Writer Series #3: How to Write Horror




In celebration of October 1st and my 31 Days of Goosebumps reviews, I wanted to share a few secrets on the wonders of writing horror. I’m by NO means an expert but these were the few things I’ve either picked up over the years or thought of when I write. Have fun and HAPPY OCTOBER 1st (tomorrow).

Horror has an incredible power. The emotions we find from horror are so foreign to us because we don’t experience them as often as the others. Some people love to be scared and hold what scares them to a higher standard. Writers like Stephen King mastered this art and I want to help you get your foot in the door.

This is just an ice breaker. These are just the basics of horror writing but I hope you take them and use them to develop your skill as a writer.

Common things found in horror:

  • An elevated sense of the unknown: People aren’t afraid of the dark, they are afraid of what might be in the dark. Your mind can often be your biggest enemy when it comes to being scared.
  • Intense emotion, mood, and tone: intense EVERYTHING can give the reader a feeling of panic, overwhelming paranoia and ominous possibilities. Tone and mood contribute to how the story feels. You want to aim for a frightening tone. Work at creating consistent mood and tone, focus on ways to make descriptions work together to make the reader uneasy.
  • Shocking plot twists
  • Morbid situations

Now that you understand what is found in horror I want to talk about how you can WRITE better horror:

  • Read the genre

You need to read horror in order to write horror. Make notes on what the author did well, where you were scared, reread descriptions. Find your favorite horror authors and study them.

  • Focus on tragedy

Character flaws, bad choices, and mistakes make your characters human. Make what’s happening to them avoidable. We, the readers, get to see the signs before the characters. Your story is going to be full of character-choice-dependent plots and situations.

  • Use common fears

The point of your story is to scare people so go with simple and imaginative. It goes a long way.

Most common fears:

  • Fear of animals
  • Fear of flying
  • The dark – Goes back to the “fear of the unknown” from above
  • Heights
  • Other people and their unknown desires or intentions

Getting Started

Now it’s time to actually get to work, let’s do a practice story using the guidelines below.

  • Brainstorm ideas: Shortly I’ll give a small list of common horror story themes you can dabble with.
  • Write down your fears: Write down ALL of your fears. You know what scares you, now write until it scares someone else. Explore it for a while and take that fear to its darkest place. Now, how do you get your readers there with you?
  • Pin down your mood or theme A good horror story isn’t about the terrifying killer, it’s the fear of what the killer is going to do. Keep the uneasy, unknown tone to the max!
  • Use details! All details matter when going for intense emotion


Different kinds of horror stories

These are just some of the few different kinds of horror stories and the most common themes of a horror story.

  • Home

Your home is your safe space. It is familiar to you and is extremely scary to have that safe familiar home become dangerous and unknown.

  • Teleportation

Now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t is where items, and/or people disappear, reappear or move on their own.

  • Inner fears

Mental illness is a taboo theme for horror but if you want to take a swing at it. Light vs dark and inner demons or fears are a common thread to this one.

  • Urban Legends

A story you heard from a friend who heard from a friend who heard from a friend…you get the idea. Either rewrite an urban legend or come up with a new one. The core of the story is archetypal.



15 minutes. Practice your horror writing skills for 15 minutes and see how well you do.

Follow the guidelines and see where your twisted imagination takes you.


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