When you hear the words "quiet horror," what does it make you think of? I first heard the term several years ago. The idea of spooky happenings without a lot if blood and gore really appealed to me. I've never been one to enjoy the graphic details of horrific stories about murder and mayhem. Instead, I've always liked for most of the violence to happen off-stage. We, the reader (or watcher, as this applies to film, as well) know what happens without having to suffer too many terror-ridden images.
It's difficult for me to forget something once I've seen it, which may be why I prefer this sub-genre. As a child, I'd have those awful scenes flash in my head over and over again, causing nightmares and paranoia of any dark place, no matter how familiar. Maybe it's the creative in me--the writer with a vivid imagination--who's able to see and feel things even when they're not there. I'm not sure, but either way, quiet horror became my go-to when I needed that spooky escape. And with Halloween just around the corner, I've sought out to better define this sub-genre while sharing some books to add to your TBR list.
What is Quiet Horror?
I've asked the experts. Some of the most talented horror authors I know have agreed to give us a lesson and tell us how they've incorporated the atmospheric, spookiness that makes quiet horror.
Kelly Martin, Author of Trinity Row
To me, quiet horror means a sense of dread in my books. Not dread in reading them, but dread for the characters. I always describe it as a “tilt” or a “hum” in the background that if you are really quiet, you can hear. Things appear normal at the beginning of my books, however, there is always a line or a word that skews the world on its side ever so slightly. As the story progresses, the tilt increases as does the tension and the sense of being off balance.
In quiet horror books, there is typically a low level of violence, though it can vary, and a lot of the scares come from the tension rather than jump scares or gore. Of course, there can be supernatural elements in quiet horror (ghost, vampires, etc), but the main “draw” of the subgenre (to me) is the atmosphere and feeling of dread or “tilt” as I call it. It’s fun to get the readers (and myself) off balance in the story, kind of like a fun house at a carnival.
I think of examples in movies as THE HAUNTING (1999) and THE BIRD. The horror elements are there. There just isn’t much gore or violence, and the creepiness is felt mostly in the setting and atmosphere.
Other spooky books by Kelly to check out:
Dark and Deadly Things | Dark and Devious Things | Dark and Dreadful Things | Dark and Desperate Things | Dark and Dangerous Things | Between the Dreaming and the Dead | The Afterlife of Lizzie Monroe
H.R. Mason, Author of Nothing Hidden Ever Stays
The Dictionary defines horror as, “an intense feeling of fear or shock.” When most people think of horror novels, blood and gore seem to come to mind, often with monsters or demons playing a part. When many readers envision books within the horror genre, they expect blatant displays of things that shock or scare.
But what about the more subtle forms of horror? Can something be quietly terrifying, or must it be loud and obvious in order to be scary? Gothic fiction is one of my favorite horror sub-genres, and my upcoming book, Nothing Hidden Ever Stays, fits nicely within this classification. It features the prominent characteristics of Gothic fiction, such as mystery, the supernatural, death, old houses with ghosts, family secrets, and hereditary curses, just to name a few.
I like to write things that are quietly creepy rather than overtly scary. As an author, eliciting a slow, spine-tingling chill is more satisfying than creating a big jump scare. I love dreaming up characters and scenarios that crawl beneath the skin and wrap around the senses long before the reader is fully aware of what is happening. Being able to conjure up subtle fear or “quiet horror” is what I love best. I believe that the characters and ghosts within the pages of Nothing Hidden Ever Stays will definitely terrify the reader in the very best ways.
Mary Gray, author of The Ripper of Monkshood Manor
To me, "quiet horror" happens when the creator brings light into the tone, message, and/or violence of a book. Many people say they don't like horror, but what I think they mean is, they don't like the "in-your-face, evil-feeling-stuff." I don't like anything that makes me feel icky inside, either. I like stories that bring us closer to God.
To me, the best stories are about defeating the monsters and bad guys when the protagonist reaches for "the good." If a story is dark just for the sake of being dark, what's the value? I feel like darker stories provide us with the perfect opportunity for giving hope and light to those who crave more chilling tales.
In my novel, The Ripper of Monkshood Manor, I wrote a playful protagonist to offset the chilling atmosphere of the book. Right from the get-go, the reader sees that Cate is a fun, relatable character who's also taken aback by anything creepy going on. She also wrongfully believes that she doesn't deserve to be safe, and her journey through the house helps her come to terms with the truth that she IS valuable. I feel that adding messages of light can potentially make a horror story less unsettling. My goal is to creep people out, yes, but also to help people feel uplifted in the end.
A.G. Porter, Author of The Darkness Trilogy
Do you know that feeling you get when you turn off the light in your bedroom, or any room for that matter, and it feels like you're not alone? It's almost as if someone has crept up beside you, breathing softly on your neck, as soon as the light is doused. You can almost swear if you turned around they would be standing there. In fact, I bet some of you do, just to make sure you're not imagining it, but you are. Maybe.
To me, that is "Quiet Horror." It's not necessarily only something visual or audible; it's a feeling. It's that tingle at the nape of your neck, the pit of your stomach, that fills you with dread.
One of the first horror books I read that gave me that feeling was Phantoms by Dean Koontz. It wasn't overly wrought with grotesque images of death and blood. However, he created a feeling of complete isolation and at the same time vulnerability. In this story the "monster" was everywhere and yet, the characters couldn't see it.
Another experience I've had with quiet horror is George A. Romero's Day of the Dead. This movie is full of gore, but the most frightening moments of this film is void of zombies. It's the moments when the protagonist is alone with her thoughts. It's knowing the world has ended and you've been left behind to face the darkness and horde by yourself.
Maybe that's what it is to me; the feeling of being alone. And as much as being in a bustling world full of people who can wear us down, it's much better than being utterly alone.
These ladies did a wonderful job explaining quiet horror and how they apply the subtle, terrifying whispers of it in their books. I, too, feel like the overall sense of dread and an undercurrent of creepy really describe it. These types of horror novels are the ones that haunt you long after you're finished reading. Later when you recall them, you experience that same eerie feeling deep in your bones.
Quiet horror requires one to use your imagination--cultivating your own grim details to fill in the blanks. Which can often be even more horrific because you'll likely fill them in with things that scare you the most.
My upcoming novel, Soul Breather, also falls into the category of quiet horror. I sought to create a creepy atmosphere without using too much graphic detail. Since it's written in first person, the main character, Adalind, expresses her fears and the sense of dread she has about the demonic attacks that plague her. She struggles with possession, stigmata, and the death of people close to her. Her life is anything but quiet, and the horror is ever-present. If you'd like to request an ARC or read more about Soul Breather, click here.
Many thanks to Kelly Martin, H. R. Mason, Mary Gray, and A. G. Porter for sharing their thoughts with us. Be sure to follow them on social media and check our their books!
Thank you for taking the time to read our thoughts on quiet horror. Do you enjoy this sub-genre? Tell me your thoughts in the comments or on my Instagram @vanessakeccles.
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