Writing HORROR

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OokamiKasumi's avatar

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When writing a Horror story, one must begin with a Monster. The most terrifying of course, are the ones you don't notice, or refuse to notice. The ones right next to you.

"The most dangerous werewolves are the ones that are hairy on the inside."
-- A Company of Wolves

Making a MONSTER

Think, who are the people that walk right up to you every day – and you let them?
• Your neighbors
• Your co-workers
• Your friends
• Your lover
• Your parents
• Your siblings
• Your children

Now imagine if one of them was a man-slaughtering or even man-eating Monster?

In reality, it happens all the time. They're known as Psychopaths.

Psychopaths cannot be understood in terms of antisocial rearing or development. They are simply morally depraved individuals who represent the "monsters" in our society. They are unstoppable and untreatable predators whose violence is planned, purposeful and emotionless.

Not only that, they're COMMON. The American Psychiatric Association estimate that 1 in about 25-30 people are Psychopaths. Do you know more than 30 people? Check your Friends list. Check your email address book. According to statistics, for every 30 people you know at least 1 is a Psychopath – an actual monster.

The Psychopaths' weakness, however, is that they're actually pretty easy to spot by their behavior patterns. Here's a checklist:

Hare's PCL-R Twenty Traits of a Psychopath
1. Glibness and Superficial Charm – Smooth-talking, engaging and slick.
2. Grandiose Self-Worth – Greatly inflated idea of one's abilities and self-esteem, arrogance and a sense of superiority.
3. Needs Stimulation/Prone to Boredom – An excessive need for new, exciting stimulation and risk-taking.
4. Pathological Lying – Shrewd, crafty, sly and clever when moderate; deceptive, deceitful, underhanded and unscrupulous when high.
5. Manipulative – Uses deceit and deception to cheat others for personal gain.
6. No Guilt/Remorse: no feelings or concern for losses, pain and suffering of others, coldhearted and unempathic.
7. Emotional Poverty – Limited range or depth of feelings; interpersonal coldness.
8. Lacks Empathy – A lack of feelings toward others; cold, contemptuous and inconsiderate.
9. Parasitic Lifestyle – Intentional, manipulative, selfish and exploitative financial dependence on others.
10. Poor Behavioral Controls – Expressions of negative feelings, verbal abuse and inappropriate expressions of anger.
11. Promiscuity – Brief, superficial relations, numerous affairs and an indiscriminate choice of sexual partners.
12. No Realistic Long-Term Goals – Inability or constant failure to develop and accomplish long-term plans.
13. Impulsiveness – Behaviors lacking reflection or planning and done without considering consequences.
14. Irresponsible – Repeated failure to fulfill or honor commitments and obligations.
15. Fails to Accept Responsibility for Own Behavior – Denial of responsibility and an attempt to manipulate others through this.
16. Many Short-Term Marital Relationships – Lack of commitment to a long-term relationship.
17. Early Behavior Problems – A variety of dysfunctional and unacceptable behaviors before age thirteen.
18. Juvenile Delinquency – Criminal behavioral problems between the ages of 13-18.
19. Revocation of Conditional Release – Violating probation or other conditional release because of technicalities.
20. Criminal Versatility – Diversity of criminal offenses, whether or not the individual has been arrested or convicted.

For more detail, read this:…

Know anybody like this? I'm absolutely SURE you do. I do. In fact, I can name two from my own immediate family, one of which was actually diagnosed psychopathic.

The real horror comes in when friends, family, and particularly lovers refuse to see what's staring them in the face. Why not? Those fascinated by them (their confidence, their physical attractiveness, their smiling sweet-talking charm…) simply will not listen to reason, even when warned by those they say they trust, those who have seen the psychopath in action. This is particularly true with Women 'in love' with such monsters.

Why won't they listen? Because they don't want to.

The psychopath goes out of their way to make the people they consider their possessions (friends, co-workers, family members, lovers…) their victims feel "special" and most importantly: needed. And they're good at it.

