Lately, I have been attempting to write more Horror stories. If I am any good, only you guys can tell me. I have been doing a lot of research on the horror genre and below are two articles that I found beneficial. I have always loved reading the horror genre, but I am a rookie when it comes to writing it. I feel like I use too many clichés in my writing, but I am working diligently on reversing that. Hopefully, everyone finds this post as helpful to them as it was for me writing it and putting it together. There is some excellent advice within these articles, and if you are thinking about getting into the horror genre, then you have stumbled across a great starter course to learning everything you need to know. There is also a short video on Horror Flash Fiction below from a great YouTuber that I found very interesting since this is what I have been concentrating on before I attempt to write a horror novel. Hope you enjoy and put to use what you learn😉
Scare Tactics: 7 Tricks for Writing Terrifying Horror Fiction & Monster Stories
By: Jessica Page Morrell
The bottom line for all fiction is that the story is a lie the reader can believe in, with characters he comes to know and care about. In horror fiction and monster stories, the bottom line is that the reader will believe and be afraid. The monster scares him, the villain’s powers and agenda scare him, and the characters’ own vulnerabilities scare him. The best horror stories force the reader to turn the pages with growing dread and prickling anxiety. These tales make the reader feel terrifyingly alone and ask how much control humans have over their fate.
So let’s get down to brass tacks on how to successfully achieve fear and believability when crafting tales of terror, especially those with monstrous antagonists:
1. INTRODUCE THE FRIGHTENING ELEMENTS EARLY.
Most horror and monster stories start fairly briskly, introducing the horror early or at least hinting at or establishing a pinprick of foreboding. For example, in the opening scenes of The Exorcist, the family hears a scratching noise from the walls and thinks they might have a rat infestation. As in The Exorcist, the characters might not take the threat seriously at first, but the neck hairs of moviegoers and readers are starting to prickle.
2. USE DELAY TACTICS TO ELEVATE THE TENSION AND SUSPENSE.
While the threat appears early, fear of the unknown is delicious, and you also must delay the ultimate dustup with the monster. Delay any questions nagging at the reader to create suspense. After all, before Little Red Riding Hood meets the Big Bad Wolf, she must walk alone in the dark woods. The reader must hear her hesitant footsteps and the wind sighing and moaning in the trees, see the deep shadows cast by the giant firs as she draws closer and closer to the wolf ’s razor-sharp fangs, and feel that the world is eerily off-kilter and dangerous.
But don’t delay too long. While delay can be delightful, depending on the length of your story, typically by the end of Act 1 the reader must be fully involved with the physical reality and threat of the monster.
3. MAKE SURE THE MONSTER OR THREAT APPEARS TO HAVE THE UPPER HAND AND IS UNSTOPPABLE.
In stories where a monster is on the loose, the humans are all vulnerable, at risk and trapped in a nightmare that appears as if there is no escape. In every dangerous encounter and around every creepy corner, the reader needs to be reminded of death and the fear of death. Often, the cauldron for your story—the vast ocean if it’s a sea monster, or a creepy castle if it’s a ghost story—must also give the monster some advantage.
4. TURN UP THE HEAT WITH PLOT TWISTS, SURPRISES AND REVERSALS THROUGHOUT THE STORY.
A story with a monster must depict what we rarely or never want to meet in real life. Keep in mind that all writing requires a series of twists and surprises while taking the reader where he doesn’t want to go. The reader wants your character to stay home tucked safely in bed, locked away from the sociopathic creep who is murdering women in the small town. So what does the character do? She spots a mysterious light flickering in the woods behind the house and sets out to explore, while the reader is yelling, “Get back into the house and bolt the door!” The reader is worried about what might leap out in the gloomy woods, but what if you sent the story in an even more sinister direction? What if the character is in layers of trouble, and not only is there a serial killer in her midst, but also something supernatural lurking right behind her?
5. USE THE STORY AS A TEST OF CHARACTER.
Most horror stories require the protagonist or victims of the monster to rise up to an extreme challenge or test of character. As in action stories, characters will manifest bravery and bravado. Because characters are oft en fueled by desperation and face overwhelming odds, including the unknown and the unexpected, the reader admires them just for surviving. A monster story provides writers with a particular showcase for a character’s primary traits. A courageous person will likely act courageously, and a coward might wimp out. The point is that this story type is perfect for unveiling characters and making the reader care about the outcome.
