Writing can be an enriching experience, and creating horror stories can be an extraordinarily fun kind of writing. There’s something unique about crafting a story to make it as spine-tingling and eerie as possible that keeps the writer on the edge of their seat, wondering what’s coming out of the ether next.
Whether you’re writing a horror novel, screenplay, or short story, it’s essential to understand the elements of horror writing and how to craft a scene to make even a bald reader’s hair stand on end. In this blog post, I’ll explore the ins and outs of writing scary scenes, from creating suspense and tension to tips and tricks for overcoming writer’s block.
Right, let’s get started!
Introduction to Writing Scary Scenes
The horror genre has been around for centuries and has evolved over time to include various subgenres. From ghost stories and slasher films to psychological thrillers and supernatural tales, horror fiction has something for everyone.
No matter what type of horror story you’re writing, certain elements make a scene genuinely terrifying. Crafting a scene to keep readers on the edge of their seats requires skill and practice. But with a little effort, you can learn how to write scary scenes and leave your readers shiver with anticipation.
Elements of Horror Writing
The key to writing a great horror story is understanding the elements of horror writing. These elements include setting, dialogue, characterization, and suspense.
The setting of a horror story should be eerie and mysterious. This could be an old, abandoned house, a misty cemetery, or a creepy forest. The setting should be where anything can happen, and the characters should feel trapped in it and out of their element.
Dialogue is also an essential part of horror writing. The dialogue should be realistic but with a hint of tension. It should create a feeling of unease in the reader and make them feel like something sinister is lurking in the shadows.
Characterization is also essential in horror writing. Your characters should have realistic motivations, which could include finding the talisman to lock the gates of hell, saving their sister from the maniac killer, or escaping the labyrinth with their lives, but they also must have flaws. The era of the perfect White Knight is thankfully long gone. Their flaws make them more relatable to readers, and vulnerable in the face of danger.
Finally, suspense is the key to unlocking the true potential of horror writing. Creating suspense and tension as a rippling undercurrent below the surface throughout your story is essential to making it truly scary.
Creating Suspense and Tension
Creating suspense and tension is a vital part of writing a horror story. The feeling of dread and anticipation gets your readers’ pulse racing and keeps them turning pages.
To create suspense and tension, focus on the little details. The atmosphere of a scene should be eerie and mysterious, and the reader should feel like something could jump out from behind the curtains at any moment.
Foreshadowing is an excellent tool to deploy from your writers’ tool kit to hint at what’s to come. This could be a hint in dialogue or a subtle reference to something that’s not revealed until later in the story.
Finally, you can use cliffhangers to keep readers guessing. This could be a sudden jump scare or a plot twist leaving the reader to wonder what will happen next.
Power of the Unseen
The power of the unseen is an element of horror writing you shouldn’t ignore. It’s the fear of the unknown that makes horror stories so terrifying.
To tap into the power of the unseen, create an atmosphere that bubbles with suspense and tension. Keep your readers guessing by only revealing small pieces of information at a time. This could be a subtle hint in dialogue or a silhouette of a figure seen in the background.
Here is a great place to mention show, don’t tell. Make the most of your showing skills in setting up the atmosphere of your story. It’s a lot scarier to have your feelings connect to an idea or suggestion than to read a bland line of prose like, ‘ghosts watched from the curtain rod.’
You can also create suspense by withholding information from the reader. You don’t have to explain every detail of what’s happening. Instead, drop a hint here and there but keep the big twists under your toupee (so to speak) until the perfect time.
Finally, use the power of suggestion to make readers think about what could happen next. Don’t let your readers be lazy. Engage their imaginations and have them become willing participants in your character’s journey.
Crafting Scary Scenes
Now you understand the elements of horror writing; it’s time to start crafting your scary scenes. When preparing a scene, remember – focus on the little details.
The setting of a scene should show what we’re about to experience. You can use shadows, fog, and other elements to create an atmosphere of suspense and tension. Or, as is used in Pet Semetary to devastating effect, the continued references to the trucks speeding down the road outside the Creed’s home and Jud Crandall’s ominous reference to the road ‘eating a lot of animals’ concerning pets being run over by the trucks. Each time a truck speeding down the road is mentioned, it builds the link in the reader’s mind until the payoff, leaving the reader devastated.
When it comes to dialogue, it’s important to make it realistic to the situation the characters find themselves in. Suppose your characters are a bunch of high schoolers who find themselves trapped in a haunted house on Halloween. In that case, they’ll have a different vocabulary than if your characters are a bunch of 40-somethings who turn up at their old high school reunion only to find themselves drugged and waking up in a labyrinth. You don’t have to spell out every detail, but you should ensure your dialogue creates a feeling of unease in the reader.
