Effective Horror Writing

by , Tuesday June 7, 2016
Effective Horror Writing

How to write horror effectively and avoid the clichés that come with the genre

a blog by 暗い戦士



The genre of horror is a complex one. Not only is it difficult to write and have it perceived the way you want it to - the challenge of having the story engage a reader in such a fashion that the reader is pulled in, breathes heavily, and the pages practically turn themselves - this is a feat that only a handful of writers can succeed at.


Creating a palpable story that sends chills down one’s spine is an art in itself, and to help you with that, here are some basic suggestions that could prove helpful, as well as clichés that you need to avoid to come up with a good horror story.


Make it as realistic as possible

Of course, you’re welcome to disagree with this one. Maybe you want to add fantasy as a sub-genre, or perhaps horror itself as a sub-genre to something else. But in most cases, it goes without saying that the more the reader can relate to the plot, the scarier it is, especially because it looks so normal, so every day. This can be taken a step further with the characters themselves, especially with the decisions they make and the relationships they have.


Show, don’t tell

As a writer, it is your job to develop the plot as well as you can. At certain points, you may feel that your story isn’t scary enough, and that you need to implement a plot device that accentuates the feeling of perpetual terror in the hearts and minds of the readers, but trying to do so often ends up in writers more or less spelling out the words “BE SCARED” in their stories - and just like that, the spell is broken.


No, not the characters. You may actually end up sending a direct or indirect message to the readers, and man that blows. Let your creation do its work, and hope that the words you put down on paper jump up and scare the crackles out of the ones reading, because horror, like humor, is subjective. It appeals to some people, but not to others.


Make mistakes that can be justified

Imagine you spot someone smeared in blood, carrying a large axe outside your house in the middle of the night, slowly walking towards the forest. Only an idiot would rush out behind him, rather than call the police. But now imagine that the killer has your child, or your beloved in his grasp, and he’s seeking to disappear in the shadows of the woods. On an impulse, you would dash out, trying to save them. You know it’s a mistake, but it is one that you can’t help but make, for at that moment in time, your brain doesn’t know what to do. It is a mistake, but you have your reasons to commit the mistake.


Similarly, as you write your story, allow your characters to make a mistake or two in a grave situation. After all, human beings are impulsive creatures by nature. However, have a logical reasoning behind taking that risk and making that mistake in the crucial moment, and even the readers will be cheering for the character’s success, despite knowing how badly they’re going to crash and burn.


Make it personal…literally

Let’s put it down. As stupid as it sounds, the horror can come from within you. Just take a look at whatever the heck that scares you, even if it is something strange or embarrassing, such as a fear of water, a fear of sharp, pointy needles. Despite how crazy as it seems, there are potentially a metric ton of people who share the same crazy fears.


There’s this nice quote that I heard a long time ago about art and theater. It said, “If you truly feel it, the audience feels it, too!” ‘It’ here refers to any emotion or desire that one may experience. Needless to say, it applies to literature just as well. If what you’re writing about makes you quake in your boots, the readers will come to feel that despair and terror as well. For instance, if you’re scared of water, and you’re writing about a scene where a man is drowning, then even the readers will feel themselves suffocating, sharing the same pain.


Clichés, the double-edged blades

As you’d expect from a genre that has been around from the times of Dracula and Beowulf, it seems to be as though anything original that could be used is gone. Creepy basement? Check. Sounds from the attic? Check. A hundred year old, immortal good-looking vampire who watches the teenage girl that he loves while she’s asleep like some sort of deranged pedophile? Check (Oh wait, that’s….)


Frankly speaking, there’s never an end to originality. But that doesn’t mean you can’t go back to the old ones and say, “Welp, you’re still here. How about an extreme make over?” I, for one, see nothing wrong with taking some of the stories we love and adding a twist of our own, a little kiss of our own tastes. Don’t be afraid to experiment!


On the other hand, there are some non-plot clichés, such as those found in dialogue or descriptions that should be avoided, as they interrupt the flow of reading and often are just unnecessary, such as the phrase “Look behind you!” Look behind me? Who the hell’s got the time for that? Just shut up and run, and hope that whatever it is doesn’t catch up.


That’s all for now, folks. Keep those brains churning and remember, to be a good writer, you must also be an avid reader. In the words of Gary Oak, “Smell ya later!”



Thank you to 暗い戦士 for writing this bog post and designing the banner


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