REVIEW: End of Month Reviews #49 - January 2008 [spoilers]

Martin Phipps martinphipps2 at
Mon Mar 3 20:16:10 PST 2008

On Mar 4, 6:33 am, "Saxon Brenton" <Saxon.Bren... at> wrote:
> On Tues 4 March 2008 Greg Fishbone replied:
> >>      One tidbit of information I recall from various roleplaying
> games
> >> is how to play the difference between terror and horror.  At its
> >> simplest, terror tends to be based on the fear of immediate harm and
> >> prompts the fight-or-flight response.  Horror tends to be more of a
> >> visceral reaction of revulsion against something.  There are
> overlaps,
> >> of course, and the latter can certainly lead directly to the former.
> >> Nevertheless, for the do-it-yourself activity of gamesmastering these
> >> loose definitions tend to be more useful that the blanket description
> >> of the 'horror genre' that we get from the mainstream media.
> > Interesting...
> > Are you saying that horror and terror are distinct genres or that
> > horror and terror as story elements tend to be erroneously conflated?
> > Or is there a spectrum from pure terror to pure horror with most
> > stories falling somewhere in the middle?  Or should they be plotted
> > with horror on the x-axis and terror on the y-axis on a grid divided
> > into quadrants?
> Hmm.  Good question.  I hadn't considered it in that manner.  As I said,
> knowing the difference seems to be most useful in crafting a story, so
> that the author knows how to create specific effects from their box of
> writerly and/or cinematic tricks - just like any other literary tool
> for establishing mood or setting or pacing or whatever.  And there are
> many, many such tools that can be used in combination with each other.  
> The horror and terror elements tends to go together, since they both
> produce intense reactions that are usually negative...  But as mentioned
> the terror aspects can bleed off into the action/adventure areas.
> I'm babbling.  Sorry.  I'm guess that in the first instance I'm saying
> that these things can be lumped together, erroneously, by people who
> don't know or don't care about what they do or how they work.  For most
> people who only read or watch stuff for casual entertainment, that's not
> really something to worry about.  But for the people who are creating
> this stuff they need to know what their tools are.
> In the second instance, of *how* they relate to each other: yick.  I'm
> guessing that your last suggestion is closer to the truth, but the
> situation is in fact far more chaotic.  An x-axis and y-axis for horror
> and terror would mean something only if you restricted yourself to those
> two story elements.  But in practice even if the overall point of the
> story is to create one or the other (ie, the story operates as horror
> or terror at a 'genre' level) there are often other storytelling
> elements that can be used (say, comic relief in a scary story; or the
> inverse that Pratchett has pointed out, tragic relief in a comedy).  
> And then there are variations in genre and subgenre that evolve over
> time as tastes change or the cutting edge of the avante garde moves,
> eg the differences between a classic ghost story, a moralistic tale
> warning against things Man Was Not Meant To know, a slasher fic, and
> snuff porn.

In practice, true terror can not be achieved when the audience knows
what it sees isn't real.  The best example of terror (as opposed to
horror) would have been when Orson Wells broadcasted War of the Worlds
over the radio.  Some people thought it was real and were not
horrorified but literally terrified.  I don't think that there has
ever been another example of true terror evoked from a work of fiction
as audiences today are too sophisticated as to believe that they,
personally, are in any danger from what they see on screen.  In
theory, if the audience is willing to suspend disbelief long enough
they can get a sense of being terrified (and, if the feeling lasts
long enough, perhaps even have nightmares afterwards).


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