8 Tips for Writing Horror Stories
Chapter 2 “Genres” – Section 6 “Horror"
With Links to Supplementary Material
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The next on our list of genres to talk about is the Horror genre. I talked a bit about this on my chapter on creating a Monster; but horror does not necessarily require a monster, just like monsters do not necessarily need to be strictly within the horror genre. So I highly recommend checking out that chapter as the second half of this one—as I will attempt to avoid repeats in information.
Tip 1: Maintain Mystery if you want to maintain fear.
This may perhaps count as a repeat tip that I said I wanted to avoid—but that is the level of its importance in the horror genre. You've heard the saying, “humans fear what they don't understand.” Well it is completely true—especially in a story. There should be a reason for the horror in your story, but as soon as you rationalize, describe, and wrap up the mystery, your readers will cease to be afraid.
Tip 2: Chaos and lack of reason increase fear, but can weaken plot.
While you need to maintain mystery, you need to also be sure that you audience stays interested in your story via subtle hints and plot revelations along the way. Keep in mind that the grand mystery should not be wrapped up until the end, but you should keep the small fire of curiosity kindled lest it die. This principle also applies to the modern trend of having horror without any reason or explanation whatsoever. This will create a greater fear, but lose reader interest. And if you leave false hints, your readers will feel cheated when they find out that you've Shyamalanned them with a convoluted plot twist.
Tip 3: Adjust the level of pessimism in your world to influence fear.
With this, Lovecraft's works greatly come to mind, as well as some of Stephen King's more recent works. In them, the protagonists will often slowly try to uncover the mystery of whatever horror is going on, only to discover that the situation is hopeless. This triggers a fear of inevitable doom, and subtle reminders of our own real-life, inevitable deaths that we cannot escape; as well as a feeling that life is pointless. A very powerful fear trigger if used with originality and precision. Just keep in mind that once this trigger is used, it will be difficult to impossible to show any other theme.
Tip 4: Hope can also create great fear.
Pessimism is not the only way to create fear—hope can do that as well. The hope that the protagonists can solve the mystery and escape the horror set against them will cause a greater amount of personal investment and empathy on the part of the reader. You can utilize this for a more personal experience of a particular brand of horror that is not so dire as the existentialism we talked about in the previous step. This also creates the terrifying possibility of ripping away that hope at the story's end, like in the original production of “Carry” and of “Nightmare on Elm Street.”
Tip 5: Utilize trigger objects and scenarios to bring the fear closer to home.
The original “Poltergeist” was something that was terrifying for the people of the generation that watched it in theaters. My mother was terrified to re-watch it, nearly twenty years later, because she still feared the white noise and static that used to play on the television when there were no programs on the air. While I greatly enjoyed it, I never feared the movie in the least because I never really experienced the white noise—so it was not something that would later trigger fear. The point is that if you want to increase fear, you must use props and symbols that are familiar to your reader—increasing the possibility in their minds that the horror could come to reality. This is part of the reason clowns, small children, the woods, and now Chuck-E-Cheeses are so scary.
Tip 6: Subtle acts of horror are much more terrifying than grand displays.
Those who have great power do not need to show it. All humans know this, at least on a subconscious level. It's while we'll pick a fight with the beefy, violent loudmouth in the bar, but never the quiet guy in the trench-coat, sitting silently in the corner of the bar. It's the reason that in Stephen King's “It,” the balloons popping with blood were much more terrifying than the giant monster fighting for its life at the end. And why Slenderman is more horrifying than nearly anything for how he just slowly walks and follows you... If you want the darkness to seem like an actual threat, don't make it seem like it feels the need to bloat its ego or compensate for something, by being obvious and grotesque.
Tip 7: Find your own niche in the genre of horror.
Horror has become a particularly uninspired genre. This makes sense, I suppose, with such masters as Stephen King and Lovecraft setting such a high bar. But they will forever be the masters of their niches—and nothing you try to copy will be anything more than “kind of like Stephen King.” This does not mean you should give up, only that you should be yourself in your writing. Begin your own niche in horror based on the things that would most scare you! Then you can eventually become the master of your own brand of horror.
Tip 8: Don't romanticize the villain/monster/darkness.
Readers can tell when the antagonist of your story is your own romantic fantasy—when you have fallen in love with the monster instead of fearing/hating it on some level, yourself. It's obvious, and it is one of the things which immediately robs your story of any potential for fear. So just make sure that if you are really going to write horror, that you truly despise and fear the Antagonistic Force on some level—and that you are not creating a lovable but gruesomely violent Antihero. There is nothing wrong with a lovable antihero, it's simply not scary and removes the story from the realm of horror.
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ANN - Chapter 5 - My Useful Failures at Kung-fu
Major Character Dissection
A Guide to OCTs
MY 100 THEME CHALLENGE
first the plot is that Harley Quinn turns the Joker into a dog as payback for all the abuse he's put her through
In the current chapter his regular killer mind has come back but he is still a dog
I want him to smash his head through the door to attack Harley
but I can't figure out what to write
It's really frustrating
Hi. My only advice is to just write. Even if it sounds crappy, isn't scary, or it's just bullet-points of what action/dialogue takes place. Even if it's just "The Joker gnawed his way through the door to get at Harley." Nobody writes anything good on their first draft. That's not what it's for. Just get the basic event on paper and you can struggle with making it work correctly on the next draft, when the entirety of the story is complete.
I think creepy pastas are great inspirations for horror. At least those that are fairly well made. Sources of fear change every generation and creepy pastas help me determine what people are afraid of now.
so when I write my stories I tend to explore different things that people may find scary.
While I do love gore and blood....its not always scary ( just gross sometimes ) I go with
one of my favorite types of Horror, A Fate worse then death. something that puts the characters in
a situation were death seems more preferable in the end. that's usually a cool and creepy route to take.
and not having a child die but still making it scary was the way he had to go so that style was his best bet..and it worked.. ( I really liked Goosebumps)