Bleak woods, a lonely grange, sinister shadows, menacing howls, a sense of gloom and a fear of the unknown – horror has forever been one of the most captivating genres of fiction. Millions of people like to read it, and hundreds of thousands of those want to write it.
As captivating as it is, writing horror is far from simple. Creating completely unreal creatures and presenting them in realistic, believable settings is a tricky job. Expecting the reader to imagine a fictional ghost with fangs and blades and believe that such a creature could be looming close by is no mean feat.
However, with some technique and tons of imagination, you can certainly create a sense of fear in readers and drive them to the edge of their seat. Here is how you can craft a chilling horror story.
Even though that goes without saying, no harm in reiterating, right? Good readers make good writers. Spend plenty of time poring through your favorite horror fiction books, pay attention to their imagery, technique and themes. Once you’ve read enough from the likes of Stephen King and Ramsey Campbell, you will have a deeper understanding of what works and what doesn’t.
Copy. Don’t Just Copy
While there is no end to a writer’s imagination, writing horror can become particularly challenging because of one singular fact – every kind of plot in horror has been done to death. Fiendish monsters, the walking dead, Dracula, vampires, werewolves–-there have been so many stories written on each one of these that giving them a new spin is easier said than done. Inventing new monsters is preferable, although it’s a steep learning curve not just for the writer but the readers too.
However, just because there are enough zombies or vampires out there does not mean there isn’t room for another one. The idea is to own your monster, make it yours. Add personal elements, your city, your street, your surroundings as the setting or somewhere completely off the wall pulled from imagination. Take clichés and give them a new angle or a twist, don’t be lazy. Keep the readers turning pages.
Give Characters Depth
It’s easy to create characters that are evil for evil’s sake. Easier still is to say they are psychotic, crazy, sadistic. But that’s not good enough. It is the writer’s job to step into the shoes of each character and explore their inner dynamics, their reasons for being, their aims and desires. After all, if someone is walking around the streets gutting people, there must be a reason. Your ghost must be a nuanced character and not a one-dimensional vessel. Just as your hero cannot just be a random neighborhood guy who suddenly becomes a strapping superman capable of fighting an army of werewolves. Make him/her a relatable individual who fought to gather courage in the face of adversity. Make sure each of your characters has definition and depth.
The Devil is in the Descriptions
You could write that a pack of zombies devoured every last human on the planet. It is an absolutely horrific prospect, but it really doesn’t inspire fear in the reader. It’s just information.
The entire essence of a horror story is in visceral descriptions. Writers build a plot, piece by piece, planting seeds of fear then nourishing them generously with nail-biting details, they shock or terrify readers, preferably just when they let down their guard. Every footstep, every tick of the clock must feel real. Take advice from pros like Stephen King and craft a great scene by painting images in the reader’s mind.
A good story must transport the reader. Especially in a horror story, it is absolutely essential to create the right atmosphere. Is your story unfolding at a cabin in the woods, with damp surroundings, crickets chiming, unexplained howling or high-pitched screams and creaking floorboards? Or is it happening in a New York City apartment with lights flickering, radiator growling, phones failing and the protagonist perched on the balcony with nowhere to go? To produce horror, you must create an intriguing atmosphere that engulfs the readers.
Blend Real and the Unreal
If all the action is happening in an imaginary land that sounds completely made up, almost other-worldly, it may be a good read but will hardly be convincing or fear-provoking. You must create a realistic and believable setting, preferably one that the reader is most familiar with. The reader must feel that this could truly happen even if you’re writing a fantasy-based horror. For the time that the reader is reading your story, they should be a part of your world and for that, your world must be real, no matter how unreal your monster.
The biggest killer in a good horror story isn’t the monster, it is predictability. When you see one friend acting smart and storming out of a room, you just know he is about to be killed. Predictability is not only boring but a recipe for a literary disaster.
Instead, twist things around and give readers something they do not expect. Kill off the tough guy, let the underdog win, experiment with non-linear storyline and prevent a stale story.
Writing horror fiction can be insanely exciting. People love to be scared. As inexplicable as it is, they just do. So, if you have enjoyed your share of spooky books and are now planning to write one, the above tips should help you take your story from just another run of the mill spooky novella to a horror fiction masterpiece.
As with any genre, follow advice from the best writers. But be sure to inject your own personality into your writing, your own ‘voice’ and you will be well on your way to success.
Edited by Shah Wharton
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This is also my Celebration post!
Celebrate the Small Things. To be part of this blog hop, all you have to do is visit the Celebrate page on Lexa’s Blog for the rules, and then post every Friday about something you’re grateful for that week. It can be about writing or family or school or general life. This is the funnest and easiest blog hop ever! (Originated by VikLit)
What are you celebrating this week?