How To Write Horror
What Is horror?
Horror is an emotion. It’s one of the easiest genres to explain because it’s so clear-cut when something fits the bill: you either feel terrified while watching or reading something, or you don’t.
There are plenty of things that are scary without being part of the genre, but they’re still different from other things that evoke fear because they have to follow specific rules.
Horror comes with its very own set of rules, which means there are different types of horror stories with their own unique characteristics.
Horror films are designed to frighten and panic, cause dread and alarm, and to invoke our hidden worst fears, often in a terrifying, shocking finale.
They frequently deal with viewers’ nightmares, fears, revulsions, and terror of the unknown. Horror films often aim to evoke viewers’ nightmares, fears, revulsions, and terror of the unknown.
Horror is a feeling rather than a genre.
The best way to understand horror is by breaking down what makes something fit into the genre and by thinking about how it differs from other genres.
We’ll also look at some examples of horror media and try to figure out why we find them so scary.
Is Horror Hard To Write?
Yes, it’s hard to write. And I’ll tell you why.
The reason it’s hard to write a good horror story is the same reason it’s hard to make a good movie. And it’s the same reason it’s hard to read a good horror story.
It’s because we’re afraid of the dark. We’re afraid of what might be lurking in the dark.
That’s why we turn on lights when we get home at night and why we sometimes forget to turn them off when we leave. That’s also why we have so many horror movies and why they make such big money at the box office.
We get scared of the dark, but we all love watching scary movies about that fear because it makes us feel safe for a couple of hours in a darkened theater with hundreds of other people.
Horror is, in part, about taking away that safety from everyone, even if just for a few minutes or pages. It reminds us that there are things that could hurt us out there in the dark and that we can’t always protect ourselves from them all by ourselves.
So then the question becomes: How do you create an environment where your readers are safe but are still aware of what might be lurking around every corner?
Plots within the horror genre often involve the intrusion of an evil force, event, or personage into the everyday world.
Prevalent elements include:
- Demons (such as hellhounds)
- Gore (blood and guts)
- Torture (torturing mutilation)
- Vicious animals (snakes & spiders)
- Monsters (dragons & dinosaurs)
How Do You Write Scary Words?
Hi, I’m Melinda. I’m the Associate Editor for Writer’s Digest Books. That means I help authors find their voices, turn their ideas into books, and publish them.
Terrified? Well, you should be!
Seriously, though, writing an effective query letter is a highly specialized skill. And it’s one you’ll need to learn if you want to break into the book biz. Although there are many different approaches to query letters, they all share the same essential elements: the hook, the pitch, and the bio. Let’s look at each of these elements in detail.
A good hook grabs a publisher’s attention right away. It tells her why your book is exciting and different—and why she’ll want to read it right now! For example, Dan Poynter (1993) starts his queries with powerful hooks like this “I am seeking representation for my manuscript on how to become a successful writer from beginning to end.”
This hook isn’t just for query letters; you can also use it in your book proposal. Keep in mind that agents and editors are very busy people. They get hundreds of queries for every book they buy—and thousands for every book they reject.
How Do You Write a Creepy Story?
I’ll be honest: I don’t know how to write a creepy story.
- I can’t.
- I’m incapable of it.
- Or maybe I’m just too scared to do it. Who knows?
But I’ve been thinking about horror stories and their authors and why they’re so hard to do.
For example, if you look at something like the plot of The Shining, you’ll find that the plot is quite basic. There’s nothing special about the way King tells that story. It’s just a man who wants to write a book and has writer’s block, and his family has to spend time in an eerie hotel where supernatural things happen.
It’s not complex. It’s nothing new. But it’s still creepy as hell. And that’s because of the author himself — in this case, Stephen King, who is well known for his capacity to scare people with his novels.
So what does a writer need to be able to write horror stories? What do they need inside themselves? If we were writing a horror story, how would we do it?
Let me start with my own experience of being frightened by a piece of literature. I read Dracula when I was very young.
Don’t Be Afraid To Write Horror
The first time I ever sat down to write a horror story, I was terrified. I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t understand the boundaries and restrictions horror writing imposed on its authors. How could I? There were no rules. There is no formula.
The only way to learn how to write horror is to do it. Sometimes that means selling your soul to the devil and writing something that scares you so much you hate it for weeks. You have to be willing to fail if you’re going to succeed in this genre, but it can, and does, pay off in spades if you can stick with it long enough.
The thing is, horror has all the freedom of any other genre except that the scares must come from a place of realism and be psychologically terrifying rather than physically gory. That last part – where the scars are more psychological than physical – is the most crucial part of writing a good horror story.
To write good horror, you must first understand what makes someone afraid. And then you must put them in a situation where they have an opportunity to experience that fear.
So how do we do this? The answer isn’t simple; there are many different ways of creating psychological terror.
