7 Tips to Writing Horror
Horror is the one of the toughest genres to write. That is why so many horror writers today have resorted to gritty violence and gore. writing horror is to write about something most people would like not to think about. True horror takes something of a personal touch, in that it has to crawl into the audience while staying separate. I can’t tell you how to write the perfect horror story, but I can give you some tips to enhance the level of horror of any story you write.
Write Horror for the Senses
Darkness is scary. Tons of horror writing takes place in the blackness of shadows, and it is not wrong to rely on darkness for horror when you write. Though, people forget there is sound, smell, hearing, and touch just waiting to sneak it's way into your horror writing. Don’t start to write about the dark house alone, but write in some new horror sensory latches as well.
Write away the character's sight. Write the character in darkness with just the sound of tapping on metal. Writing horror is about making the character, and reader feel vulnerable.
“Clink, clink, clink. A loud crash. She looks, but sees nothing. The clicking is coming from everywhere and nowhere. It is all around. The smell of wet cement sticks in her nose. She can feel something cold, but what? Concrete or sandpaper beneath her? Clink, clink, clink. The sound rattles closer: chains shaking? Could it be him?”
You can write you horror as “she saw a ghost in chains, the same ghost that had left her in the darkness of the warehouse.” You can write a large horror description about how "the black smoke poured from beneath his cape and sheets," but senses as a whole are more powerful than just sight when you write horror.
Write Horror Through Restriction
Knowledge is the biggest tool any time you write horror. If the character knows what is chasing her, why it is chasing her, and how it can be defeated, then the horror level is low. If everyone in town knows Bill the dead box stacker haunts the old warehouse on fifth, then he isn’t as threatening. Write with an audience and with a narrator suited to increase horror.
Write away what the victims can do to defend themselves. The monster/villain has to have power at all times and the ability to defeat the hero. Horror writing is about a type of danger, and if no one is in definite danger, there will be no horror. But don't write to make obvious the monster's weakness is finding his remains. Make the character work to survive. Make the character fear death, because that is horror. When you write, make sure the hero and the villain are challenged by one another.
That is why gore works so well. The most common fear is being killed, and so, watching a character get killed means that a character can get killed, which means immediate danger and horror. It is cheap, but very effective when you write for film.
Again, write away a sense to increase horror. Hide the monster. Don’t let anyone see it for a long time, except in swipes and grabs. Gore is still okay, just don’t abuse it when writing.
Remember, humans can be monsters.
Write Horror with Misinformation
The serial killer, axe murderer, or even the werewolf/vampire types take on a human or relatively human forms if you write them well enough. Let the bad guy be the good guy. The villain can trick the victim, and you can write your horror scenes more effectively. Use it wisely, and take the audience’s belief in another direction.
Don't lie, necessarily, when you write, but pick out certain details to emphasize over others to increase the surprise factor and horror. know the picture you are presenting in your writing, as well as the information you don't write. I always think it is easier to write in a 1st person restricted narrative, but it can work in other narrative forms as well. While trying to mislead a reader, though, you should also leave the real trail in the story, so the horror ending doesn't appear unfounded, and having a full bodied text is better writing, generally.
You can write in a third person narrative for horror, especially if the narrator focuses on the perceptions of characters. Imagine the murderer hiding in the back seat. While the character does not see the invader, the audience painfully watches through the rear-view mirror or over her shoulder. Write horror that leads the reader and lets the reader follow.
Write Horror in a Population
If you only write about three characters in a serial killer story where one is the narrator and one dies, the reader will quickly predict the killer’s identity, and kill the horror level of the writing. Of course, you could write a fourth character in at the end, but that won’t give a horror story a strong ending. The random events in a story are the ones that tend to stretch its believability, and when you write horror ,the audience has to believe fully to feel the horror fully. In that way, writing horror is extremely difficult, especially when writing about things outside of normal human contact (curses, ghosts, werewolves, etc). A lot of horror is writing about a person's greatest fears, which are commonly the unseen.
Most stories should be well populated. Romance writing, just as horror, has a habit of forgetting the world, where two lovebirds only focus on each other for 100 pages. This tags along to misinformation, because if the horror victims are choosing from a line up of twenty people you write adequately about, it is much harder than choosing between one. In the same way, a when you write, you want the reader to question. Don't write anything too obvious, unless it is purposefully done to increase the horror.
Write Horror Blind
When you write, your character shouldn’t be a witty, well balanced individual who magically doesn’t pick up on common clues so that the horror plot can continue. Don’t cheat your character out of intelligence or perception when you write to build some cheap horror or suspense. There is the trick when you write movies to let the audience know more than the characters, and that helps build a feeling of suspense and horror for the viewers. It works, but there are also other ways to write in horror on more levels. While you shouldn’t throw random events in your horror writing, leave uncommon clues around for both the readers and characters. The best example, although not a horror story, is the book/movie Fight Club. If you haven’t seen it, I won’t ruin it, but there is an art to writing clues without painting them red for your readers and making the narrator oblivious.
Horror, again, has to be believable when you write. Study actual events that are linked to what you plan to write on. If your horror plot is a haunting, look into ghost stories from first hand accounts. If you want to write about exorcisms, check some religious sources as well. Research and try to stay away from other works in the horror category, and approach your topic in a scientific manner. Make sure you know the facts (or commonly accepted beliefs) before you write. Also, especially in horror, know the plots that are commonly used (and abused) by those who write horror, and avoid them in your writing if possible. The new and unprepared for is scary, so in your horror writing, it helps to be fresh.
Write Horror for the Living
The ability to die is huge when you write horror. It is important there is life to a story when you write horror. Don’t create stereotypical high school girl-and-boy characters who are drinking behind the bleachers and get eaten by the werewolf. You can use those molds when you write, but good horror writing diversifies characters, so given them specific traits and quirks. Don’t rely on the audiences general character types when writing your victims, because it is nowhere near as strong in horror when the characters you write feel like strangers. The audience should feel something for the narrator/character. There has to be more than just a stranger being eaten gruesomely to write heart pounding horror.
When you write that Stacy is abducted by Bill the box ghost, the reader should worry about her daughter at home, or if this woman they've come to feel related to will die in front of their eyes (their imagination eyes). They should feel horror because they fear death, and you have to write life into your characters for them to be able to die.
Write your characters to life. If there is no threat of death in your writing, there is less horror.
Write Horror with Style
Short and choppy is the key to write action, especially to write horror action (and active voice over passive, of course, most times you write). When you write a chase scene, don’t use overbearing sentences every sentence, because most horror snaps. In opposition, when you write, don’t write too many quick clause sentences throughout an entire horror piece, because it will waste the effect and lose the reader. Moderation is the key when writing horror. Too much of anything will dissuade the reader, and distract from the horror.
If you write about normal events with minimal danger, give yourself room to use commas and large sentences. That way, when you write the quick snapping events in sharp sentences, the horror effect is resonant while not being initially obvious to the reader. It is the unseen horror.
a. “Running off of the train tracks she looked over her shoulder to see the bright yellow light, not looking forward as she tripped and her head landed against a large stone, red blood pouring down into her vision.”
b. “She didn’t look forward. Running, she watched the yellow train light behind her. Her foot caught. Falling forward, her head landed against a stone. Blood poured, filming her vision.”
Make everyone involved feel frantic when you write horror (not the best example, I admit). Imagine your narrator breathing shallow, quick breaths. Write that way whenever the story wants to convey that emotion. Write as that horror stricken woman might breathe.
To write horror, you write the unknown. Suspense and empathy are the keys to a horror story. Good luck with your horror writing! Now go freak some people out!