These monsters are so good, their victim refuse to believe it even when the evidence is staring them in the face. Even when they have been shown point blank that everything they have been told are lies they still refuse to see the truth – that it's only a matter of time before the monster destroys them.

They want the illusion that the monster made for them; "I love you," "I need you," "I'm the only one who will ever accept you as you are," even if they only see that illusion for two short weeks right after the monster does terrible things to them.

Take a look at Ted Bundy; my friend's mother once went on a double-date with him and claimed he was the nicest person. His mother said he was the "best son any mother could have." Bundy was also apparently quite good-looking, which made him even more dangerous.

How do these monsters convince their victims to remain victims? Here's a list:

Lavish flattery
-- They tell them all the things they want to hear.

Impressive-sounding Credentials
-- They use name-dropping, detailed resumes, or other credentials to sound impressive. However, when investigated, their information is exaggerated and/or completely false.

Trustworthy on the surface
-- They pay back initial loans, or favors, or appear to be unselfishly helping others. Once they are believed they drop everything. "Loan? What loan?"

Lies that sound like the Truth
-- When small inconsistencies or unexplained loose ends come up in their stories, they glibly provide explanations that sound plausible, often using a thick coating of meaningless chit-chat to distract their listener away from the their initial question.

Intense eye contact
-- A "predatory stare"—unblinking, fixated, and emotionless that's often mistaken for a sign of empathy, or rapt attention. It's not. It's an intimidation technique.

Loving Isolation
-- They slowly and subtly separate their victims from those who may question their plans. "No one loves; knows you; trusts you, better than I do."


So…! Now you know how your monster thinks, what they do, how they do it, and how easily they can fool the people closest to them. You also have their potential victims; those who refuse to see the evidence right in front of their eyes, "He's never done anything to me?" or worse, those helping them hide their deeds. "I walked into a door. I tripped on the stairs."

All you need now is a Costume to wrap them in, such as:
• Vampire
• Werewolf
• Sorcerer
• Demon
• Witch
• Mad Scientist
• Ancient god whose seal was accidentally broken…

All that's left is to research the mythical monster of your choice. Once you wrap this costume around the psychopath personality you'll have a monster worthy of any Horror story you could possible think of. Even better, it's realistic. After all, there is nothing more frightening than Reality.  

What's next? A place for Terrible Deeds to happen.

A PLACE for Horror

Coming up with a place for Horror to happen is easy. The scariest places for terrible things to happen are the places we go to daily: school, work, the grocery store, our own homes… Think of all the close-by, but out of sight areas terrible things can happen in while people walk right past the door:

• Empty classrooms
• School boiler room
• Principal's office
• Janitor's office
• Apartment building boiler room
• Apartment building laundry room
• Apartment storage sheds
• Stock room in a grocery store
• Store manager's office
• Office records and filing room
• Empty board room
• Public toilet stall
• Attic
• Basement
• Kitchen
• Bedroom
• Bathroom

Any place just out of casual sight can be the stage for a Terrible Deed, or two. Of course, abandoned buildings, crumbling castles, derelict factories, dark alleys, and dingy clubs with backrooms will also work.

Now you need, a Terrible Deed, or even better, a history of terrible deeds that have yet to come to light.

ACTS of Horror

This is particularly easy. Read or watch the News. You can also go to Google News and type: 'murder' in the search bar. There, now you have all the terrible deeds you could possible use.

A motive? Monsters don't actually need motives to do their deeds. If the opportunity presents itself, they do it. Sometimes it's simple Greed; someone has something they want so they take it, or they destroy it just to make the one who did have it suffer from its loss.

ALL monsters enjoy causing suffering; mentally, emotionally, financially… No matter how much they say they don't, they do. You can see it in their smile. They find it vastly entertaining to watch desperate people do desperate things; especially if they're the ones who triggered it. However, if they're caught, they have thousands of excuses, and all of them begin with: "It wasn't my fault!"

