In our age of highly commercialized mysteries and thrillers, it can seem socontemporary horror booksbelong to the past. In fact, Stephen King was once the world's perennial bestselling author and was devoured by children in the '90s.chillBooks like The Blob gobbled it up.
But let's not forget that today there is a huge horror fan base,desperate for your next solution🇧🇷 So if you hope to become the next crown prince of terror, your dream can still come true! Here are seven steps to writing truly chilling horror:
- 1. Start with a fear factor
- 2. Select a horror story subgenre
- 3. Let readers know what's at stake
- 4. Create excitement through prospects
- 5. Consider plot twists to surprise your audience
- 6. Put your characters in irresistible danger
- 7. Use your imagination
1. Start with a fear factor
The most important part of any horror story will be naturalfear factor🇧🇷 People don't read horror for simple entertainment; they read to be pleased and terrified. However, here are some elements you can use to seriously scare your reader.
Fears that have some sort of logical or biological basis are often the strongest terrors. Darkness, heights, snakes and spiders - these are all extremely common phobias rooted in instinct. As a result, they tend to be very effective at scaring off readers.
This is especially true when innocent characters are plagued with terror for no reason: a murderer is holding them captive in their home for no apparent reason, or they are suddenly ambushed by a stranger with a gun. As horror author Karen Woodward says, "The undead heart of horror is the knowledge that bad things happen to good people."
Monsters and supernatural entities
These go beyond the realm of logic into the realm of the "uncanny", as Freud called it. we all know thatVampire, werewolves and ghosts aren't real, but that doesn't mean they can't shake us to our core. Indeed, it's the very uncertainty they inspire that makes them so mysterious: what if monstersarereally out there, did we just never see them? This fear is one of the most prevalent in horror, but if you choose to write in this style, your story needs to be pretty convincing.
Another great way to scare people is to take advantage of societal tensions and concerns, a tactic that is particularly common in horror movies. Only in recent memoryGet outaddresses the idea of underlying racism in modern America,O Babadookexamines mental health andfollowsit's about the stigma of casual sex. However, social tensions are easily incorporated into the pages of a horror story, such as Shirley Jackson's.to lottery.
2. Select a horror story subgenre
The right atmosphere for your story depends on the type of horror you want to write. Using cinematic examples again, want more?Texas Chainsaw MassacreorSilence of the innocents?The tone and atmosphere of your story will depend on your subgenre.
- Suspense-Terroruses psychological anxiety that usually occurs at the beginning of horror stories, before much has happened
- bad terrorcontains vivid descriptions of squirting blood, dismembered flesh, and ripped organs to shock the reader; Think 70's gore movies
- classic horrordates back to the Gothic (orsouthern gothic), with frightening settings and frightening characters like those ofdraculaeFrankenstein
- Terrorelicits a sense of pervasive dread that can either serve as the climax of your story or be sustained throughout.
It's also possible to combine subgenres, especially as your story progresses. You can start with a feeling of excitement.psychologicalHorror, then descending into gothic tones culminating in absolute terror.
But no matter what kind of horror you work with, it should have a big impact on your reader - and yourself! "If you can sneak in your own lyrics, that's usually a good sign that you like something," said the editor.Harrison Demchickit says.
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3. Let readers know what's at stake
In order to get readers really excited about your horror story, you need to make them aware of what's at stake. Clearly state the main problem orMotivation for your character(s), and what they have to lose by not finding out. These commitments and motivations may include:
Survive.The most basic goal for characters in any horror story is to survive. However, there are nuances that accompany this goal. Perhaps their goal is not just to stay alive, but also to defeat their murderous enemy in the process - be it another person, an evil spirit, or even themselves in a Jekyll and Hyde-type scenario.
protect loved ones.The more people the protagonist has to protect, the greater the risks. Many gruesome stories culminate in a death threat not to the main character, but to one or more of their loved ones (as inPhantom of the OperaorRed Dragon).
Reveal unsolved mysteries.Because some horror stories are not about escaping danger in the present, but about uncovering the horrors of the past. This is especially true of subgenres likecosmic horrordealing with the great mysteries of the universe, often involving ancient history.
Again, as with Atmosphere, you can always mix different bet types. For example, you could have a character try to do thisSolve some mysterious murdersthis happened years ago only to find out they are the next target!
The most important thing to remember when it comes to horror - especially horror stories - is that single bets tend to pack the most punch. Author Chuck Wendig says of his perfect recipe for horror: "Simple stake driven hard through the sternum."
Bonus tip! Need help creating stakes and excitement? try to read somemasterfully crafted true crime- which might be even scarier than a chilling horror, since it actually happened.
4. Create excitement through prospects
Your reader should feel connected to your main character, so they can feel their own heart beating faster when the stakes are high. this can be achievedbounded by first person or third personPosition. (When writing horror, you should avoid third-person omniscience, which can distance your reader and reduce your investment in the story.)
We'll only cover the most important points of view in this post, but if you want a full point of view masterclass, check out our free course below.
understand point of view
Learn to master different points of view and choose the best one for your story.
Speaking of beating hearts, for a great example of first-person narration in horror, look no further thanThe Treacherous Heart🇧🇷 Many of Poe's stories involve troubled first-person narrators (The black Cat,Das Fass Amontillado), but none are more notorious than this one, in which the main character is tricked into murdering his elderly roommate. Note Poe's chilling use of first-person perspective from the very first lines of the story:
It is true! Yes, I was sick, very sick. But why do you say I've lost control of my mind, why do you say I'm crazy? Can't you see I'm in full control of my mind? In fact, the disease only strengthened my mind, my emotions, my senses... I could hear sounds that I had never heard before. I heard sounds from heaven; and I heard the sounds of hell!
