literature seems to take the definition of horror more figuratively, deeply exploring the things we find scary or shocking, things we might not be able to explain, and examines them in depth. Instead of going for the screams, horror writers go more for effect. Where horror film may adopt the literal definition of the word horror (fear, dread, shock), horror literature seems to capture more of the thrill. Part of that could also be a byproduct of the medium. While movies are a more sensory experience with sight and sound, with books, the reader is allowed to imagine as much or as little as what’s on the page. It takes time to read a book, and the mind has more time to come up with possibilities and presumptions about what’s coming. More telling, popular horror literature deals with different subject matter. While a movie’s big focus may be the blood and gore, horror lit still needs to stand on its own two feet as a story. That means strong characters and character development, some element of the fantastic, whether it be a human hell-bent on murder or a vampire, and a bare-bones foundation of a story that is more than a cheap thrill.

I’d argue it goes much deeper still. It comes down to a question: what is the purpose of a horror movie and what is the purpose of a book in the horror genre? In movies, we are given very little time to empathize with our characters before the action begins. Because it isn’t necessary. When a moviegoer pays their money to see a horror flick, they are banking on the promise that they will get a good scare. When a book buyer pays money for a horror book, they pay for a more cerebral experience: they will spend hours with the characters, get to know them, and feel what they feel as the book progresses. In a horror movie, we are watching horrible things happen to the characters. In a horror book, we are experiencing the fantastic, the uncomfortable, right along with them.

I should note that I’m not trying to diss horror films. One of my favorite movies is a horror film (The Thing). And there are many exceptions to the points I’ve brought up here. There are some horror movies that I find downright artful (Let the Right One In and 28 Days Later… come to mind), and go beyond the stereotypical horror genre. And there are certainly horror books where the only purpose is to shock and cause dread to the readers. But I’d argue you’re going to find that those are the few and far between.

The horror genre is more saturated with books like The Shining by Stephen King that, while dealing with horror elements, also deals with Jack Torrance’s fear of succumbing to alcoholism. You care about Jack Torrance as you read The Shining. The Walking Dead, the long-running comic book series and the TV show, doesn’t just deal in zombies. The Walking Dead is about what happens to humanity and how humanity changes in the wake of near-extinction and the constant threat of death. I Am Legend (the book by Richard Matheson, one of my favorite books) is about the loneliness of being the last of your kind. Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice has less to do with vampires and more to do with the question of what it means to be mortal. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is not about the monster, but what it means to be human, the power of science, and the power of creating life from death.

From Bernie Wrightson's Frankenstein
From Bernie Wrightson’s Frankenstein

Finally, the most notable difference between horror movies and horror literature has to do with who the bad guy really is. In most horror films, there is a clear line between the protagonists and antagonists. Us vs. Them. Predator vs. Prey. One force hunts the other force down. Horror books, I’d argue, more so examine the darkness that comes from within, and duality of our own nature. We can be both the good guy and the bad guy. We can have good intentions (just as Victor Frankenstein did in bringing back the dead), but instead create a monster of ourselves. What horror literature looks to achieve is to strike empathy within the reader in the most dire and uncomfortable of circumstances, not necessarily to shock or scare, but to say, “Here’s the darkness, let’s go in and look around together.”

It Was a Dark and Pulpy Night

It was a dark and pulpy night. Dark because it’s nighttime. Pulpy because of the hordes of disemboweled pumpkins that will be lined up in front of houses all over the world, like heads on pikes as you enter a town to let you know they don’t take any shenanigans lightly.

Well, either that or because the month of October is dedicated to two of my favorite topics. Dark fiction, from horror to splatterpunk to atmospheric creepiness. Pulp as in the old pulp magazines from the mid-twentieth century. Magazines like Amazing Stories, Weird Tales, If, Galaxy, and Astounding Stories.

For the month of October, some of our Fictorians and honored guests will be providing you with articles about adding dark elements to your writing, while other authors will focus on the old pulp magazines, stories, and authors. Guest posters include Dr. Amanda Faith writing about dark fiction and avid fan/author/publisher Ron Fortier of Airship 27 combining the dark and the pulp to re-introduce us to the classic hero Brother Bones the Avenger. I will join in by chatting about one of my favorite science fiction pulp authors, Harl Vincent.

At the cusp of Halloween, we will have another interview with a Fictorian. The interview series runs once a month and introduces another person behind the enigmatic curtains of the Fictorians.

With that, I will creep back into the shadows and carefully unwrap my brittle copies of Astounding Stories and Weird Tales so I can enjoy more classic adventures.