And desperate people pushed into a corner will do desperate things. Ordinary, normal people can and do commit terrible deeds when they feel they have no other option. Normal, ordinary not-psychopathic people will kill, lie, cheat, and steal in self-defense, and to defend those they love.

How can you tell the difference between an ordinary person and a Monster? Remorse and Regret.

A normal person will Regret that they caused pain to someone else. They will feel genuinely horrified that someone was hurt by their actions, or worse: died, and for a very long time, possibly their entire lives.

A psychopath; a Monster, is physically incapable of feeling either Regret or Remorse. Instead, they dive straight into Anger and blame. "It's all their fault! If they hadn't done such and such, this wouldn't have happened!"

Okay! You have a Monster, you have a list of horrific acts, and you have places for said acts to happen. Now you need someone to uncover and defeat the monster; a Hero.


The best heroes for Horror tales are those that seem completely helpless against the monster, the kind of people no one will believe when they say that they've discovered a monster in their midst.

Someone with:
• A history of lying (after making accusations they couldn't prove)
• A history of violence (defending themselves against bullies)
• A history of mental illness (for seeing the world differently)
• A history of delinquency (frequent absenteeism at school or their job)
• A history of being different (Goth, nerd, anime fan, an artist, a poet )
• A history of seeking isolation (introverts, bookworms, the studious)

Monsters love making victims out of these people because of their isolation or because their trustworthiness has already been destroyed. Monsters know that despite any evidence they might present, these people will never be believed.

So, how does such a Hero defeat a Monster? The same way one does on the playground.

You know how in grade school they tell you that the only way to defeat a bully is to stand up to one, and don't back down, in other words; overpower them into backing off? On the playground, this becomes; "hit them back twice as hard as they hit you," preferably with a pack of friends behind you (to keep the bully's friends from jumping you,) but it can also mean, "get an adult to stop them," preferably with expulsion. This technique actually works – until you reach adulthood anyway.

Anyone that ever told you to ignore a bully never dealt with a real one, a psychopath. Ignoring bullies doesn't work. In fact, it can make them downright dangerous. Every last one of them is narcissistic; all attention MUST be on them at all times. It's why they are bullies to begin with; to get attention using the fastest and easiest means: violence. If they don't get the attention they want, they get louder and even more aggressive. In fact, being ignored can enrage them to the point that they will chase after you. They will then go out of their way to make your life miserable in every possible way they can; above and beyond anything they might have originally done.

Don't believe me? Check out the News reports. There are hundreds of cases of juveniles that set schoolmates' and teachers' houses on fire, or knifed someone at school, or pushed someone into traffic just because they were ignored.

Once adulthood is reached, fighting becomes illegal, unless there are witnesses (and video) to say you were cornered first. That's IF you know some sort of martial art and can actually defend yourself. For the rest of us, the only way to overpower them is by calling the cops. Unfortunately, that won't work until After physical damage has been done that the cops can gather evidence from to use against them.

The only other option for dealing with a bully is Disappear. Change your phone numbers, change your email, change the privacy settings on your Facebook, and password protect anything public that they might try to get to. Disappearing can also mean quitting the job (if that's where the bully is,) or even moving away. The more dangerous might try to track you down, but those can be arrested.

As for Story monsters, the first rule applies: Don't back down and Overpower them. This translates to: KILL THEM ALL.

Other Characters

All you really need for a Horror story is:
  • a Monster
  • a Trusted Friend (often a mysterious teacher-type character, but occasionally a love interest) who may, or may not survive, but they are out for the count (or just absolutely no help at all) during the climactic one on one Monster vs Hero battle scene.
  • and a Hero.

All other characters tend to fall in these categories:  
  • Someone that Interferes with the Hero, until they become part of the body count.   
  • Someone that Helps the Hero, until they become part of the body count.   
  • A body waiting to be counted.