The first-person point of view is great for hooking the reader in at the beginning andkeep them in limbothroughout its history. However, it could beforintense for longer, more complicated pieces and can be difficult to execute if you're trying to hide something from your readers.
It's also worth pondering the implications of the first-person past tense in a horror story - it suggests they lived to tell the tale, which might ruin its dramatic ending. So if you choose to use first-person narration, you should probably stick to the present tense.
If you're having trouble getting the first-person perspective to work, consider a limited third-person perspective. This type of storytelling is often used in longer forms of horror by artists such asStephen KingeDean Koontz🇧🇷 See how it is used here in King's 1974 novelCarrie, in the description of his eponymous character:
Carrie stood her ground among [the other girls], a frog among swans. She was a stocky girl with pimples on her neck, back and buttocks, wet hair completely colorless... gone.
This narrative paints an intimate picture of the character while still leaving room for commentary in a way that first-person narrative doesn't quite have. Limited third-person narration also works well forbuildingto a certain atmosphere rather than jumping right into it, as Poe's narrator does - which is one of the reasons third person is better for longer pieces. (See more on King's masterful use of POV to ease tension in ourKing's Guide!)
Alternatively, if you would like a first-person narrator but don't want to reveal everything to your readers, please contactunreliable narratormay be your perfect solution! Many mystery and suspense novels use an unreliable narrative to create a big twist without giving too much away. So whether or not you want an unreliable narrator probably depends on how you end your story: straight up or with a twist.
5. Consider plot twists to surprise your audience
The plot twists are gripping, memorable, and help bring past insecurities into focus and ease tension by revealing the truth. However, they are also notorioushard to find, and extremely tricky to get past - you have to carefully aim a twist, making sure it's not overly predictable or clichéd.
Then:to rotate or not to rotate?That is the question.
Great twists in horror fiction tend to go the common way: the victim turns out to be the murderer, the person we thought was dead isn't really dead, or - worst of all - it was all in her head the whole time! But remember, small, subtle plot twists can be just as (if not more) effective.
Take the tale of William FaulknerA Rose for Emily🇧🇷 After Emily dies, the villagers discover the body of a long-lost traveler in one of her spare beds - along with a lock of silvery hair. While the corpse's discovery may be gruesome, it's the presence of Emily's hair (suggesting that she enjoyed snuggling up to a corpse) that really haunts him.
do not twist
Your story's ending doesn't have to come out of left field to shock and horrify readers. The classic approach to horror leaves the reader in suspense about exactly what is about to happen and ends with a violent confrontation (think horror movies).
While the confrontation itself is not a surprise, with this approach, the scenes that precede it build tension and anticipation for the climax. That way, when the big moment comes, it still packs a dramatic punch.
6. Put your characters in irresistible danger
"A horror novel, like any story, is about one or more characters trying to achieve a goal based on their individual wants and needs," says Demchick. "If you let the character get bogged down with the concept, you lose a lot of what makes horror as compelling as possible."
To scare your characters, you need to understand their psyche well. Filling out a character profile template is a great start to developing believable characters, so try ours out.
Reedsy character profile template
A story is only as strong as its characters. Fill in to develop yours.
When writing, you must be aware of thisbasic storytelling techniquesand don't get carried away by the horror drama. It might help before startinganswer these questionsAbout its characters and its plot:
- What fear or struggle does your protagonist have to overcome?
- What decision do they make to put them in this situation?
- How will they defeat their opponent or escape, if at all?
- What are the ultimate consequences of your actions?
This will help you create a basic outline for your horror story, which you can embellish to add atmosphere and suspense. In action-based genre stories, a thorough outline and emotionally resonant elements are essential to keep the reader engaged.
A great horror story balances drama with realism and suspense with relief, even with an occasional dash of humor. Gillian Flynn is the master of this technique - as seen in this excerpt from her horror storythe adult, in which the narrator plans to capitalize on her "spiritual cleansing" ministries:
I was able to start my own business and when people asked me, 'What do you do? I would say,I am an entrepreneurin that haughty way that businessmen had. Maybe Susan and I would become friends. Maybe she'd invite me to a book club. I sat by the fire and nibbled on the brie and said,I'm a small business owner, an entrepreneur if you will.
7. Use your imagination
To stand out from the crowd, you have tothink of overused trends with horrorand make sure your story isn't "been there, done that". For example, the plot of "Vampire Romance" is a dead horse that eventually cannot be defeated by anyone.Twilight, The Vampire Diaries,eTrue BloodModa.
However, that doesn't mean you can't use certain popular trending elements in your writing. All you have to do is spin it and make it your own!
For example, zombie horror was already an outdated genre by the time of Seth Grahame-Smith.Pride and Prejudice and Zombiescame out in 2009. But by setting it in the Regency period and introducing Jane Austen's beloved characters, it has created brilliant original work and created a new audience for zombie fiction. You can also pay homage to well-known horror tropes like the Duffer Brothers.Weird stufffez para Stephen King e Steven Spielberg– and which savvy target groups will surely appreciate.
Sometimes it feels like all the good horror stories have already been written, making your own ideas seem trite. But don't forget that new horrors are emerging all the time and it only takes one great idea to become a success! So try not to stress yourself out and remember, if you've read this guide, you've come that much closer to being a literati.crush cemetery.
Have you ever tried to write horror? Did you get scared? Tell us in the comments!