Finally, remember the power of the unseen. The fear of the unknown is an essential part of horror writing, so use it to your advantage.
Writing for Shock Value
Writing for shock value is an integral part of horror writing. Shock value can make a scene genuinely terrifying or gross.
To write for shock value, focus on the unexpected. This could be a sudden jump scare or a plot twist. It could also be random, like a character being killed off suddenly or a monstrously large spider, fangs dripping with venom, climbing through the floorboards to confront your cast of characters.
While we’re at it, don’t forget to add a liberal sprinkling of gruesome. This could be a violent scene chockful of blood and gore. The more gruesome and unexpected the scene, the more shocking it will be for readers. Maybe that massive spider from the earlier paragraph didn’t come out of the floor but was hiding quietly up on the ceiling, and it dropped down to grab one of the characters before taking them back to the web for dinner.
Finally, suggest something sinister. Effectively doing this makes readers worry about what could happen next.
Tips and Tricks for Writing Scary Scenes
Writing scary scenes can be daunting, so here are some tips and tricks to help you out.
- First, focus on the little details. Pay attention to the scene’s atmosphere and focus on creating suspense and tension.
- Second, don’t be afraid to make your characters vulnerable. Making characters flawed and imperfect will make them more relatable to readers.
- Third, use the power of the unseen. The fear of the unknown is an essential element of horror writing, so make sure to use it to your advantage.
- Fourth, write for shock value. Focus on the unexpected and the gruesome to make readers truly scared.
- Finally, don’t be afraid to take risks. Push the boundaries and try something new. That’s the best way to make your horror story truly unique.
Overcoming Writer’s Block
Writer’s block is a common problem and can be especially difficult when writing a horror story. Here are some tips for overcoming writer’s block when writing a scary scene.
- First, take a break. It’s okay to take a break from your story and come back to it with fresh eyes.
- Second, brainstorm. Brainstorm ideas for your scene and write down every idea that comes to mind. This can help you get the creative juices flowing.
- Third, look for inspiration. Read other horror stories, watch horror movies, and look at artwork to get inspired.
- Fourth, talk to other writers. Talking to other writers can help you get feedback and insight into the writing process.
- Fifth, interview your main character. A tip I find stupidly helpful if I get stuck is to imagine I’m interviewing the main character for the news after the events in the story have unfolded. By asking some pointed questions and letting your mind roam free, you can come up with various ideas you’d never have considered.
- Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment. Try different techniques and see what works best for you.
Examples of Scary Scenes
If you’re still feeling stuck, here are some examples of scary scenes to help you get inspired.
One example is the scene where Marion Crane arrives at Bates Motel in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The scene is set in a decrepit old motel, and the tension and suspense are palpable. The scene where Marion is killed in the shower is even more terrifying because the audience never sees the killer. This technique is also used to great success in the first Halloween movie, where killer Michael Myers seems to rise out of the shadows, but we don’t see an actual murder on screen. A scream, ominous music, and a dead body on the floor, but the violence is all off-screen.
Another example comes again from Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. The first time we see the Pet Sematary is in broad daylight, and the characters, except Rachel Creed, are fascinated. They wander around the cemetery, looking at graves. The main character’s young daughter is scampering around excitedly after finding a goldfish’s grave, while the main character, Dr Creed, is caught by how old the cemetery is and how many dead pets have been buried there. The tension builds as the characters explore the grounds, with subtle hints not everything is as it should be, making the scene slowly more tense.
Writing horror stories can be a rewarding and thrilling experience. Crafting a scene to make readers shiver requires skill, practice, and a willingness to write beyond what you think is appropriate. To write a truly terrifying scene, it’s essential to understand the elements of horror writing and how to craft suspense and tension.
Creating suspense and tension is a vital part of writing a horror story. To do this, remember to focus on the little details and use the power of the unseen. Remember to focus on characterization and also add a scene or two purely for shock value. The point of reading a horror novel is to gift your reading with as many ‘oh no, they didn’t’ moments as possible while honouring the characters and story you’ve chosen to tell.
Finally, remember to take a break, brainstorm, look for inspiration, talk to other writers, and don’t be afraid to experiment. Writing any long-form material is a marathon, not a sprint. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your piece is take a weekend off and do something unrelated to your writing.
Writing scary scenes can be daunting, but with a little effort and practice, you can learn how to write a truly terrifying scene.
So, what are you waiting for? Unlock the horrors of writing scary scenes and get writing!
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Also, remember to check out my horror novel, In His Words. Click here to read the first chapter free of charge.
Until next we meet amongst the poison ivy…
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