Anyone else is merely sprinkles on an already decorated cake.

On to the story!

The Horror STORY

The basic plot for a Horror is pretty much the same as a basic adventure plot with a few minor shifts here and there:

Act One:
There's a mysterious death
-- or series of deaths.
Hero discovers Monster.
-- from evidence
-- by seeing the Monster in action.

Act Two:
All evidence disappears.
No one believes the Hero about a Monster
-- and/or they think the Hero is the killer.
Hero privately investigates Monster:
-- who/what Monster is.
-- a way to kill the Monster.
A Trusted Friend appears and reveals a way to kill the Monster.

Act Three:
Monster threatens Hero.
Hero refuses to give in to threat.
Someone close to the Hero dies.
-- Lover
-- or Family member
-- or Trusted Friend
-- All of the above.
Pissed off Hero gains Special Weapon and goes after Monster.  
Annoyed Monster goes on killing spree.
Bodies pile up:
-- proving that the Hero is innocent of murder.
-- proving that there IS a Monster.

Act Four:
Hero goes on Monster Hunt
-- with friends
-- alone.
Monster is cornered and captured
-- or incapacitated.
Monster breaks free
-- or wakes up.
Monster attacks and bodies pile up.
-- Friends
-- Innocent bystanders.
Wounded Hero faces off with Monster and uses Special Weapon.
Fatally wounded, Monster issues one last vague threat.
Monster dies.
-- goes out to celebrate
-- goes home to angst
-- dies alone in the rain.

If you want to make your story longer, or Manga style, make Four Heroes (or more) and multiply the entire plot by four, (or however many heroes you have) with all the heroes running through the plot separately and Losing their climactic battle scene. (Often done as Back-Story.)

Once all that's done, have the Heroes discover each other (usually by being rescued,) until you've gathered them all together. Once they agree to become a TEAM, run through the entire plot all over again. This time, when you get to final climactic battle scene, have all the Heroes fight the monster together. The Monster takes out each of the heroes one by one, leaving one last Hero (usually the weakest) to deliver the final blow.

You don't want to know how much manga I've read, and anime I've watched, to discover just how common this plotting pattern. Really. Off the top of my head? D-Gray Man, Naruto, Yu Yu Hakusho, Saiyuki, One-Piece… That's just the tip of the iceberg.

SHORT Horror

The Short Horror plot is actually done a little differently from the plot I just showed you. Mainly because the characters are pared down to focus on only three: a Monster, a Hero, and a Trusted Friend. The Hero deals directly and immediately with the Monster while the Trusted Friend is usually someone completely ignorant of what's really going on and gets caught between them. Often there are other minor characters, but those are just to raise the angst quotient by way of interference and/or body count.

Short Horror is best told entirely from the Monster's point of view, the Hero's point of view or the Trusted Friend's point of view!

While there are literally thousands of variations, the Short Horror plot comes in two basic flavors. Each still has 4 Acts, but the stories are far more condensed:

Hero vs Monster
Act 1 -- The Angsty Hero
-- While Hero is recovering from trauma, something mysterious happens.
-- Against advice, Hero investigates.
-- Hero discovers monster and barely escapes.
-- Despite obvious wounds, no one believes Hero about Monster.

Act 2 -- Monster Harasses Hero
-- Letters, phone calls, dead things in the mail.
-- Accidents start happening to close friends/family.
-- Hero isolates themselves to keep friends away from Monster.

Act 3 – Escape Attempt
-- Hero runs and hides in the one place they feel absolutely safe.  
-- Someone Hero trusts arrives.
-- Trusted Friend unknowingly brings the Monster with them.
-- Trusted Friend is the Monster!

