Some time ago I tried to wrap up just what dark fantasy actually was. Seeing as that is how my writing is most often classified, I wanted to try to answer the question that forever arose: What’s the difference between dark fantasy and horror? You can use the Search box on the right to find the original post I’m referring to.
Well, adding further explanation to the debate, I recently read an online interview with Angela Challis, one half of Brimstone Press, Australia’s premier independent publisher of dark fantasy. She was asked:
“Let’s get the tough one out of the way early: dark fiction or horror?”
Her reply was interesting:
Tough? Naaah! Not at all. I’m actually at a loss as to why the banner title is even deliberated. It seems clear to me that Dark Fiction is the catch all phrase, and Horror is a sub-set representing the extreme reader-recoil end of the Dark Fiction spectrum (marking the extreme lighter end with sword-wielding trolls having a bad day).
The term ‘horror’ is far more rigid than ‘dark fiction’.
Horror suggests the reader should expect to be left with an overwhelming feeling caused by something frightfully shocking, terrifying, or revolting — i.e. something horrific. Given this conventional definition of horror, for me, it doesn’t exist within fiction. Any events likely to provoke this type of reaction from me can only be found within the constraints of non-fiction.
Dark Fiction, on the other hand, rarely evokes a preconceived expectation as it doesn’t suggest the intensity of the ‘scare’ factor of the story. A story of a locust plague may not be considered horror by one reader, but will evoke extreme recoil from a reader suffering with entomophobia. Although the first reader may not consider the story to be horrific, I believe very few people would deny that this type of story has the potential to provoke a wide range of reactions from reader to reader depending on the intensity of their aversion to the subject matter.
Simply put, the term Dark Fiction is sympathetic to the gamut of subjective opinions, whereas Horror is far more restrictive in its definition.
Not a bad stab at the definitions there. You can read the whole interview here.