11.18: Elemental Horror

Steve Diamond joins us to kick off our month on the elemental genre of horror. We explore the emotional components that readers seek from horror, and then drill down into the ways that we can create those reactions in our readers.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Daniel Thompson, and mastered by Alex Jackson. 



Take one of your favorite triumphant moments from a something you’ve read or watched, and rewrite it so that this triumph is the false victory that makes everything worse.

Residue, by Steve Diamond, narrated by David Stifel

6 thoughts on “11.18: Elemental Horror”

  1. This is what sticks to my metaphorical ribs: The characters’ choices land them in their terrible situation, and everything they do makes everything worse. It’s all avoidable.

    It’s like a twisted version of a classical tragedy. Just makes any visceral fear more painful to experience.


  2. I’m a little disappointed with these “elemental” episodes. With the exception of Dan, no solid material is ever referenced. I would have liked to hear about the choices authors have made in specific works, in particular the podcasters themselves. Like back up the fluffy academic things you guys say about genre fiction with things like – “when I wrote X I had the character…”

  3. Eh, I’d argue to the contrary, and honestly I’m surprised Dan didn’t make this point: Horror doesn’t necessarily need protagonist activation. Consider “I Am Not a Serial Killer” (so…spoilers?) – the killings happen first, and drive the protagonist to action. Sure, John’s actions get him involved personally, but the general horror of “demon ripping people apart and stealing parts to keep himself alive” is the inciting incident. John just happens to be an innocent (if messed up) bystander who gets involved (because he’s messed up). Sure Mr. Monster is about another demon trying to find out who killed the first one, and I’m pretty sure the third one (which I need to reread) is also along those lines, but the first one starts up without John doing a thing.

    I think I recall a couple of cosmic horror stories going along those lines. From what little I’ve seen (I tend not to like cosmic horror; I want to feel that the character at least has a chance), the genre falls into 2 main categories: someone starts poking at something they really shouldn’t have and wakes something up, or some third party (cult worshiper of the Cthuloid entity) is deliberately trying to wake them up. In the latter case, again, the protagonist had no chance to avoid it (short of being omniscient and thus knowing they should kill the cultist a year before their plan got off the ground).

  4. In the dark… when the footsteps come toward you, and stop… and there’s nothing there… but the ghouls moan, and the wind whistles, and there’s a cold hand on your shoulder…

    That’s horror! Maybe. Anyway, Steve Diamond joins the fearful foursome to tell us about it, and you can read all about it in the archives or over here:


    Who’s that coming down the hall….

  5. I’m curious what people think the difference is between an anxiety and horror. Is horror an extreme form of anxiety or is a different emotion entirely.

    I thought it might be like this:

    “I’m going to be late for work.” = anxiety.
    “I’m going to be late for work and my boss is going to shoot me.” = extreme anxiety/tension.
    “I’m going to be late for work, and I don’t know what will happen. The last few days there’s was a timer on my desk that reset as soon as I walked in, and there was weird sounds coming from the server room, and my team keep having hushed conversations, and yesterday my boss bought a whole bunch of candles and laid them out in a circle saying ‘don’t be late, don’t be late.'” = Horror.

    I feel like horror relies upon an unknown, but not a complete unknown. If you know exactly what’s going to happen, then that just builds anxiety/tension rather than horror. Like a timebomb in a thriller, a terrible thing but not really scary. Being scary is harder.

    What do you think?

  6. Something that stood out to me is the idea that death is not the worst thing that can happen in horror. I think that’s why so many horror stories deal with the supernatural; it’s saying that death is not the peaceful end to our characters’ troubles, but that some major, messed-up terror lies beyond.

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