How To Write A Horror Story – A Guide

“I have a horror of the blank page. I simply cannot write on a blank page or screen. Because once I do, I start to fix it, and I never get past the first sentence.”

Charles Krauthammer admits here, his weakness of writing on a blank page. Writing itself can turn a situation of horror that make you break out in cold sweat when you have no idea or experience in the task you are faced with. Writing a story is an enjoyable task when you have experience in what you are doing or a kind of guide to help you through the task; the blank page wouldn’t scare you so much.

This article will guide you on how to write any kind of story you wish but with focus on a horror story.

Writing Horror

A story can only be classified as horror if it freaks you out and makes you tremble.  This kind of story focuses on fear and elaborates on even the minute details so much that it becomes gross and disgusting.

A horror story is not a kind of book you would buy for a friend as a wedding gift or read as a form of unburdening yourself. The fact is that not everyone likes horror stories or even find them disturbing. Some readers will rather not read anything at all than pick up a horror novel.

At the other side of the coin, there are some unique readers whose novel collection is ninety percent horror, these kinds of readers like to be scared and are not afraid of picking up a horror novel.  These are the people waiting on you for a good and well written story and letting your audience down is not an option. Below are step by step instructions on how write a good horror story.

Pre-Writing Stage

This is your preparation stage.

  • Your fear may not be so fearful: “What scares me is what scares you. We’re all afraid of the same things. That’s why horror is such a powerful genre. All you have to do is ask yourself what frightens you and you’ll know what frightens me.” John Carpenter.

This to a large extent is true but can be proven to be untrue. There are some general things that scare people but you’d be surprised to find some people who still find those things rather annoying or even boring instead of frightening. This factor could make your writing tedious because you will have to look for a general ground for everyone and still try to maintain the general fear afflicting every human. At the end of it all, you will still have to follow John Carpenter’s instruction and hope anyone reading the text will be affected by it as much as you are.

  • Scout around: You might want to check out other author and see how they present their story. You need to check out the element of fear they use and how they build upon it. You necessarily don’t have to follow a particular author’s technique. Check out many prominent horror authors, read their works, understand and analysetheir writing techniques and develop your own special technique.
  • Tragedy versus horror: a good horror story should be based on tragedy. Tragedy may not make the readers fearful but it ensures their relationship with the characters. When you embedtragedy into a horror story, it doesn’t necessarily have to end in a tragic way but tragic occurrences happen in the course of the story and arouse emotions in the reader. Some of them include:

(a) Pity (eleos): when the main characters suffer tragic occurrences, the readers or audiences are really empathic. They pity the character or even get angry with him and shout at the screen and or the book.

(b) Fear (phobos): This emotion, when it relates to a tragic occurrence in a tragedy, is not because the happenings in the story are scary but because they know what happened to the character can very well happen to them. They get scared, thinking about them being in the character’s shoes.

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  • Outline your plot:before you start writing, you need to create an outline as to how your plot will be arranged. You have to carefully structure your plot so as not destroy your effort. Start from the exposition to the conflict, and then rising action, which will lead you to the climax of the story, after which comes the anticlimax which occurs with the resolution of the conflict. No matter how much you manipulate your story, these processions shouldn’t be changed. You can’t possibly bring the resolution of conflict before introducing the conflict.

The Writing Stage

  • Write in details:one of the ways to connect your characters and readers together is to write their actions in details. Don’t tell the readers what happened, show them. Let them feel the fears of your characters. Let them feel the environment he is and see all that he sees. Write every little thing in gross details. For example, if you want to say your character shot her husband, you’ll say:

She moved closer to him with each step heavier than the last.  He was still dressed in his black night dress, looking exactly like the devil he is. He stood at the kitchen sink washing his blood stained hands while he licks his lips like a very thirsty man.  He lifted up his hand and placed it directly under the tap and watched in fascination as the sink gets filled with water stained blood. He giggled like a school girl that was handed a candy.

She gripped the butt of the cold metal and touched his shoulder. He startled and  turned to face her. She smiled at him with trembling lips and said “I’m sorry” and he smiled back at her, though with confusion clouding his deep blue eyes. She raised the gun and shot him on the forehead before he had time to react. The expression on his face as he went down was surprise as though he could not figure a reason why she would want him dead.

