How To Write The Perfect Horror Story

By on May 20, 2016
How To Write The Perfect Horror Story - Writer's Life.org

The horror genre is a fascinating one. While perhaps many of us relate horror stories to those big box office hits -ones where beautiful people make a series of rather idiotic mistakes and all end up dead, there are, in fact, many different types of horror stories, all of which have different layers and depths and use different devices to scare their audiences.

As the wise Stephen King said:

“The three types of terror: The Gross-out: the sight of a severed head tumbling down a flight of stairs, it’s when the lights go out and something green and slimy splatters against your arm. The Horror: the unnatural, spiders the size of bears, the dead waking up and walking around, it’s when the lights go out and something with claws grabs you by the arm. And the last and worse one: Terror, when you come home and notice everything you own had been taken away and replaced by an exact substitute. It’s when the lights go out and you feel something behind you, you hear it, you feel its breath against your ear, but when you turn around, there’s nothing there …”

Whether you are writing a full-blown horror novel, or you simply want to write some scary scenes into your novel, writing with the intention of unnerving, chilling or terrorising your audience can be a powerful tool.

So how can you write a fantastic horror story?

Avoid the cliche’s.

Writing horror is a brilliant opportunity to be creative. It’s where the unthinkable becomes a reality, were the unimaginable actually happens. A noise in the basement or attic, haunted hotels, houses built on Indian burial grounds - these have all been written time and time again, and so perhaps it’s time to think of something new.

That’s not to say however, that you shouldn’t read and research your genre thoroughly. If you are going for a good old fashioned slasher novel, read similar stories to get ideas and inspiration and learn the common themes. If you are writing a chilling psychological thriller or haunting ghost story, find successful novels that have written about similar concepts. You can make your story entirely different, but understand the language, the build up of tension, and how to write those dramatic/ gory, spine-tingling scenes for maximum possible effect.

It’s all about good versus evil.

Horror is always about something evil, and usually what makes a good story is a protagonist who is trying to overcome, or, at the very least, survive that evil. Be it an axe-wielding madman (another cliche!), a ghost that won’t leave, or a characters descent into madness, there should always be a struggle - whether the protagonist or the ‘good’ succeeds over this evil is up to you!

Write rich characters

Don’t neglect your characters when writing a horror story. It is so easy to become preoccupied with the gore, the fear factors, and how to ensure that your reader reacts in the way you want them to, that you forget to concentrate on creating rich, interesting characters who your reader engages with. The best horror stories have beautifully written characters who the author has spent time developing. We need to care about them, even the evil ones!

Think about what scares you

Write down your worst fears and anxieties, even the ones that are completely irrational. Then take each of these fears and develop them creatively. If you are scared of spiders, for example, you can’t write a horror story about a woman, alone, who hears strange noise in the middle of the night, reaches for the light and touches…a spider! But you can write a scene where a woman, alone, who hears strange noise in the middle of the night, reaches for the light and looks down... to see a sea of spiders crawling all over her bedroom floor.

Writing horror can be exciting and lots of fun, so if you want to write a horror story or inject some ‘spooky’ into your novel, follow the tips above to get you started, and then let those creative juices flow!

Bethany Cadman -author of 'Doctor Vanilla's Sunflowers'

Bethany Cadman -author of 'Doctor Vanilla's Sunflowers'

About Bethany Cadman

Bethany Cadman is an author and freelance writer. Her highly anticipated debut novel 'Doctor Vanilla's Sunflowers' is available on Amazon as both an eBook and a paperback. You can find it here - http://tinyurl.com/z47t8qf

2 Comments

  1. Grant Hudlow

    May 23, 2016 at 3:15 pm

    Thank you Bethsny,
    for the excellent examples
    look for them in my forthcoming book

  2. Brian Moreland

    June 1, 2019 at 8:36 am

    Great article, Bethany. This is sound advice.

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