Am I Terrified or Horrified?

When my first zit pushed its way up out of my face, I was horrified at its putrid repulsiveness. After that, I was terrified that it would happen again.

This is an important distinction when writing a story: especially a thriller that takes you to the boundaries of reason and disbelief.

Or if you’re just trying to scare your little cousin with a bedtime story. That too.

The best of what we commonly call Horror stories actually operate with a delicate balance of both Horror and Terror.

The differences may be subtle at first glance, but really Terror and Horror have very little in common except both serving as the impetus for fear.

Allow me to explain:

Imagine you are alone in a dark building, walking through hallways with nothing but a flashlight, when suddenly, out of nowhere jumps out a boy band! =O

You would be horrified.

But what if you were in the exact same physical circumstance, but instead of a boy band jumping out at you from a dark corner, you occasionally hear the faint strains of a badly sung love ballad from behind you. But when you turn around, the boy band would be nowhere to be seen. This happens several times, each time the boy band never shows its face but constantly asserts its presence. You fear you will see the boy band soon.

You would be terrified.

The difference of Horror and Terror is in a way in the timing and in the different ways they create fear. Horror is active in the present, while Terror looks to the future with expectation.

Horror creates fear by shoving a disgusting thing in your face and stimulates an emotional reaction. Horror works quickly, and is based through the attention to detail and the events. It has very little to do with plot or story development.

Terror, on the other hand, is a near perfect counterpoint to Horror. The effectiveness of terror lies entirely in the strength of the storytelling and creation of atmosphere. Terror takes its time, bringing you along on its journey, showing you glimpses of things in the shadows, and leaves you to make your own conclusions.

Terror is close to suspense. For all practical purposes, we might as well call it suspense.

I love suspenseful stories. They keep me strung taut like the catgut of a violin.

Last week, I said that I wanted to write a Horror story. I stand corrected. I actually want to write a story of Terror.

And the idea terrifies me.

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