Act 4 – Hero vs Monster.
-- Trusted Friend interferes during fight and Monster attacks them.
-- Trusted friend finally realizes that Hero was right, but dies.  
-- Angry Hero slays Monster and angsts over lost Friend.
-- Hero tries to reason with Friend/Monster who he does not want to kill.
-- Monster offers a bargain: remain with Monster forever or die.
-- Hero accepts and goes off with Monster.
-- Hero accepts and is devoured by Monster.
-- Hero accepts then slays Monster and commits suicide to keep promise.
-- Hero refuses, slays Monster, and angsts for the rest of his life.

Devil's Bargain
Act 1 - The Angsty Hero
-- While Hero is recovering from trauma, something mysterious happens.
-- Against advice, Hero investigates.
-- Hero discovers monster and makes a bargain with it.
-- Monster carries out bargain in the worst way possible.

Act 2 – The Bargain
-- Scared Hero tries to find way out of Bargain.
-- Scared Hero confesses, but no one believes Hero about Monster.
-- Reminders of bargain arrive: Letters, phone calls, dead things in the mail.
-- Accidents start happening to close friends.

Act 3 – Escape Attempt
-- Hero runs and hides in the one place they feel absolutely safe.  
-- Someone Hero trusts arrives.
-- Trusted Friend unknowingly brings the Monster with them.
-- Trusted Friend is the Monster!

Act 4 – The Bargain's Fulfillment  
Hero accepts and…
-- goes off with Monster.
-- is devoured by Monster.
-- is transformed into a Monster.
-- gives Trusted Friend to Monster for devouring.
Hero refuses and…
-- Angry Monster devours Trusted Friend.
-- Angry Monster devours Hero.
-- Angry Monster devours them both.
-- Trusted Friend helps slay monster.
-- Trusted Friend offers themselves in Hero's place.
-- Trusted Friend reveals that have already traded themselves for Hero.

Note: These plot-lines are, by no means, all the variations possible!

Okay! There you have it, a Monster, a Hero, and some Stories. Everything you need to write a basic Horror.

How do you Write it?

With lots of atmospheric description, and tons of angst. Horror thrives on graphic depictions, action scenes, and remorseful narration.

The trick to making any scene really Work is DESCRIPTION, but especially in Horrors and Gothics. Atmosphere is what carries those stories, and for that you need detailed descriptions of the environment (weather, temperature, light conditions, darkness levels, shadows, smells, and sounds,) in addition to detailed descriptions of your locations, and the characters. (Yes, the characters too!)

While a monster is scarier when it's Less visible, perhaps only a patch of shadow, what defines the monster's vagueness is how perfectly visible the Rest of the scene and characters are. Go watch a horror movie and look how crystal clear the characters and their immediate surroundings are compared to the monsters (at first anyway.)

Keep in mind that when you get to your climactic Hero vs Monster scene you WILL have to describe your monster in detail too, so be prepared!

As an exercise, pull out your favorite highlighter and dig out an old horror paperback that you don't mind ruining. Go to the best scenes in the book and Highlight all the sections of Description. Now, really LOOK at what was described and what words they used. THAT'S what you need to learn how to do. Take notes on what you find, and keep them close so you can add more to them later.

Description is what will make or break your Horror story -- Seriously.
However, that's another tutorial entirely.


DISCLAIMER: As with all advice, take what you can use and throw out the rest. As a multi-published author, I have been taught some fairly rigid rules on what is publishable and what is not. If my rather straight-laced (and occasionally snotty,) advice does not suit your creative style, by all means, IGNORE IT.

Writing HORROR

When writing a Horror story, one must begin with a Monster. The most terrifying of course, are the ones you don’t notice, or refuse to notice. The ones right next to you.

“The most dangerous werewolves are the ones that are hairy on the inside.”
-- A Company of Wolves

DISCLAIMER: As with all advice, take what you can use and throw out the rest. As a multi-published author, I have been taught some fairly rigid rules on what is publishable and what is not. If my rather straight-laced (and occasionally snotty,) advice does not suit your creative style, by all means, IGNORE IT.

