As said by English professor Christopher Taylor, “The key elements of a horror story include fear, suspense, surprise, and moments of foreshadowing”. Be it word choice or plot development, horror is pretty tricky. But like any fiction genre, with the right planning and practice, horror too can be mastered.
Writing a horror story is as interesting as reading one. It is intriguing and fun to take on. But of course, it is not as easy as it may seem.
The genre of horror has been redefined over the decades and how well! It has evolved to become versatile and ingenious. For a reader, these tales are a respite from the humdrum of daily life. The thrill and adrenaline rush of twists is what makes these tales a favorite.
If you are planning to write a horror story, there are certain nuances and special factors to master. For example, many people tend to overload their stories with violence. It is granted that gore in horror stories is fascinating and captivating. But too much gore and violence can actually desensitise readers. You need to use gore at points of your story that are impactful and meaningful.
Your aim when you write a horror story is to scare your reader, and not numb them. While pools of blood may have shocked and disturbed years ago, times have changed. To write a horror story that truly stands out, you need to follow a few guidelines. Here are five steps that show you how to write a horror story.
1. Understand the horror genre
Before you write a horror story, you need to understand the horror genre thoroughly. What works, what doesn’t work, what is outdated, what is trending in horror fiction currently. You can get to know all of these only when you delve deeper into this genre and learn whatever you can about it.
You may think that you know everything you need to, but that is highly likely to be counter-productive. There are certain things you need to learn or refresh in order to write a horror story.
- Horror is subjective. Similar to comedy, horror stories are also quite tricky. A story that one person finds terribly scary can seem dull and boring to another. Don’t let this dishearten you, as your work is not meant to be loved by everyone. When you write a good horror story, it will be well-received by the right readers.
- Read and analyze different horror stories. To be a great writer, you also have to read a lot. Read all kinds of horror stories that interest you. Analyze examples, and see what you can learn from them. For instance, if you would like to write a short horror story, read the famed fictional pieces of Stephen King.
2. Create story ideas
In this stage, you need to generate a number of ideas and potential plots that will help you write a horror story. Here’s how you can do this.
- Write down a list of things that scare you or the people around you. This can comprise any number of things. Doing so will help you get a close idea of subjective horror.
- When you write a horror story, there are certain emotions you need to evoke in your readers: dread, paranoia, and shock.
- Take an ordinary scenario and introduce the element of horror in it. Restrict the movement of your characters in your settings. Tap into their fear and force them to confront it.
- Try writing challenges such as “One Line Horror Story-Writing Challenge”. This is a brilliant way to get your creative wheels turning. You can come up with fantastic horror snippets and also get new ideas for your short horror story.
3. Start Writing
Once you have a list of ideas, choose one striking idea/scenario. You now have a premise and a very rough storyline that you can work on.
- Create an outline of your plot. Decide which intense emotions you will play on, the fine details, and layers of your story. Think of a short terror-inducing title for your story.
- Character development is one of the most important things when you write a horror story. It is essential to design characters that your readers can connect with and possibly relate to. Decide the traits that define your characters and their lives. You can take the “Write A Character-Writing Challenge” to come up with phenomenal characters.
- Be prepared for bad things to happen to your characters. Many a good horror story hinges on the dreadful fact that bad things can happen to good people. To write a horror story, you need to make peace with this.
- Let your characters make bad decisions or mistakes. Make it clear to the readers how high the stakes are for your characters. Knowing the consequences of their actions induces all the more fear in your readers.
4. Create terrifying twists
You may think that in this day and age, it is hard to write original twists. But with the right tricks and artful writing, you can write a horror story that does exactly this.
- Manipulate your readers, but don’t confuse them. Your readers can be scared or confused, but not both.
- Build up the tension for your characters in certain scenes. Then, release it and make it seem like there is no actual threat. Now, bring back the tension with high intensity and action. This is a conventional technique to keep your readers on the edge the entire time.
- Add a twist ending. Give your readers a satisfying ending, but also leave a lingering question unanswered. Your readers should not walk away with absolute certainty and full closure. Leave a part of your character’s conflict unanswered to tease the imagination. An ending that is open to interpretation will make the reader ponder and draw possible conclusions of their own.
- Avoid cliches. There are plenty of overused cliches and scenes that you must avoid when you write a horror story. Keep it fresh and unique as much as you can.
- Remember not to overdo the horrifying elements in your story. Balance extreme negative emotions with intense emotions of wonder or positivity.
5. Revise your story
Now that you’ve finished writing, it’s time to edit and polish your story.
- Pay attention to the adjectives, nouns, and phrases that you have used. If they are redundant or too plain, replace them with better alternatives.
- Read your story out loud. This will help you understand if your story needs a better flow, and if the dialogues are convincing enough.
- Make sure that the words spoken are aligned with the characters saying them. For example, the vocabulary of a young girl would be vastly different than that of a middle-aged man. So, keep in mind to write dialogues that are well-suited for your characters.
Don’t be too dejected if you don’t write a masterpiece right off the bat. It is only natural to take a few tries to become great at the art of writing horror fiction. It is okay if your first story is not that fabulous. With each piece that you write, you learn a little more and develop your own unique style.
You can practice your writing regularly by taking writing challenges online. GoSocial is a social media app that provides you with creative prompts and ideas. This way, you can stay motivated and prevent running out of cool ideas.
Keep your ideas bold, fresh, and original. This may seem like a tough feat, considering the thousands of great fictional works written so far. But once you start to build on an idea, you will find it easier to do so. With time, you will be able to listen to your creative instincts and write a horror story that leaves readers in awe.