Shades of Black: Genre, Sub-genre, and Style

Genre: Horror.
Some horror is designed to terrify you… (Photo by Mitja Juraja on

As we discussed last week and the week before, I am working on short stories and educating myself about the literary landscape while I gain some objectivity from my novel’s first draft. As we discussed in my first post, I hope that my novice musings are encouraging to other aspiring authors taking the same journey.

Let’s talk about horror. Take a moment and think about three of your favorite horror movies. Although they all target the same emotions – fear, tension, anxiety – they attack that same goal from different angles.

Some horror is about an intense psychological situation. I think of movies like Fracture, Secret Window, A Quiet Place, and Knives Out. I admit that I am stretching the definition of ‘horror’ with some of these, but stick with me. These lean into surprise, the unknown, and amplifying everyday stresses that we all feel at different times by 1000. Who hasn’t felt outraged at injustice in the world? At war with unhealthy emotions? Like you were walking on eggshells? Like you were unfairly persecuted?

Guy Fawkes Mask. Horror. Genre. Writing.
…some horror makes a point…(Photo by NEOSiAM 2020 on

Creature-features and slashers are different, aren’t they? From the classic monsters of early cinema to the slasher flicks of the 80’s and 90’s, the goal is more straightforward. We fear for the character’s lives. We recoil at the uncanny valley as human-adjacent vampires, zombies, and unfeeling serial killers threaten the protagonist’s existence. We are still ‘scared,’ but the flavor of that fear feels different from the first set.

Writing is no different – we understand instinctively that our work fits in a genre, and a sub-genre. Why then would we pigeon-hole literary magazines? Last week, I shared my thoughts about perusing summaries of markets for short stories to find what they say they want and lessons for us as writers when we engage with them. This week, I have spent may hours reading excerpts and, where possible, entire stories from the top 20 or so that seem like good fits for the sorts of stories I enjoy writing. The variety in tone and feel between publications ostensibly within the same genre struck me.

Jack the Pumpkin King doll. Horror. Genre. Writing.
… and some horror is almost cute. (Photo by Toni Cuenca on

Sticking with the theme of horror, let’s look at three magazines that publish in that genre. Strange Horizons often feels like a Tim Burton film. Yes, there are some scary moments, but the journey to those moments contains some laughs. Contrast that experience with Hello Horror. The stories I read therein often came with a psychological bent. Bloody terror takes a back seat to the supreme discomfort of stressful and unusual situations. Despite the title, Space and Time also features horror. Their stories feel heavy, existential, and at times even politically charged.

I’ll echo the advice of others – although it takes time (I am still not through with my list of prospects) there is no substitute for reading samples from literary magazines when it comes to determining whether they would be a good fit for your work. It takes days or weeks for editors at established markets to work through their stacks of submissions to get to your story. For your own sake, the investment in a little research to find the right fit is worth it.

What are your experiences with finding the right literary market? Are you interested in more detailed breakdowns of lit. mag. tone for other genre fiction markets, such as mystery, fantasy, and science fiction? Let us know in the comments.

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