Quiet Horror

What is the Quiet Horror Subgenre?

Quiet, or soft, horror is characterized by a creeping sense of dread. Much of the violence of this subgenre occurs off the page and is left to the reader's imagination. There is often a sense of mystery in this subgenre as well, as quiet horror relies on the element of uncertainty. The best quiet horror stimulates the intellect and emotion, bordering on the cerebral.

The term "quiet horror" was coined by the author Charles L. Grant to describe his own work, which was frequently mistaken for dark fantasy. The subgenre, however, existed well before Grant in the writings of M.R. James, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and W.W. Jacobs, all of whom wrote stories in which the true horror took place only in the imagination of the reader.


Quiet Horror Characteristics

Level of Characterization: The level of characterization in quiet horror is moderate to high as the character's unease is what makes these stories so appealing.


Level of Plot: The level of plot is also quiet high in quiet horror as the subgenre relies upon mystery to bring about the necessary tension and scares.

Level of Supernatural:  The level of supernatural in a quiet/soft horror is low to moderate, but it does vary. Depending on the type of story, there may be supernatural elements, but they may not always be shown, as the goal of quiet horror is not to shown what is producing the fear, but instead allow the emotion and mystery to take center stage.

Level of Scary:  Quiet horror will be a low to moderate level of scary. This is the type of scare that will creep up on you or haunt you when you've finished the story. This type of horror will not be the horror of constant terror as you turn the pages.

Level of Violence: The level of violence in quiet horror, again, will be very low. This is because this type of horror wants to leave the violence and the scary up to the reader's imagination. So, nothing truly explicit will appear on the page.

Typical Setting: Settings vary for quiet horror, though often, the setting will be a haunted house of some kind. The important part job of the setting in this type of horror is to produce the necessary atmosphere to elicit creeping dread. That is why haunted houses and small towns make for great settings, as they are claustrophobic enough to keep the terror close.

Related Horror Subgenres

Subgenres related to quiet horror are gothic horror, as many of the same elements employed in gothic horror are employed in quiet horror to great effect, such as mystery and atmosphere. Haunting horror is also a closely related subgenre to quiet horror. This is due to the feeling that both subgenres evoke. Psychological horror may also be linked to quiet horror because much of the horror in quiet horror takes place in the mind of the reader.

Don't Read Quiet Horror If You Dislike…

Using your imagination. Quiet horror relies on the reader's own intellect and imagination to supply the necessary ingredients for scares. So, if you need your terror spilled onto the page, this is not the genre for you. 

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman- Told in a series of journal entries, this story chronicles a woman's descent into madness when her well-meaning husband attempts to sequester her in a "rest cure" following the birth of their child. The bedroom in the house where they vacation is covered in hideous yellow wallpaper which quickly becomes the source of the narrator's mania.


The Monkey's Paw by W. W. Jacobs- When the Whites acquire a magical monkey's paw, it grants them three wishes, but at an enormous price. Though the horror of the results of these wishes is implied, it is never explicitly shown.


The Séance by John Howard- Following the death of her sister, Constance Langton is desperate to give her grieving mother some comfort. Hoping that contact from beyond the grave will soothe her, Constance takes her mother to a séance… with tragic consequences. Set in Victorian England, this spooking mystery has all the trappings of Victorian horror.


The Woman in Black by Susan Hill- When solicitor Arthur Kipps is called to handle the estate of Alice Drablow in the small town of Crythin Gifford, he discovers that Alice Drablow was a woman of many secrets. As he is haunted by visions of a ghostly woman in black, Kipps slowly pieces together the mystery of the connection between the two women, and the children of the town.


The Hour of the Oxrun Dead by Charles L. grant- The first in the Oxrun Station series tells the story of widow, Natalie Windsor. A year after her husband's grisly murder, another body is found, and Natalie begins to wonder about the secrets hidden in the small town of Oxrun Station. This series opener is part mystery, part horror, all atmospheric.


In the Night Room by Peter Straub- Winner of the 2004 Bram Stoker Award, In the Night Room tells the story of Timothy Underhill, a writer (whom horror fans will recognize as a character from Koko) who is mourning the loss of his sister. Suddenly, he starts receiving emails from people he knows to be dead. At the same time, Willy Patrick, a children's writer, feels that her daughter is trapped in a nearby warehouse, even though she knows that her daughter is dead. Together, Timothy and Willy must join forces to learn what the dead are trying to tell them.


The Fall of Never by Ronald Damien Malfi- Kelly Rich never wanted to return home, but when her sister is injured, Kelly must face the deadly secrets of her past in this haunting novel.


The Nameless by Ramsey Campbell- Barbara Waugh begins receiving mysterious phone calls that simultaneously fill her with hope and dread. A child on the other end of the line is calling her mother for help. Could it be the daughter that Barbara thought was murdered nine years ago? As she searches for answers, Barbara realizes that her true nightmare has only just begun.


Ghost and Horror Stories by Ambrose Bierce- Like Lovecraft and Poe, Ambrose Bierce is one of the great forefathers of the horror genre. Unlike his fellows, however, Bierce's horror is never shown outright. Instead, an unsettling feeling creeps across the pages of these stories whether they be of supernatural or man-made horrors.


Nightmare House by Douglass Clegg- The first book in the Harrow haunted house trilogy tells the story of Ethan Gravesend who inherits Harrow from his eccentric paternal grandfather. Harrow has all the conventions of Victorian gothic horror that Ethan braves as he unearths the skeletons in his family closet.

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