9 Simple Tips to Write Short Horror Stories

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The Beauty of Horror

Horror is a vague, abstract word to describe.

In the literary world, it is a genre of writing used to inflict terror, disgust, fear, and dread upon its patrons. That said, horror in itself comes with a lot of sub-genres and sub-cultures that are both fun and interesting to study.

But how does one create such horror? Surely, it must be an easy endeavor for a writer to scare somebody with their work. To tell you the truth, it’s not. Horror, and the feeling we get from different sources of consumed media, is difficult to create, let alone to create well. It has molded, adapted, and evolved through the passage of time to be as coherent as someone else’s current living conditions. Nevertheless, it is still a challenging type of genre to almost perfectly execute.

Through my time as an amateur writer and an avid reader, these are some of the lessons I have learned about the horror that may help anyone determine what makes a good short story

The scariest part is just always before you start.

— Stephen King

1. Play With Common Fears or Phobias

Everyone is scared of something, even the smallest of things; readers aren’t supposed to be entertained by horror. They are supposed to be filled with, or at least feel, terror and/or intense suspense. Common fears and phobias are very effective when written beautifully, or should I say “terrifyingly”, in horror stories.

Scared of the dark? Scared of pointy things? Scared of spiders? Scared of that birthday performer in your house? Scared of your suspicious neighbor? Use them and utilize them in your story. Think of what is typically, and sometimes very rarely, is outside the box; your comfort zone, or other people’s comfort zone. And be sure to distort them in every way you can that even yourself is spooked when you read the whole sentence or paragraph out loud.

What about not getting the feeling of fear? A radicalized feeling of bravery taken to an extreme? It can be an interesting story to tell, especially in learning the physical and psychological repercussions of having not to fear anything in the world.

2. Use the 5Ws and 1H Formula

These are the questions who, what, where, when, why, and how. Write them on a draft piece of paper or on any tool and start asking these questions that revolve around the story you’re going to write. These questions can also pave the way for your story’s arcs, plots, and twists. Asking more than enough questions and answering them one-by-one is a completely valid process.

Also, plan where and when you would finally post your finished story. Because let’s face it, not all people are into the horror and suspense genre. But knowing these W’s will help you along the way, especially knowing the platform you’re going to put your story — platforms like Creepypasta, Quora, even YouTube — and help you get around and continue your story whenever you suddenly stopped writing and couldn’t think of the next scenarios.

3. Your Readers’ Senses Should Be Limited

Limit your readers’ senses, but not too limited. It’s good if you keep leaving out clues along with your story. Write it as if the readers are the protagonist of the stories you are going to write. Limiting their senses, like what they see, hear, touch, or smell would make them raise a lot of questions and would also create a build-up of suspense or a very interesting rising action. It’s like having fog in the story, and while the reader progresses, the fog clears up (or not!). You can also try doing the reverse by making the characters of your story feel all the senses at once. It’s just a matter of how you will concoct the structure of the story that creates pitfalls in this, so do be careful on describing as much versus showing what you have to tell.

4. WCOE: Be Wild, Be Creative, Be Original, Be Experimental

Have your imagination run wild! Werewolves, vampires, mummies, ghosts, the majority of these traditionally inclined tropes in stories can still be used in a powerful manner when done right. And, how about twisting them a little bit? Or how about experiments where it could take you away from the traditional narratives or take your writing on the next step? Make your creations more clandestine from one’s perspective, or be trivial to explore and create horror from even the most common things (much like how Stephen King create his works).

Sometimes, humans or the characters themselves are the monsters but vaguely disguised as one. If you’re having a hard time, try to remember one of your abhorred or horrific nightmares when you were a kid, and then finally come up with something that’s more interesting on your part as the writer and spine-shivering for your readers.

5. Plan Your Twists Accordingly and Effectively

To twist or not to twist?

The twist, or multiple twists, of a story express a wide range of reactions from readers and viewers alike, from “meh” to “omg!” kind of reactions. Twisting your story is a fun way to surprise your readers, or even make them cry, especially if their guards are down while consuming the medium. But oftentimes, twisting the stories can be risky.