6. MAKE THE SETTING ATMOSPHERIC.
Following in the Gothic traditions from where it began, horror story settings must crackle with tension and danger and also create a world the reader can believe in. When a world that we know, with its smells of coffee and toast and bacon, is invaded by a monster, the results are deliciously involving. In horror stories, the world is unsettling and realistic at the same time. Language and sensory details are key to creating an atmosphere of tension and threat. However, the world must be tangible and believable. If the story world feels realistic, then when incredible events or never-before-seen creatures arrive on the scene, the incredible element will be more easily believed.
7. PROVIDE THE READER WITH AN EXTRA DOSE OF CATHARSIS IN THE ENDING.
Fiction endings generally provide catharsis, but in horror stories, when the monster or antagonist is driven back or destroyed, the catharsis is enormously relieving. Stories with monsters provide a kind of safety valve from the stresses of everyday life. There are so many shadow traits in the monster that it is no longer seen as redeemable. Typically, a monster must be destroyed and the protagonists must triumph because of determination, goodness, ingenuity, a tool or some solely human solution.
Horror fiction explores our primal fears and acknowledge the violence, lust and beastliness of human nature. But the best fiction sheds light on some aspect of humanity, opens our minds and gives our imaginations a workout. When you write to frighten, the story and themes must explore realms of humanity, loss and emotion. It’s part thrill ride, part waking nightmare, part contemplative tale. Make your antagonists and monsters deadly, but also make them fascinating—not merely killing machines.
How to write a horror story: 6 terrific tips
This guide to how to write a horror story covers the basics. First, read a definition of horror and common elements of horror fiction. Then read 6 tips on writing horror stories that you can use to evoke intense feeling in your readers, even if you don’t exclusively write horror:
The word ‘horror’ means ‘an intense feeling of fear, shock or disgust’ (Oxford English Dictionary). The word comes from the Latin horrere, meaning ‘to tremble or shudder’.
5 common elements of the best horror stories
The best horror stories share at least five elements in common:
- They explore ‘malevolent’ or ‘wicked’ characters, deeds or phenomena.
- They arouse feelings of fear, shock or disgust as well as the sense of the uncanny – things are not what they seem. There is a heightened sense of the unknown and/or mysterious.
- They are intense (as the dictionary definition reminds us). Horror books convey intense emotion, mood, tone and environments. Together, these produce the sense that everything is charged with ominous possibility.
- They contain scary and/or shocking and scintillating plot twists and story reveals (unlike episodes of the cartoon Scooby Doo, in which the bad guys are typically conniving realtors dressed as paranormal beings – ghosts, werewolves). In horror the ghosts and werewolves are very, very real.
- They immerse readers in the macabre. Horror tends to deal with morbid situations, from repetitive cycles of violence to death-related uncanny scenarios. Zombies march, vampires make you join their legion, or (in subtler scenarios) long-dead friends or relations pay unexpected visits.
How do you write a horror story or novel like Stephen King, Clive Barker or (looking further back in the genre’s history) Edgar Allan Poe? Start with these six tips:
1: Learn how to write horror using strong, pervasive tone
Tone and mood are two elements that contribute to how your story feels. Great tone and mood can have readers’ spines tingling before a single character has even spoken or made a terrible decision.
How you describe settings, character movement and actions creates an overarching tone. In horror writing, a dark or frightening tone is often pronounced. Take this example from Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always:
‘Half closing his eyes, he crossed to the window and fumbled to slam it, making sure that the latch was in place this time.
The wind had started his lamp moving, and when he turned back the whole room seemed to be swinging around. One moment the fight was blazing in his eyes, the next it was flooding the opposite wall. But in between the blaze and the flood it lit the middle of his room, and standing there – shaking the rain off his hat – was a stranger.
He looked harmless enough. He was no more than six inches taller than Harvey, his frame scrawny, his skin distinctly yellowish in colour. He was wearing a fancy suit, a pair of spectacles and a lavish smile.’
The scene is suffused with a sense of the unsettling. Objects that should be stationary move. The room itself seems to move. The viewpoint character is disoriented. A peculiar character seems to materialize out of nowhere.
Barker also creates an ominous tone through indirect means. ‘He looked harmless enough’ draws our attention to the possibility the man could in fact be harmful. The ‘scrawny’ frame and ‘yellowish’ skin both make the stranger unsettling and increase the sense of unfamiliarity.
Whether you are an aspiring horror author or not, work at creating consistent mood and tone. If you want to write a scary novel, focus on ways you can make actions and descriptions work together to establish an uneasy atmosphere.
2: Read widely in your genre
Whatever genre you write in, whether psychological or paranormal horror read as many books by respected authors in your genre as possible. Examples of celebrated horror authors include Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Clive Barker, Bram Stoker, Neil Gaiman, Chuck Palahniuk, John Lindqvist and more.