About the Author:DeMarco_Web-5963

Guy Anthony De Marco is a disabled US Navy veteran speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award® nominee; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, third-party D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia and

Mashing Up the Wild West

If you’re of a certain age in the U.S., you were raised with Westerns. John Ford and Sergio Leone filled cinemas and TV screens with John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, the dust of cattle drives, the thunder of cavalry, guns, and the war whoops of Indians. By the time of my childhood, Western films were in their declining years, covering ground so well-trodden the genre itself had become cliché, a collection of easily recognizable and increasingly tired tropes.

However, the genre never quite made it to the grave. Since the Western film’s heyday, we’ve been graced with some spectacularly good fare: Tombstone, Unforgiven, Tarantino’s Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight, the remake of True Grit, the HBO series Deadwood, and Dances with Wolves.

The things that these examples do exceedingly well, and I would submit to you, the reason they’re so damn good, is that they take the tropes and twist them. Unforgiven puts an unforgettable twist on the Hired Gunfighter. Tarantino’s characters are nearly all recognizable archetypes—except they’ve been subverted or twisted in unexpected ways. The Coen brothers’ remake of True Grit takes Charles Portis’ brilliant novel and puts little Maddie Ross squarely back in the protagonist’s seat. Deadwood so brims with fascinating characters, crackling dialogue, and Shakespearean tragedy that its cancellation after only three seasons is one of the great travesties of modern television. Dances with Wolves, with its sweeping grandeur, epic depth, and visionary cinematography, is credited with revitalizing the Western film, and it does so by turning the tables on the Indian Wars. Without this film, none of the others might ever have been made.

But just how far can you twist the tropes? Can you have a science-fiction Western? A horror Western? A fantasy Western? Absolutely. Mix in any of these ingredients and you have what has come to be called The Weird Western.

The earliest sci-fi western mash-up that comes to mind is Westworld, complete with android gunfighters. Another notable is Back to the Future Part III, which nowadays we might call a little steampunk. The Wild West is a favorite milieu for steampunk authors, forming their own sub-genre of Western mash-up, including the Fictorians’ own Quincy J. Allen. Are there other SF-Western examples? Sure, but we won’t talk about Cowboys and Aliens.

Horror is a spice that mashes up tastily with Western stories. The Old West is replete with ghost tales and Native American mysticism. Murder, injustice, and brutality abound, all fodder for stories of the unquiet dead. Haunted trains, phantom stage coaches, vengeful medicine men, ancient knowledge from the dark depths of human history… are your creative juices flowing yet?

So the first step to a good mash-up is to recognize the tropes. You have to understand the nuts and bolts of a genre and how they fit together into the moving parts of the story. Throw in the things you love, the things you want to write about. A sprinkle of vampire saliva, a touch of decomposing zombie, a love story between a man and his raw meat, an angry deceased mother-in-law.

Twist and subvert the tropes into interesting new shapes. Take the Town Marshal archetype and do something with him you’ve never seen before, something interesting, something fun, something unexpected. In Death Wind, we made the Town Marshall an old man, too stubborn and grumpy to admit he’s forty years past his prime.

This kind of subversion is not new. Even in the 19th Century, the Western genre had become staid and cliché. The profusion of dime novels and penny dreadfuls had already created the tropes and archetypes we know today. In 1898 Stephen Crane, author of the Red Badge of Courage, wrote a brilliant subversion of the Western in his short story “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky,” in which he plays with tropes like the Town Drunk, Town Marshal, and The Shootout with great insight and cleverness. The key to any good mash-up is play. Jam things together to see what works, what sounds fun.

Death Wind CoverA few years back, my friend Jim Pinto and I decided to collaborate on a screenplay. We wanted to do something neither of us had ever seen before, so we decided to mash up two genres we loved: horror and Westerns. But how to make it different from other notable horror Westerns around, such as The Burrowers and Ravenous? We threw in another ingredient we both loved: the Cthulhu Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft. And that’s when the fun really began. We were in undiscovered territory. Throwing together a collection of characters under-represented in Western fiction and film, we stirred them together into a juicy stew of crisscrossing conflicts and ended up with Death Wind, a screenplay that placed highly in several screenwriting contests, including Second Place at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival Cthulhu Con in L.A. and Grand Prize at the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose in 2012.

After this success, it was a no-brainer to adapt the script into a novel. Death Wind will make its literary debut at Dragon Con 2016, published by WordFire Press.

About the Author: Travis Heermann

Heermann-6Spirit_cover_smallTravis Heermann’s latest novel Spirit of the Ronin, was published in June, 2015.

Freelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, editor, poker player, poet, biker, he is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the author of Death Wind (co-authored with Jim Pinto), The Ronin Trilogy, The Wild Boys, and Rogues of the Black Fury, plus short fiction pieces in anthologies and magazines such as Apex Magazine, Perihelion SF, Fiction River, Historical Lovecraft, and Cemetery Dance’s Shivers VII. As a freelance writer, he has produced a metric ton of role-playing game work both in print and online, including content for the Firefly Roleplaying Game, Legend of Five Rings, d20 System, and EVE Online.

He recently returned to the U.S. from New Zealand with a couple of lovely ladies and toting more Middle Earth souvenirs than is reasonable.

You can find him on…


I Just Love a Good Mystery: The Mystique of the Genre


Strength of Spirit_Amanda FaithA guest post by Amanda Faith.

I love a good mystery. Being the detective, following the clues, and arriving at the logical conclusion to catch the bad guy has always held such fascination to me. Sherlock Holmes, Jane Marple, Inspector Clouseau, Nancy Drew…these are but just a few of my childhood sleuths that I followed. I couldn’t get enough.

One of the largest draws for me was the fact that I could become part of the story. If the author did their job right, I had to work along side the detective to uncover the clues. It made me work. No, strike that. It would make me want to work.

There are some key elements in a great mystery that should be followed:

  1. A detective that engages the reader. No one wants to be bored reading nor should the detective be a twit.
  2. A solvable puzzle.
  3. A well-done setting
  4. Interesting characters. More than likely, there are several in the book.

Reading mysteries, I discovered that a great mystery has more than one mystery in it. Yes, it contains the “big question.” However, a great mystery also contains several smaller ones to keep the reader engaged, to bring more tension, more problem-solving opportunities, and more ways to introduce red herrings. It also brings depth to the main character (and sometimes the villain). Solving a crime is never neat and pretty. There are twists and turns, wrong assumptions, and initial wrong answers that help the reader stay intrigued. Sometimes it’s good in seeking the truth by showing a lie to propel the story forward.

A mystery must have stakes. There has to be an important, life-changing reason that the unanswered question needs to be answered. The question has to have meaning and weight or there would be no reason to pursue the answer. The greater the problem, the more the tension can grow.

Creating a good mystery can be challenging. There are a few things to keep in mind while writing.

  1. Start with the ending. I have discovered that if you know what the crime, who was involved, and how the bad guy gets caught is important. It will make it easier to create the story to make sure you get to the end game.
  2. A lot of exposition will kill a good mystery. Sure, sometimes it’s necessary. There has to be some exposition to move the story along. However, a good mystery engages the reader. They are part of the story. They are part of the crew to catch the bad guy. If a writer feeds them all the information, a reader will just toss the book aside, bored and hurt you didn’t let them be a part of the takedown.
  3. Do not be unrealistic with the conclusion. The clues, although challenging, cannot be so difficult that a reader cannot solve the case. You don’t want clues to be easy, either. No one reads to the middle of a book and stops. You need to take it all the way home. The reader should be able to go back and trace how things happened to discover how the detective came to the right answer at the end.
  4. Don’t make the conclusion stupid. I say this will all kindness, but things like the assistant figuring it out for the detective, there was an unknown twin, or arbitrarily have a key piece of information appear out of thin air. You can’t hide information. There has to be a hint of a clue somewhere prior to the time the detective unveils it.
  5. Introduce the criminal soon, and the detective sooner. Let the reader know within the first third of the book who the bad guy is so they feel they have enough time to solve the case.

Someone once told me that building a mystery is like the game Jenga (I wish I could remember who). Reach in, grab a block, and pull. Does the story stand? Did you watch it fall apart? This is where the edits come in. You will find all kinds of holes in your story during editing if your Jenga falls down before you get to the end.

I have discovered my love for mysteries has taking me to read about all kinds of mysteries, including real ones. Take the Egyptian Pyrimads, the ruins of Chichen Itza and Puma Punku, or the Lost City of Atlantis. How about the real cases of Jack the Ripper? Amelia Earheart? All of these real-life areas hold a sense of mystery for me. I find that I become lost in the clues and read about what researchers discover.

There are a lot of wonderful authors that transport the reader down a road to uncover the clues and catch the bad guy. Maybe the mystery can be the reader discovering their next great book to help them escape…if only for a little while.

Guest Writer Bio:
Amanda FaithTeaching high school English by day, college English by night, writing, and doing paranormal investigations doesn’t slow her down from having a great time with a plethora of hobbies. Her published credits include short stories, poetry, several journal articles, her doctoral dissertation, and her award-winning book Strength of Spirit. She is a staff writer for The Daily Dragon at Dragon Con and an intern for Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta at WordFire Press. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English, a Masters in Education-English, and a Doctorate in Education-Teacher Leadership. Check out her website at