You have to be a little bit conscious of where your story is heading because the thing we don’t want readers to put into their minds is how the story’s going to end. I have to advise that there has to be a good, not too slow, build-up of the story, first, before executing the final strike (like the twist in Jordan Peele’s “Us” or Jaume Collet-Serra’s “Orphan.”) In the end, the choice of twisting of a story is yours and yours alone to make.

6. Focus on Your Story’s Point of View

Point of view is the angle of considering things, which shows us the opinion or feelings of the individuals involved in a situation. In literature, point of view is the mode of narration that an author employs to let the readers “hear” and “see” what takes place in a story, poem, or essay.

This is very, very effective, in my opinion. Most stories I’ve read (and stories written mostly on the internet) have typically the first-person perspective or point of view, and with this way, it could also help you to further limit your reader’s senses (tip #3) because most details are hidden from the protagonist and, especially, from the reader.

Looking through your character’s eyes, as though you are him/her portraying in or telling the story, makes the reader feel the same way as your characters do in horrific events — waiting for the unknown and being stricken with fear. It gives the emphasis on the reader’s “how to feel” rather than “how to know” or “what to expect.” And as they say, the less you (the readers) know (in scary stories), the better.

7. Read and Research Other Writers and Their Works

Horror is a genre not easily appreciated by anyone, and creating one is not an easy task. It can be challenging to have readers and build stories and a name when you’re a writer of horror.

Depending on your views, ideologies, beliefs, horror can be a gateway to have these perspectives inserted into the story. Or, it can also be the way to have these perspectives distorted. Your horror can be an allegory for a social issue, a warning about a possible future, or even just the phobia of something you can’t seem to let go. Junji Ito’s works are best ones to hide commentaries behind the horror medium. And though most of his works are graphically made, it still holds the essence of horror story creation. H.P. Lovecraft, the creator of a unifying universe made up of fragmented stories about the cosmos, did say, however, that the oldest and strongest emotion is fear — and that the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. Stephen King’s style of writing derives from the realism of horror and how a real life phenomena can be molded into something distortedly fictional. And of course, Mary Shelly wrote something so phenomenally acclaimed that she basically co-invented the genre of melding horror and science fiction.

One of the best ways to generate your specialty for evoking fear is to read, learn, and feel fear from other writers or from other digestible mediums. The internet is a great medium of horror stories published by new and professional authors; the internet itself is a pretty scary place to be. If not, books can be also be a great source for inspiration and appreciation for horror.

8. The Basics and Fundamentals of Writing Stories

Horror in itself is still a subjective form due its lucrative and volatile form. Despite this, one must always be mindful to stick to the basics. For one to break rules, one must first learn how the rules work.

Always polish your stories. Check the spelling, the grammar, apply a better usage of word, the clarity of its every piece to make a perfect pie, and usage of simple yet cunning words to at least amplify your readers. And even though it’s a horror genre, there should always be a beginning, a climax, and an end to your story.

You can also create a flow chart of your story for you to maximize the ability of where your story will lead. Your character/s should achieve a goal, a conflict resolved, or even just leave your readers in a cliffhanger with open-ended questions running through their minds.

Does a story have to perfect? Not really. Imperfections of a horror story often lead to its greatness.

9. Extract Stories from Personal Experiences

This may work in any genre in fiction writing, but it works on horror or thriller ten-fold. Extracting personal experiences and shaping them to become your next magnum opus can be a good thing to do, especially if you’re fresh out of ideas to write about.

You can take a snippet or part from your personal experiences, weird dreams, or even in boring situations that you can stretch and mold into terrifying stories. You have the power to amplify the normalcy in your real-life phenomenon and create a worthy product that will creep or scare or terrify those who will read it.

Experiences vary from person-to-person. It could be as mundane as remembering the first time you successfully cooked an omelette, or as horrific remembering the last time you witnessed a gruesome murder. And though some experiences may be too hard to extract, because of their underlying real-world psychological effects, that’s okay. You, as the writer of your piece, have the power and final say to extract stories from your experiences.


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