As you read authors in your genre, make notes on what aspects of your genre the author excels in. Is it great, spooky settings? Copy out your favourite quotes that create an eerie sense of place and re-read when trying to make your own settings more vivid. Actively learning from great authors will improve your mastery of the horror genre.
3: Give wicked characters better, credible motivations
When you write a horror novel, it shouldn’t read as though a malevolent force is sitting at a bus stop, waiting to infiltrate your unsuspecting characters’ world ‘just because’. Give every malevolent character a strong, clear motivation. Revealing exactly what the motivation is can be part of the mystery that sustains your story and keeps readers guessing why unsettling things keep happening.
If there’s a malevolent force, being or stranger in your horror novel, make their motivation similar in magnitude to the character’s actions. Readers will scoff if a creepy doll goes on a murderous rampage in your novel simply because somebody took its batteries out.
4: Use the core elements of tragedy
This is excellent horror-writing advice from Chuck Wendig’s blog Terrible Minds. As Wendig puts it:
Horror is best when it’s about tragedy in its truest and most theatrical form: tragedy is born through character flaws, through bad choices, through grave missteps.
The horror genre uses the core elements of tragedy so nakedly that some of these have become clichés. ‘Don’t go in that house, idiot,’ you might shout at the screen while watching American Horror Story, because the character has the tragic flaw of being oblivious to personal danger.In horror stories, we get scared because, as readers, we see the signs foolhardy characters don’t.
At its heart, tragedy teaches some important lessons, for example:
- The destructive, rippling cause and effect acts of cruelty can set in motion (the frightening way the title character of Stephen King’s novel Carrie unleashes her powers due to bottling sustained psychological abuse is a good example)
- The value of seeing situations and scenarios from multiple perspectives (e.g. You could tell yourself, ‘That house is abandoned because the property market fell’. But also: ‘That house is abandoned because something terrible happened there (and keeps happening there) and people are afraid of it.’)
- The lesson that bravery means making a choice in full awareness of danger, whereas making choices in blissful unawareness of their potential consequences leaves people vulnerable
To write a credible horror novel, in other words, show that the horror-filled situation is dependent on a network of character choices, past or present. At its heart, horror fiction reminds us that cause and effect is real, even in the fantastical realm of storytelling.
5: Write scary novels by tapping into common human fears
If the point of horror writing (and horror elements in other genres such as paranormal romance) is to arouse fear, shock or disgust, think of the things people are most commonly afraid of.
Live Science places an interest choice at number one: The dentist. It’s true that you can feel powerless when you’re in the dentist’s chair. Couple this with the pain of certain dental procedures and it’s plain to see why a malevolent dentist is the stuff of horror nightmares.
Making readers scared creates tension and increases the pace of your story. Even so there should be a reason for making readers fearful. A terrifying situation should be central to the plot and should be driven by some or other cause (even if the reader can only guess, ultimately, what the precise cause is).
Here are some of the most common fears people have. As an exercise, list the reasons why we might find these things terrifying. Most relate to physical and/or mortal danger, but you can also drawn on other common fears. Fears such as fear of humiliation, inadequacy or failure:
Most common fears – fodder for horror novel writing
- Fear of animals (dogs, snakes, sharks, mythical creatures such as the deep sea-dwelling kraken)
- Fear of flying (film producers combined the previous fear and this other common fear to make the spoof horror movie Snakes on a Plane)
- The dark – one of the most fundamental fears of the unfamiliar
- Perilous heights
- Other people and their often unknown desires or intentions
- Ugly or disorienting environments
Think of how common fears can be evoked in your horror fiction. Some are more often exploited in horror writing than others. A less precise fear (such as the fear of certain spaces) will let you tell the horror story you want with fewer specified must-haves.
6: Terror vs horror: Learn the difference
To learn how to write horror novels, it’s useful to understand the difference between horror and terror. Both have their place in horror writing. ‘Terror’ describes a state of feeling. Oxford Dictionaries simply define it as ‘extreme fear’. To ‘terrorise’, means to use extreme fear to intimidate others. Horror, however, also suggests elements of disgust and surprise or shock. Thus the word ‘horror’ describes not only extreme fear but also revulsion and a sense of surprise and the unexpected.
Horror writers share different ways to understand the difference between terror and horror:
For Stephen King, terror is a feeling the author tries to evoke in the reader before resorting to shock tactics such as surprising with the extreme or unpleasant:
‘I’ll try to terrify you first, and if that doesn’t work, I’ll horrify you, and if I can’t make it there, I’ll try to gross you out. I’m not proud.’
King’s quote suggests that if you can create terror in the reader before there’s even a gross-out moment or sickly reveal in your horror novel, you’re winning.
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