Ancient folktales, including witches, malevolent spirits, and other horrible things, are the origin of the horror genre. Folklore and renowned horror authors like Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, and Stephen King are both excellent sources of inspiration for writing horror stories and films.
It might appear that zeitgeist-defining horror books are a thing of the past in our day of heavily commercialized crime and thriller literature. Indeed, Stephen King used to consistently rank among the world's best-selling authors, and back in the 1990s, kids ate up Goosebumps novels like The Blob ate up, well, everything.
But let's not forget that there is a sizable fanbase of horror enthusiasts nowadays who are looking for their next fix. So, if you want to succeed the current Crown Prince of Dread, your wish is still within reach! Learning how to compose a horror story is the first step, whether for a novel or a video production company.
Horror: What Is It?
The storytelling genre of horror appeals to the feeling of fear. While certain thrillers fall under the larger umbrella of "horror writing," not all horror adheres to the thriller formula. Whether it takes the form of a novel, novella, short story, or film, classic horror fiction will draw on themes that reliably terrify most people. Ghosts, werewolves, vampires, zombies, serial killers, murderers, and the fear of the unknown are among the frequently discussed subjects.
These horror cliches are prone to becoming overused. One drawback of the popularity of horror is that many horror books and films regurgitate old material in unoriginal ways. Yet when done well, horror stories may delight audiences and frequently make comments on human nature.
What Characterizes a Great Horror Story?
The best horror stories combine the commonplace with the shocking, the bizarre, and the ugly in order to appeal to our fears. Many horror stories locate their male protagonists in familiar places like new homes, summer camps, sleepovers, hotels, and camping trips. These settings' relatability prepares the audience for upcoming terror.
When the protagonist experiences terrifying moments, it will be scarier since the protagonist's point of view more closely resembles that of the audience. For example, it is more terrifying for a young family to confront a slasher in a new home than it is for a robot to do it in space. Why? We all have some experience with moving into a new home. We are all unaware of what it's like to be a robot in space.
Contrary to popular belief, many authors feel that humour is the genre that goes closest with horror. The similarities between the two genres can be seen in their shared use of familiar settings to create tension. In comedy, something strange and out of place subverts the expected. In horror, anything hideous and dangerous subverts the expected. Both comedy routines and horror books elicit the same reaction from the audience: pleased astonishment at how a typical scenario was disrupted.
Tips for Writing a Horror Story: 7 Proven Techniques
You'd be wise to take into account a few important factors if you're planning to write horror-related material for a video production company or as a novel. The horror story is a creative genre, and as such, it has no defined guidelines. Any length and topic can be covered in a superb horror story.
To get you started in the genre, check out some useful writing tips:
1. Continue your scary reading. Reading a good story is the only way to truly comprehend what makes a good story. Poe, Lovecraft, and King are the three most well-known masters of horror, but the list goes on. Robert Bloch, Dean R. Koontz, and Shirley Jackson are a few other well-known authors of horror. Young readers' horror literature is a specialty of John Bellairs and R.L. Stine.
2. Keep in mind that horror can cross over into other genres. Many modern authors, such as Joyce Carol Oates, Chuck Wendig, and Neil Gaiman, don't just write horror but frequently incorporate the genre's characteristics into their other works. So while it's true that you should read Carrie, The Tell-Tale Heart, and the Goosebumps series, watch Halloween, and see Rosemary's Baby, you should also take the time to examine the work of horror-adjacent creators.
3. Pay attention to your own fears. Horror benefits from authenticity in a similar way to humour. Stephen King has discussed how the writing process helps him overcome a long list of personal concerns in his writings on creating horror; his expertise was developed through experience. Get personal, since you can likely scare an audience if you can scare yourself.
4. Produce characters with three dimensions. Create people whose shortcomings serve as the story's fuel for action. Each excellent work of fiction and cinema features well-developed characters who have goals, motivations, and backstories. Your audience will connect more with the characters in your narrative or screenplay if you give them a more human quality.
5. Be aware that sometimes the real is scarier than the fantastical. You can create an army of evildoers with bug eyes or hide a severed head in the bed of your protagonist, but will that truly frighten the reader? No, not always. Psychological horror typically leaves viewers with a much longer-lasting impression than a jump scare or gross-out scene in a slasher movie. There's a reason why gore-free movies like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity sparked so much conversation among viewers. People are frequently more terrified when their real-life fears are played with than when they are simply grossed out.
6. Utilize point of view to build suspense = When the stakes are high, your reader should identify with your main character to the point where their own heart begins to race. Either the first person or the third person limited point of view can be used to accomplish this. (When writing horror, stay away from third-person omniscient because it can make the reader feel removed and less invested in the plot.)
First-person perspective (POV): The first-person point of view is great for drawing the reader in early and keeping them intrigued throughout the novel. For lengthier, more complex pieces, it could be too intense, and it might be challenging to pull off if you're attempting to keep something from your readers.
It's also important to consider the effects of first-person, past-tense POV in a horror narrative because it implies the characters have survived, which could undo your dramatic conclusion. Therefore, you should definitely retain the first-person narration in the present tense if you do choose to use it.
Third person: POV = Consider a third-person limited perspective if you're having trouble getting a first-person POV to function. Longer-form horror stories frequently employ this style of storytelling, which authors like Dean Koontz and Stephen King have made popular.
In contrast to first-person narration, which limits the freedom of remark, this narration provides an intimate portrait of the character. Third-person limited narration is also effective in creating a mood gradually rather than abruptly, as Poe's narrator does. This is one of the reasons why third-person is preferable for longer work. (Check out our Guide to King for additional examples of King's superb use of POV to heighten tension!)
7. Unreliable Narrators - Alternately, an unreliable narrator can be your ideal choice if you're set on using a first-person narrator but you don't want to give everything away to your readers. Unreliable narration is frequently used in mystery and thriller books in order to build to a dramatic twist without giving too much away. Therefore, whether you want an unreliable narrator or not will likely depend on how you end your story—straightforwardly or with a twist.
Horror story enthusiasts, like enthusiasts of other story genres, always look forward to the next great story to satisfy their yearnings, whether it is written to be published as a novel or brought to life on the screen by a video production company. One thing is certain; for a horror story to truly satisfy, the writer must understand the techniques for achieving a great story.