Looking for more of my Writing Tips & Tricks?
© 2012 - 2021 OokamiKasumi
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StoriesOfMoon's avatar

*some one different (goth, nerd, anime fan) THE ANIME FANS:

yOu WiLL neVeR UnDERsTanD mE

nO onE wiLL

thetireddrawer's avatar

thank you for theses horror tips

OokamiKasumi's avatar

You're welcome.

I created a villain whose intentions aren't fully known, but he is similar to Jason Voorhees, or Pyramid head of sorts. I was reading and read he must have characteristics of a psychopath? Well I'm not sure how to say this but this creature/monster is a reincarnation of the anger that is inside of the man it once was, he also represents the pain it endured. It doesn't talk, it screams, roars, breathes, and grunts, but never truly talks. It's a killer who kills for a purpose that isn't entirely known, it is symbolic wearing a Metal mask similar a pyro, but almost looks like also wears a fireman's helmet with the mask, representing who he once, so it was a fireman/firefighter. I just wanted know if this follows what you are saying

OokamiKasumi's avatar

I think that this is an absolutely brilliant villain. Forget my advice on this one and just follow your instincts. They're doing good so far!

Okay thank you, I was wondering that, I was reading a lot of books on horror and never found anything truly on how to create an effective horror villian, your advice was the next best thing, Thank you so much and I will, I hope that what I write you'll love

OokamiKasumi's avatar

Just write what you love. Later when you're published, you'll have to write what your readers and fans love, but right now, you're free to write as you please, so please yourself.

Okay, can we stop viewing people with ASPD and Psychopathy as monsters and terrible people who are always serial killers when in reality the percentage of serial killers being psychopaths are very slim. Remarks like that give people disgnosed with these conditions a really bad rep and its hard on them. Honestly? Think of other people when you type. Imagine, someone with aspd reading this, reading that you basically attacked them by calling then terrible man eating, serial killing, awful people who never do any good. Your terrible.
OokamiKasumi's avatar

ASPD (Antisocial personality disorder) is not Psychopathy.

-- They are very different things. ASPD is a behavioral disorder. Psychopathy is a Biological problem they are born with.

Psychopaths have a bad rep because they deserve it.

'The Hare Psychopathy Checklist'

The percentage is 1 out of 30 people. If you have more than 30 people on your contacts list, at least 1 of them is a psychopath.

My father and one of my brother are psychopaths. The only reason they don't have a body count is because I survived by proving to them that I was fully willing to defend myself with extreme prejudice.

ElizabethChan2's avatar
I am writing a horror story. this will help alot
OokamiKasumi's avatar

I'm glad I could help.

YukiTakamaru's avatar
Welp I guess I'm a psychopath
OokamiKasumi's avatar

My Dad and brother are too.

-- That's how I know so much about them.

theforcesofevil1's avatar
Good advice. Sadly, my stories break all these rules.
OokamiKasumi's avatar

As long as your readers enjoy what you write, rules don't matter.

ShirokuTheHusky's avatar
This is a brilliant guide! I struggle when writing horror, even though I love reading it. Thank you so much for the advice!
OokamiKasumi's avatar

You're very welcome! I'm glad I could help, and hopefully, inspire!

Moonlight1920's avatar
This is amazing. Helps me so much! Thank you so much for your knowledge and writing this to help people! 
OokamiKasumi's avatar

I'm glad I could help!

Hello, I really like your tutorial. This is really useful. My question is actually about how a hero can have a negative character trait like a liar?

OokamiKasumi's avatar
Of course a hero can have a negative trait. Just make sure he learns to overcome that trait by the end of the story.
Paralelsky's avatar
This was very useful, thank you. I'll probably read all of your writing tips and tutorials since I want to get back into the writing saddle and I'm currently feeling rusty. Cheers!
OokamiKasumi's avatar
My pleasure!
 -- I adore being inspiring.
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