I've seen various horror writers note that, in the words of author Douglas Winter, “Horror is not a genre, like the mystery or science fiction or the western. [...] Horror is an emotion.”
And that seems to me like a reasonable approach to talking about horror fiction: it's meant to evoke emotions like fear or revulsion. But it occurred to me the other day to wonder: why is it only that particular set of emotions that works in a genre-like way, with authors and publications and publishers and readers devoted to fiction that focuses on it? Might it be interesting to see the same approach taken to evoking other kinds of emotions?
I suppose we have some other categories of fiction that focus on particular emotions. There's humor; there's romance; certain kinds of science fiction are meant to evoke wonder; I suppose some kinds of patriotic fiction are focused on pride; some short-short stories are all about surprise; and so on.
But I don't think we have, say, “joy fiction” as a category, not the way we have horror fiction. Nor is there a melancholy fiction category per se. Nor jealousy fiction. Nor anger fiction, grief fiction, contempt fiction, hope fiction, contentment fiction. There are certain individual works that evoke any or all of those emotions, but I don't think we tend to think of them as belonging to a coherent category of fiction.
Douglas Winter also said that horror “is about our relentless need to confront the unknown, the unknowable, and the emotion we experience when in its thrall.” But surely many people, when confronting the unknown or unknowable, would experience other emotions: awe, say, or wonder, or confusion, or delight.
So now I'm kind of curious what those genre-like categories would be like. What kinds of reading protocols and genre conventions would melancholy fiction have? Would fans argue about whether a given book did or didn't count as confusion fiction, and label authors as confusion writers even if they didn't want to be pigeonholed? What if there were an organization called the Joy Writers of America?
(PS: just to be clear, this post is in no way meant to criticize horror; I'm not saying horror should be replaced by other kinds of fiction, or that other kinds would be better. I'm just musing about extending an idea about horror to apply to other emotions.)
See also the Facebook discussion thread for this post.