How to Write Horror

Some people thrive on tension! The unexpected and the guessing game can really inspire or scare people.

What is Horror?

Horror is a genre of speculative fiction that is intended to frighten, scare, or disgust. 

Relevance is critical as we want to see how created worlds and fiction apply to our lives. Do we connect with the characters? As writers or readers, can we understand a reality brought to life in a story in a way that applies to our lives? 

The preface for horror brainstorming dwells in fear. Remember that you are writing to scare readers. Consider what kind of fear will motivate your story. A few examples:

  • Societal dismemberment or total chaos like in The Handmaid’s Tale and Lord of the Flies
  • Monsters or killers such as The Warewolf of Paris
  • Something unexplainable like in House of Leaves or The Turn of the Screw

Elements of Horror Fiction

Horror fiction includes highly improbable and unexpected sequences of events that usually begin in ordinary situations and involve supernatural elements. Writers should contrast the oddness of these events with the minutiae of daily life so readers identify with the characters (remember, relevance is vital). Additionally, horror explores the dark, malevolent side of humanity.

The elements of a good horror story are:

  • Fear – although it sounds obvious, fear is the most important factor in a great horror story. Tap into common fears such as darkness, spiders, or heights. 
  • Surprise – fear isn’t the hardest emotion to achieve. It’s often much harder to make the fear surprising. You can create surprise through:
  • Suspense – suspense comes from conflict. Every story needs conflict, especially horror stories. Also, make sure the pace of your story is set in a way that will create suspense. Too fast, and readers won’t get scared. Too slow, and readers will get bored. 
  • Mystery – building suspense involves withholding information and raising key questions that pique readers’ curiosity. 
  • Spoilers – Red herrings are clues that mislead readers. A good red herring will help you create surprising fear. 

Another critical element in horror stories is to make the stakes obvious. Clearly establish the main problem and what your characters have to lose if they don’t figure it out. 

Problems often include:

  • Survival 
  • Protecting loved ones
  • Solving mysteries

To Twist or Not to Twist?

Ah, the great question. A plot twist is exciting and memorable and helps bring previous uncertainties into focus, releasing tension by revealing the truth. 

Plot twists are not easy to come up with. Even when you do come up with one, many readers see it coming early on. You have to hint at a plot twist carefully to make sure it’s not predictable or cliched. 

Remember, a story doesn’t have to have a plot twist to shock and horrify readers. A well-written horror story will have readers in suspense until the final showdown. While the showdown may not be a surprise, the scenes that lead up to that climax can build tension and anticipation.  

Now that you know how to write horror pick up that pen and get writing. 

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