So often when we write, we stick to our preferred and known genre, but I was challenged this week to write a spooky story for my writing group and I found it really enjoyable. It got me thinking about horror and other genres I don’t commonly write. So I thought we could explore tips for how to write different genres, starting with horror today. So what makes a good horror story?
Horror is all about setting the right atmosphere for scary and bad things to happen. Each description must build up an eerie and unnatural world your main character has found herself in. Create the right tone for each scene and use all five senses to do so.
Use visceral reactions to connect the reader to what the character is experiencing. Don’t say he’s afraid, show him breaking out into a cold sweat, the hairs rising on end on his arm, and his heart pounding in his ears as he approaches the dark hallway.
Get the reader to care about your character before something happens to them. You want your reader invested, so they can really feel the horror of the situation. Make your character flawed and relatable.
Use cause and effect. Have your character make bad decisions and then have to deal with the consequences. Horror shares ties with tragedies where the main character has a fatal flaw that leads to their downfall. Show your character making mistakes and dealing with what happens next.
Use active language. Strong verbs, concrete nouns, and no passive voice. Passive voice is where the object of the sentence becomes the subject. So we have “The ball was thrown by Jon” instead of “Jon threw the ball.” But passive voice weakens your writing and slows your pacing down. Avoid it.
It’s especially important to show, don’t tell. We want to immerse the reader into each creepy scene to build the tension and suspense and get their hearts racing. Don’t pull them out of the scene by telling.
Give your beasties a good motivation for their actions. The scariest monsters are the ones that make the most sense. Add depth and realism to your story by giving the malevolent force a good reason why they’re doing what they’re doing.
Read widely in the genre. Whether that’s paranormal or psychological horror, see what other writers are doing right—or wrong—to get a good idea of what works and what doesn’t. Pay attention to their descriptions and cause and effect sequences.
Show the stakes. What happens if evil wins the day? Amp up your suspense by making clear what the stakes are.
Have a glimmer of hope. That doesn’t mean hope has to win out—remember horror is based of tragedy? But great horror allows the character to come oh so close to hope. Give your reader something to question and keep them reading until the end.
You must still write a good story. It’s not just about gore and screams. Your reader will expect a good tale, well-developed characters, and a convincing plot. Make it real. Make it believable.
I suggest trying new genres and if you want to try horror, these tips are a great place to start. What are your favorite tips for writing horror? Share below and happy writing!