  • Manipulate your readers’ emotions:you need to be able to reach your readers emotions and manipulate it to with every scene.  A horror story entirely depends on the reaction of the readers therefore you should be able to get various emotions out of your readers. You can only do this if you make them connected to your characters. Create fear, dread, paranoia, shock and even anger in your readers.
  • Be realistic: Being realistic is usually underplayed when writing a horror story. Of course, you can create some characters that are paranormal. In fact it is part of the makeup of a horror story to have unbelievable events and occurrences but all this must be plausible. Don’t piss off your reader by bringing up the issue of a chain gun in a seventeenth century story or have poisoned apple tree in a dessert land. Set the pace and events of the story so it matches the temporary and permanent setting.
  • Introduce your characters: The strength of your story or the weakness as it may turn out is dependent on the way you create your characters. Like every character in any other genre, your characters must be very real to your readers or the story is pointless. Even if you are dealing with paranormal characters that they can’t see or relate with on a physical level, create them in a way they can identify with them. Create your protagonist and antagonist with strengths and weakness, cravings, fears, urges, emotions and so on. Forge a link between your characters and readers. Present them in explicit details in the story and don’t confuse your readers by switching or jumbling the details as you write. As you introduce the story, expose the protagonist and antagonist to the readers in such innocent details that the readers will see them in a clear light and feel what they feel and feel empathy. Even though these characters are faceless at first, their presence must still draw empathy.
  • Pour your fears into the story:while writing a horror story, think about what scares you most and put into your writing. You can even ask around or do a research on what scare most people. Mesh all this together to create horror in your story.
  • Make simple activities look scary:everyone drinks water, takes shower and eats. Attack your characters in their day to day activity, let him or her see a little monster in her cup or turn the drinking water to blood, make snakes come out of the shower instead of water or let the food turn to a human head and so on.
  • Your imagination is your weapon: My imagination completely controls me, and forever feed the fire that burns with dark red light in my heart by bringing me the best dreams. I have always had a wild imagination, a big heart and a tortured soul so I feel that dark fantasy, love and horror are in my blood.” Kim Elizabeth.  Your imagination should be vivid and wild if you are going to produce a great horror story. You have to imagine the weirdest thing and bring out the most absurd details out of a normal occurrence. To have a wild imagination, you have to feed your mind with wild things but you have to be very careful because these things can affect your day to day activities when you are not writing.
  • Don’t shield your characters: When you are writing a horror story, no matter how much your character affects you, you shouldn’t protect them from the inevitable in the story.  Be free with your characters and don’t be scared to let bad things happen to them because that is the point of a horror story. You can’t be pampering your characters and expect this to give your readers chills.
  • Create a high strung climax:As you introduce the conflict and build up the story, you must make sure your climax is really high and interesting. This climax is the peak of the story and will determine the success of the whole story because story depends on the climax and how the conflict is resolved. You should also take care of your resolution. Don’t confuse your reader by resolving the conflict in an unprofessional manner.
  • Don’t play with your readers’ intelligence: twisting the story around is okay, after all the level of suspense is expected to be high but it will be very bad if you end the story in a way that will make your readers hiss. Imagine you are writing about a woman who lives in a house with a serial killer who has been killing babies and eating them and you have been getting him close to arrest but heusually evades the arrest but when the resolution comes, we realize the person hasn’t been killing babies or even doing anything, he just likes a movie that has the sound of crying and screaming babies which he plays on his radio and the blood usually found on him at midnight is that of the chickens he kills for his restaurants and so on.So at the end of the story, the reader realizes there was never a death, no bloodshed, no evil, just a nosy neighbour and an eccentric man. That kind of resolution annoys readers rather than amaze them. Do yourself a favor and avoid that style of writing like a plague.

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Post Writing Stage

This stage involves few things to be done and taken care of after you have finished the whole story. They include:

  • Editing:it is expedient that you edit your story before submitting for publishing or anything other thing. While you edit you should take note of :

(a)Language use: weed out the irrelevant words and exchange every ambiguous word for unambiguous words. Make sure the language use suits the temporary setting and the personality of your character.

(b) Avoid unnecessary scenes: while you edit the story, crop out scenes that are redundant to the story.

While you edit your story, you may get pissed at a point because you are almost striking out every word in a particular paragraph, the truth is, this is not a bad sign. You can continue to rewrite a story until you are comfortable and okay with the story.

Writing a horror story should be an interesting and an act you enjoy. Imagine the face or reaction of your readers when they finish reading the story; the shock, disbelieve, relief that it’s all over and other positive reactions as you write your amazing story. Because you are writing horror doesn’t mean you should not enjoy it. Freak yourself out and write a horror story today!