Horror Is A Rich Field. Know What’s Come Before
I’ve never been a fan of horror. I mean, I like to be scared. I love a good thriller or mystery or even a monster movie, but the whole point of horror is to scare the crap out of me, which doesn’t appeal to me. However, that doesn’t mean I’m not a fan of horror movies.
If you’re writing horror and want to be successful with it, here are some tips:
Know What’s Come Before – Every sub-genre has its tropes and traditions. For example, if you’re writing about zombies, almost every reader will have certain expectations about what you’re doing, what kind of story you’re telling, etc. Readers aren’t stupid and don’t like being manipulated into reading something they don’t want to read.
So if you have an idea for a zombie novel, make sure your idea is new and fresh and will appeal to readers who love the genre. And if you’re writing about zombies and your idea is fresh, but your execution isn’t? Well, then you might want to write something else instead!
Know Your Genre – If your book is part of an already established genre, there are certain things that readers expect from that genre.
Horror Is A Marketable Genre, But Not Always in the Mainstream Press
Horror is a big business, generating over $1 billion at the box office alone in 2013. Horror films and books are popular because people enjoy being scared. The Walking Dead is one of the most popular television shows, and people can’t get enough of Stephen King’s books. But horror stories aren’t often featured in newspapers and magazines.
Why Don’t Journalists Like to Write About Horror?
First, some journalists may be biased against scary stories, just as many people are biased against horror movies. The idea that horror sells may be why the mainstream press doesn’t always cover it. Journalists and readers alike are skeptical that these stories can be produced with real facts and aren’t just made-up scary stories.
Second, it is hard for journalists to manage their fear when writing about something scary. They have to avoid showing fear or shock in their story about the scary subject, so they don’t trigger a fear response in their readers.
Third, horror isn’t always newsworthy. For something to make it into the news cycle, it must be timely and essential. Even if an event or situation is horrifying, there has to be some public interest before journalists write about it.
People Often Equate Horror Fiction With Cheap, Exploitative Horror Films
Do you enjoy reading horror stories? If so, you’re not alone. Many people like to read horror novels and short stories. Even though many people equate horror with cheap, exploitative films, this is true.
Tens of thousands of people have read Stephen King’s books, seen Jaws or The Shining on the big screen, or wandered through The Bates Motel in California. Some love scary movies but aren’t interested in the books that inspired them.
But some avoid horror fiction because they think it’s too violent or gory. Some people overlook excellent works of horror fiction because they think these books are only for people who like blood and guts instead of characters and atmosphere.
If you’re a fan of horror fiction, consider these reasons to give it a try:
There are thousands of authors writing in the genre, and many of them have more than one book to their credit. Where else can you find a collection of Stephen King books covering topics like vampires, haunted houses, and killer cars? You can even find collections that include some of the best short stories ever written by Edgar Allan Poe or H.P. Lovecraft.
Be Yourself – Write From Your Fears, Experiences, and Observations
Be yourself. Write from your fears, experiences, and observations. That’s the best advice I can give to beginner writers who want to be published.
Trying to imitate a writer whose style you admire can lead to disaster. I’ve seen people present manuscripts that sounded nothing like them, and it was a major turnoff for editors and agents alike. Nothing is more boring than reading a book by someone who isn’t being honest about who they are.
I’m not saying there won’t be some influence from other writers in your style, but it has to be subtle, or it’ll be forced—and no one will want to read anything else by you.
You should be able to tell a story comfortably through your unique filter of experiences and observations. If you don’t feel confident in your voice, that’s normal, but you have to get over it if you want to write professionally.
It may take time, but the more you write and publish, the more comfortable you’ll feel with your style and your audience’s expectations.
Horror Isn’t About Monsters
Horror is the most challenging genre to define because it can be anything that makes you feel fear.
Tension exists in just about every moment of a horror film. It’s the anticipation of something bad happening that creates the frisson of fear. That is why we jump at every sudden noise in a scary movie, but we can also watch an action blockbuster like “Mad Max: Fury Road” and feel our hearts racing.
We aren’t scared while watching the movie, but we know it could get scary at any moment. You might feel those same emotions when you’re on a roller coaster or riding in a car with someone who drives too fast; there’s tension and release, with no real danger.
Horror is about discomfort and unease; it’s about taking away the safety and security of your reality and forcing you to confront your fears. Horror films are not about ghosts or monsters or zombies — they are about what happens when people are stripped of their humanity.
Horror Is Internal Rather Than External
Horror is the most misunderstood genre in literature. If you ask ten different writers to define it, you’ll get ten different answers. You’ll get their opinions and nine more if you ask ten readers.
Horror is subjective, as all art is subjective. To me, it’s a genre that explores what makes us tick, what we’re afraid of, what frightens us in everyday life — and how we deal with that fear. It’s about being honest and facing our fears instead of cowering in the dark, hoping they go away. It’s about the horrors that can drive a person crazy instead of howling monsters.
