Genre tips / writing

8 Tips for Horror Writers

horror storiesI don’t get horror stories. Who chooses to be scared stupid? Is that uplifting or do you learn to solve life’s problems better by doing it while your hair’s on fire? I’ll read chick lit over horror any day of the week.

But lots of people disagree with me. I went in search of why people subject themselves to a plot that destroys any sense of security that the world will continue to spin nicely on its axis and found one overwhelming reason: Because it’s there (thank you, Johnny Compton, for making this clear). The world is not a nice place. Bad things happen. Horrifying events are out there.

If you are one of those who aspires to write horror, here are tips to help you be the best at that:

  • start scared and stay scared throughout your story. If life calms down, fix it
  • everything’s scary. That includes the plot (of course), characters, setting, motivations, themes, subplots–you name it
  • put lots of people in danger, not just the main character
  • people like to be frightened. Give them what they like
  • flesh out your characters before you place them in a horrific circumstance. Or readers won’t care about their fate
  • constantly have readers asking, ‘What happens next?’
  • horror is about fear, tragedy, and whether the character can prevail. It is NOT about understanding the human condition, the meaning of life, saving the world, love found and lost and repeat. Sure those can be included, but they aren’t central to the plot
  • the subplot of every horror story is that bad things are coming. That drum beat starts softly, but gets louder the closer you get. It never goes away

BTW, as I was searching for an answer to why the h*** people write this mind-numbing fear-inducing, terror petri dish stuff, Ivan Ewert offered another excellent reason: Because agents and publishers are looking for it. Yeah, I get that. For more on writing horror, visit the Horror Writers website and Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds.

More about writing genres:

7 Tips for Literary Fiction Writers

18 Tips for Memoir Authors

8 Tips for Creative Nonfiction Writers

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

49 thoughts on “8 Tips for Horror Writers

  1. Pingback: 15 Tips for Writing Poetry | WordDreams...

  2. Jacqui as a young reader I loved horror stories especially Stephen King but as I have aged I prefer a good thriller and less gore. I guess I know that there are real monsters out there in this world and I prefer to escape into a fantasy novel where things aren’t so real.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love a good thriller, but hubby loves a good horror and I can tell you what draws him to it. He was bought up in a kind of cult (lets just say his childhood was ‘different’ and he makes for good character fodder in my stories). Everything in his early life was based on good and evil. I’m certainly no psychologist, but after the first few years of marriage I noticed his penchant for horror, in particular – the demon v god type horror (exorcism, etc). I figured out pretty quickly that the fight between good and evil is quintessential to the horror genre. The baddies in horror are pure evil and the goodies have to find their inner strength (or their god) to beat the evil. I know a lot of genres are like this, but horror seems to take it one step further. The darkness in horror plays on our primal fears and our physical and mental vulnerability. Maybe people write and read it because they’re looking for the same answers (as hubby) and asking the same questions about what scares us and why😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • That is a fascinating explanation. I think of thrillers as the damaged super hero fighting against evil. I can see your point about horror.

      On a side note, my husband likes vampire shows. I’ve been married to him over 30 years and just learned that! These guys–they can still surprise us.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I love horror. Some of my favourite writers are horror writers, though it has to be said, I’m still a sucker for a good ending and the good guys winning out! Great tips, Jacqui. I might like to read horror, but I have a great deal to learn about writing it!😀

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I’m more into suspense than horror…although a good ghost story gets you every time. But I’m talking about the subtle tales that left a lot to the imagination, not the explicit stuff. That doesn’t scare me. I just can’t even take that. Maybe it’s because we don’t really know ghosts exist so there’s a bit of a mystery to that. But psycho madmen? They exist for sure, and THAT is just way too scary!


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  6. I’ve been told if you really, really want to know how you feel about something, flip a coin on whether to do it or not. Your mind will flash to your choice long before you catch the coin.🙂

    Horror is like that. It flips a switch. I love a good scare because being scared makes life that much sweeter. Story-fear goes away. I’m not talking about living with fear. That’s a whole different apple cart.

    Anna from Elements of Writing

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Most of the horror characters and situations are metaphors for real life fears. They are masked to make the reader deal with them more easily. By overcoming the situations in a horror story readers deal with these issues in an indirect way. Think about how horror has changed through the decades; in the 50’s there was fear about the atomic bomb…a lot of horror had to do with radiation and monsters awakened/caused by nuclear energy. In the 90’s with the rise of HIV there was a shift to body horror, where bad things happened inside one’s body. Today, the rise of a zombie culture may have to do with the fear of terrorists – that things are walking around that resemble people but are not people at all – they are monsters that can hurt you.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. There’s plenty of horror in the real world and maybe that’s why horror stories get written and read: anything that seems worse than real life makes the horror or real life palatable and conquerable. But it’s not for me – I have too many nightmares as it is, real ones that wake me, drenched in sweat and fear. So, no writing nor reading of horror stories for me. Thanks for great tips though, Jacqui. Many are good to think about for other genres. Now I’ll leave you with one final thought: BOO!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I don’t think I’d ever be able to write (or read) horror. The closest I’ve come is writing down a freaky dream I had in the thoughts that it might make a good part of a story (I’ve actually fleshed out the story idea a bit, but I’m scared to write it fully) and my NaNo project of two years ago. It was a trilogy of novellas, and the third one turned out to be caused by the lingering soul (or perhaps just the malice and resentment) of a guy who got walled up in the basement of a hotel. It probably wasn’t that scary for people who might read it, but it left *me* scared to go into my own basement at night.

    Of course, I’m easily scared…which is why I avoid horror under normal circumstances.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m with you. I don’t have nightmares–maybe once in my life–and I attribute that to not exposing myself to the horrific side of life. I know, to some, I’m sticking my head in the sand. I hope it keeps working!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve often described my whole lifestyle as “sticking my head in the sand.” I actually developed a word for it at one point…”ostrichism” or something. I was going to use it in one of my books, regarding one of the characters, but I never got to the scene where it was it was supposed to go, so I guess I forgot it. (Though I may have jotted it down in my copious story development notes…)

        Liked by 2 people

  10. I used to love horror novels (Stephen King is still my favorite author), but over the years, I’ve grown to love more dramatic stories that focus on relationships. Horrible things still happen, but it’s not from serial killers, vampires, or werewolves.

    Liked by 1 person

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