Everything started thousands of years ago in some dark and sooty cage, where an ancient tale-teller was telling something to his tribe the crackling of burning wood. He was describing fierce monsters, wrathful gods, black magic and dangerous worlds. This was the beginning the horror stories’ history. Now we are civilized people. We know that the mood doesn’t eat the sun and we don’t throw virgins to a volcano to keep it sleeping. Nevertheless, we still love scary stories. For the last twenty years there have been published more horror novels than in the whole time before that.
If you are not only a fan of reading such books, but are also interested in writing horror fiction, you should definitely keep reading. Lots of beginning writers want to know how to write horror fiction, and today we’ll try to figure it out.
Know the theory
When you are planning on writing a horror novel, be good and learn something about it. This step actually consists of three small ones. First of all, read a lot of good horror novels (if you are here, you are probably already a fan of those, so keep reading). Secondly, read some theory on this genre and on creating such novels. There is plenty information on that. And thirdly, learn everything concerning the theme of your future novel (if you know it already, of course). Don’t be lazy at this step! If you want to know how to write a horror novel that stands out, read a lot!
Heroes and monsters
There are so many horror books and movies these days that you cannot but see clichés everywhere around. Brave muscular supermen who are surprisingly great at fighting and incredibly attractive half-naked women whose instinct of self-preservation is completely absent are all over the place. Such characters make a novel quite boring to read. Try to make your heroes interesting and individual.
As to different creatures, what a variety of choices we have here! Or so it seems. But if you look closer, you understand that you’ve seen and read all that: werewolves, vampires, ghosts, aliens, different monsters that eat people, etc. However, you can still use them in your novel and don’t bore people today. It is all about how you present a familiar character when writing a horror story. All in all, you can show this popular vampire character in an absolutely new light. Don’t look back at how other people did it; look at the character think how you’d present it.
For a horror story, slow and tense narration should be alternated with sudden turns in a plot. Don’t use too many “jump scares”, though; this technique is too expected and obvious. Try to bring something original to your plot – something that your reads does not expect at all. If you are struggling with a plot idea, try to write about something that you fear the most.
Your text cannot be “dry”; otherwise any kind of fear here is definitely out of question. The best way is to add detailed, but not excessive descriptions. You should not describe every single detail. It is great if you are good in anatomy, but your novel is for average people, not PhDs, so don’t get carried away. Your text should be comprehensible for people who don’t know much about the topic.
Atmosphere comes from the previous step, actually. You should be able to create the atmosphere of horror and do it in such a believable way, so that even a rough stick will seem scary to your readers.
Creating a specific atmosphere for a horror story is probably more important than for any other genre because it is the very thing that should scare readers in the first place. There are many clichés here, as well: dolls, clowns, buried alive, etc. But it is not enough just to mention them, you should do it in a way that will terrify people.
When writing horror stories, remember that the atmosphere is created by details. No one will be scared if you describe everything in two words. It is all about the quality descriptions that are appropriate, understandable and not excessive. So, the main answer to the question “how to write a horror story” is to create the right atmosphere.
Realism and presence effect
That’s right. Even if you write about a terrifying monster or cute little ghost, this rule still works. Your readers should not have any doubts that this can actually be happening somewhere. You have to make them believe. Your readers have to feel like they are participating in the process and feel the same as the main character feels. Thus they will be interested and, most importantly, they will be scared. Be sure to proofread and edit your novel patiently otherwise you are risking to destroy the atmosphere.
Fear of obscurity is in the human nature. So, avoid predictability. Horror stories are built on fear, and the biggest fear there can be is the unknown. Agree that it is not very interesting to read something when you know what is going to happen and how it all ends. But when it is all tensed and unknown, you cannot but feel scared.
Again, there are some cliché endings that you can either avoid or change a bit. For example, there is a standard situation when a guy and a girl survive at the end (sometimes one of them). Or when everything ends with a hint of a sequel (a monster opens one eye or sneezes in the very last scene). Giving exact tips about the ending of your story is silly; you should figure that out on your own. We can only ask you not to be lazy here! Many authors feel quite tired at the end of the book, so they make up some lousy ending just to finish it. Don’t be one of them. Give yourself enough time or even take a small break, but finish your book right. Make your readers feel that it wasn’t a waste of time.
Hopefully, this post answers at least a part of a question on how to write horror stories for you. We would love to see more quality horror books out there and it would be great if this post will inspire you to create one of them.
Alyce is an inspired blogger, private tutor and educational consultant who is passionate about everything related to writing. Now she has found herself as a private consultant/educator, providing seminars and workshops to teachers of English. The focus of her presentations is how to motivate students to enjoy writing and to help them in becoming creative and proficient writers both for their pleasure and coursework assignments. She loves to share her experience in these fields. Stay tuned to get more actionable tips about writing!