So, I've written a horror story and everybody says that it is indeed good but they also point out that while my premise is terrific, my narrative voice does not go with horror. That it reads "too soft and poetic" unlike horror stories. In fact, I agree. How do I work this out?
my narrative voice does not go with horror. That it reads "too soft and poetic" unlike horror stories.
Decide how you want it to be.
The only clue we have is "not soft, not poetic". Does that mean horror style is suppose to be "hard" and "sparse"? "Violent" and "incoherent"? Or maybe "raspy" and "uncouth"? Weirdly, this seems to invoke a horror villain/threat rather than the narrator.
What if a purple-prose teenager, daughter of a famous 18th Century feminist, wrote a horror story one damp summer to impress a couple of romantic poets? It might be full of esoteric discussions about the meaning of life and the responsibility of God. Somehow I can't imagine this story told in the voice of Stephen King – Mr. "Your Book Uses Too Many Adverbs".
I'm imagining those annoying horror movie trailers that are nothing but jumpcuts and jarring sound effects. Sometimes the camera swings around disorientingly and the film has been chop-editted to flow dis-jointedly. It's all style telling you "this is scary, y'all!" but you have no idea what the story is about.
Is it really scary, or is it just going through the motions of what other scary movies do? This could be good or bad, I'm not judging. It's bad if it is just imitating other works for unearned tropes and storybeats, it's good if it is somehow putting the reader into a frame of mind where they can make themselves scared.
What is your PoV? Who is the narrative voice? What are the themes in your story? These are the things you should consider. I humbly suggest that your beta-readers are trying to help by steering you in the direction they expect. In otherwords, they feel your story didn't meet expectations of what a generic scary story should be. The advice isn't specific because it begs the question what a scary story is suppose to be in the first place, or for that matter what is even scary.
There are many genres and styles that are blended with horror: thriller, mystery, survival, despair, even opposite styles like comedy and romance mix with horror surprisingly well. These will all influence the style. There's no right answer. You should commit to something that compliments your theme and characters.
The round-about conclusion is that you haven't made your narrative voice clear enough. If your story is about isolation and dread, it's a very different voice than being chased by wolves, or being married to a psychopath. Often horror stories begin pleasant and slowly remove the secure foundations of reality, and the narrative style will follow the MC's "descent into madness". Some horror stories are more like thrillers with a ticking clock and adrenaline. Some are psychological and the narrator is slowly revealed to have betrayed the reader in some fundamental way. You don't have to be meta with the themes, but this is the kind of narrative-voice "evolution" that rises above just imitating other authors, or invoking easy tropes and well-tread clichés.
Read, read, and read. To work on your personal style read authors who do what you want to do well and understand how they do it. To learn horror writing H.P. Lovecraft, Edger Allen Poe, Stephen King, and James Herbert may be strong contenders if you want to learn new technique but if your work already has overtones of poetry then skip the first two. If you just want to build suspense Lovecraft is a recognised master and you may actually find mysteries rather than horror the better genre.
Short version: find authors who do what you want to do, and do it well, read and reread their works that do it best, understand how they do it, then apply those techniques in your own work.
What is wrong with combining a poetic tone with horror? One of my favourite books is Frankenstein and Mary Shelley has a wonderful tone throughout.
I suspect her husband Percy tossed in a few verses, though she was well capable of that too. The setting, the mood, the introspection of the failed hero, all work so well in a poetic tone. If anything, it intensifies the tragedy and horror of the tale. Even the Creature waxes poetic when declaring his intentions and mourning the destruction of his creator.