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8 Tips for Writing Horror Stories

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Literature Text

8 Tips for Writing Horror Stories

Anybody Can Write a Novel

Chapter 2 “Genres” – Section 6 “Horror"

With Links to Supplementary Material





PLEASE NOTE THAT WHILE THIS PAGE WILL REMAIN ACTIVE FOR PURPOSES OF EDUCATION AND RECORDS, IT IS OUTDATED. CLICK HERE TO ACCESS THE NEWEST VERSION.




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.


Feel free to comment with other suggested resources. Any questions about writing? Things you want me to discuss? Comment or send me a message and I will be glad to reply or feature my response in a later article. If you enjoy my reviews, please feel free to share my articles with friends, add it to your favorites, become a watcher on my page, or send send a llama my way!


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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.
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Jokerfan79's avatar
Hey there I could really use your help with the 5th chapter of my story
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 
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar

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.

Jokerfan79's avatar
Okay thanks for the advice

and your right I really shouldn't worry about making my story better until complete
SomeRandomWriter's avatar
One day I am going to be one of the great horror writers like Steven King and Lovecraft, I love writing horror and plan on studying it extensively for many many years before even thinking about putting my book out there for the public. I am sick to death of the same old tired cliche's being used in modern horror fiction, the overreliance on the jumpscare has really desensitized modern audiences to how great horror can be. You seem to be rather experienced in horror do you think you can critique my short story? I don't think it is that good but I am always trying to get better : )
Zosalot's avatar
I really liked how you wrote this. First of all not only were the tips very helpful and well explained, but you also did it in a way that wasn't dictatorial or annoying. A lot of writer tippers have this sort of "THIS IS HOW IT'S DONE. DON'T WORRY. I'LL HELP YOU BURN YOUR MARY SUE. YOU CAN THANK ME NOW" and I know they're just trying to help, but that attitude is so annoying to me. You weren't like that at all and were very direct and to the point while also showing doorways to other genres such as the lovable antihero should not be your monstrous antagonist in a horror to help writers understand why certain elements don't work. Very nice! :) 
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
Thank you for the high praise :) I'm glad you enjoyed it. 
Forcedlactationlover's avatar
As an author and a chess player, I think that useful here is an old maxim of Aaron Nimzovitch: 'A threat is more dangerous than its execution'. It applies so well in horror writing. What you're afraid of but hasn't happened yet is far more worrying than once you see it in front of you. Once you see it there's something to actively oppose. Before that, there's just the fear.
Cainmak's avatar
Thank you for the tips!
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.
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
No problem :) And I also greatly enjoy creepypastas. They're a lot of fun and genuinely terrifying. 
Duperghoul's avatar
OK, truth is, R. L. Stine is my inspiration. He's the whole reason I'm a writer and love to read. This was perfect advise for me.
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
Yes, I loved R. L. Stine when I was younger... and still enjoy his books from time to time. 
Thanks for the feedback! Glad to know I'm not too out of touch yet, haha. 
Duperghoul's avatar
Of course, me and one of my younger brothers loves watching BOTH series on Netflix! We even are gonna go see the movie this October.
No really, a Goosebumps movie- twitter.com/GoosebumpsMovie
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
Sweet! I hope it's good!
SALT--WATER's avatar
This is all true...its not easy writing horror sense people haven't different things that scare them.
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.
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
Yes, those can be pretty bad... I remember the Goosebumps in particular used this particular style of fear quite effectively. 
SALT--WATER's avatar
most defiantly, R.L Stines really liked to play around with that Idea. also goosebumps was more for younger readers
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) 
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
Yes, they were very skillfully and subtly written, especially for his audience. 
Graeystone's avatar
Number 6 is so underused especially in movies. Blood and gore is not horror.
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
Agreed. I think they need to make a separate genre altogether for gore enthusiasts. 
koimonster22's avatar
just what I neededLa la la lahappy happy Happy Hop 
SongOfDiscord's avatar
Thank you for this. I was inspired to write a post on an RP site I frequent using some of these tips.
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
Awesome! :) Glad to hear!
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