A book like Stephen King’s “It” has its place in horror fiction, but it isn’t horror; it’s a monster story with a few good scares. The same goes for books like Anne Rice’s “The Vampire Chronicles” or her recent “Lasher” novel.
Both are well-written books with rich characters and memorable settings, but neither one can be considered horror, no matter how terrifying Lucretia might be. Horror is internal rather than external. You never see anything that would give the characters nightmares for years to come; you only see them having those nightmares.
The instinctive fears in children are the same that we all have. They include many different kinds of fear and anxiety, but they all share one thing in common: they are responses to something unknown or unfamiliar.
A child’s earliest fears are logical and make sense in light of her limited life experience. A baby is born with an innate fear of falling (acrophobia); it makes perfect sense for a child who isn’t yet able to walk to be afraid of heights.
As the child grows and begins to explore her surroundings, she develops a sense of “dangerous” versus “safe.” At this point, she may begin to develop fears about things like going outside alone or getting lost in a crowd.
She also develops fears about objects that can cause her harm, such as sharp objects, water, animals, and heights. These are all perfectly normal fears.
Parents play an essential role in helping a child overcome these fears and move past them. While it is indispensable to protect a child from real danger, it is not appropriate to shelter her from every unfamiliar situation or object. She must learn as much as possible about the world around her to navigate it when she is older effectively.
Monsters And Supernatural Entities
Monsters are terrifying creatures that live in the dark parts of the world and have the desire to kill people. They have appeared in many forms, but the most common types are human-like creatures with a sense of evil and a desire for murder. There are different types of monsters, such as vampires, werewolves, and zombies.
Some monsters are more challenging to kill than others; for instance, you must drive a wooden stake through their heart if you want to kill a vampire. The same is true for a werewolf. There are many different ways to destroy a zombie, depending on what kind of zombie it is.
Terrifying creatures have been around since the beginning of time and will continue to be present until the end of time. Monsters can be found worldwide, but they live mainly in deserts and jungles because many people don’t populate these areas. One example of an actual monster that people encounter is Bigfoot.
A Bigfoot is an extremely tall creature with long hair who lives in forests or mountains. The most common places where people report seeing Bigfoot are Washington, Idaho, California, and Canada. People who claim they’ve encountered or seen Bigfoot describe him as being 7 to 10 feet tall and covered in hair with a strong smell that resembles
Stressful and harrowing times have a way of bringing out the pitfalls in our relationships and bringing to light the cracks in the foundation of society. This is especially true when we are afraid or hurt.
The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, were a sobering reminder that we need to come together as a community. This event prompted people from all over the country to fly to New York City to help with the cleanup efforts and support those working around the clock at Ground Zero.
The destruction and death brought people together in a way that hadn’t been seen since 9/11—an energy shift that allowed healing and positivity to flourish.
Today, we are seeing many changes in our society. The divide between different types of people is growing larger, making it harder for us to come together as a community. It’s easier than ever before for people of different backgrounds, beliefs, and values to find each other online.
We may not know each other personally, but we feel like we better understand one another’s lives, fears, and struggles just by reading something they wrote on social media or an article they posted online.
Which Book Genre Are You?
If you’ve been a reader for any time, you know that books are sometimes divided into genres. These genres help booksellers and library systems find the kinds of books they’re looking for and let readers know what to expect from a book before reading it.
Trying to figure out which genre you are? We’ve put together an easy-to-read chart that’ll give you a good idea based on your preferences for different aspects of books. Then, feel free to
Post in the comments below and tell us what you think!
This quiz aims to help you find out which book genre fits you the most. Many genres exist, such as horror, romance, and sci-fi, but I think that all of these genres have a little bit of every other genre in them. My main goal with this quiz is to help you find out which genre best fits you.
Note: I included some books from each genre (for example, some romance books have some sci-fi in them and vice versa).
Next, I will have a few questions about each genre to help me determine what they are similar to. After that, I will tell you a little bit about each genre!
First Person Pov
I like writing from a first-person point of view. It is easier for me to be personal and emotional in connection to the reader. That’s why I love to write friends and family stories from a first-person perspective or when I’m writing about my husband or my kids.
My mystery novels are told from a limited third-person’s point of view. The story is told through one character’s eyes, which can be a challenge. I have to think about what this character could notice and the details they would want to know about if they were there.
This makes the story more interesting because it doesn’t just describe what happened but also how it was seen by each character, which is very different depending on who is looking at it.
My science fiction stories are told from a third-person omniscient point of view. This narration style can be tricky because you are telling what goes on inside everyone’s mind. You have to be careful not to reveal anything that your characters wouldn’t know or wouldn’t say out loud, so you can see why I need to rely on my knowledge of human behavior for this type of story.