The secrets to writing great horror

How to write in the horror genre? 

Horror is a genre that can be hard to get right, but when it's done well it has fantastic results. The bottom line is people love to be scared, and what better way than through a safe medium such as reading or watching a scary movie?

How can horror scare readers?

What is it that people are most afraid of? What keeps them awake at night and invades their dreams churning them into nightmares?

People are all afraid of the unknown. We fear what we can't understand. Fear touches us all on a daily basis. What's that strange noise coming from downstairs in the middle of the night? What's going to happen to me once I die? What will happen if I don't pay my bills on time?

Keep this in mind when you write. If you tell your readers what is happening in your story, you will put their minds at rest. Never do this is, your writing horror. Keep them in the dark, quite literally, and keep them scared.

The golden rule of writing: show don't tell.

This is a classic rule and is applicable for any genre. By showing your story instead of telling you can use your readers' imaginations to your advantage. In horror it's our imaginations that can set us off on a cycle of self perpetuating fear. Let your readers' minds race with what could happen next.

Create a picture in their minds that's not too restrictive on their imagination and remember to take advantages of the five senses we all possess. Don't forget this, we do much more than just see. Help set off the five senses of sight, sounds, smell, taste and touch.

How to create a scary character?

You don't need to write exclusively about vampires or monsters to scare people. Over the years these creatures have been tamed in literature. It seems to be every teenage girls dream to fall in love with a brooding but sexy Vampire. You can create a scary character from anything. Stephen King terrified millions by writing about an evil clown in It.

What are the three major themes in horror fiction?

The genre of horror comes down to three essential intertwining themes of fear, hope and tragedy, in that particular order too. You can easily heighten these themes for maximum impact by giving them a liberal sunk in suspense.

What's the basic formula for a great horror story?

Event, fear, hope ,suspense, tragedy.

It's that simple. For more tips on how to create a plot click here.

How do you create fear?

Fear can be created by actions by the protagonist and subsequent fear of the consequences for the protagonist upon committing that action. This action could be your protagonist returning to their home alone on a dark evening to find their house has been broken into. That's scary enough for anyone to come home to, no one likes coming home to a dark house. In this scenario you can quickly create a sense of fear by  instead of having your protagonist sensibly wait outside  their home and call the police you can allow your protagonist to enter the dark house alone unarmed. This will scare your reader as they don't know what's inside the house waiting. By doing this, you create fear of consequence as you just know they won't be alone in the dark.

Why you need hope in a horror story?

Hope is an important element of a horror story. It is needed to contrast against the other themes of fear and tragedy. This will alleviate your readers' anxieties before completely elevating them again to even higher levels.

You need to briefly introduce hope for your protagonist before squashing it and thus removing all hope. You can do this by offering your protagonist a way out of their horrific predicsment but for some reason they do not take it.

How to create suspense in a horror story?

You'll need to create suspense quickly in your horror story and sustain it throughout. This atmosphere of fear and tension is most often caused by introducing lovable but flawed characters and having them make bad decisions, such as being too trusting, not realising their date is an axe murderer,  being too naïve to sense they are in terrible danger, or being too kind and helping out a complete stranger who turns out to be a vampire/serial killer etc.

How to create tragedy in a horror story?

You need to ensure your character is easily lovable, that your readers can easily and quickly identify with them and then make terrible things happen to them.

Horror stories do not have happy endings.

Don't tell your readers how to feel.

But above all when writing horror don't tell your readers that they should be scared, and also at what points they should be scared.

All you need to do is spark their imginations and fears and they'll do the rest. Everyone of us is highly imaginative so let their minds take over.


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