So you’ve decided you want to dip your toe into writing horror, or maybe you just want to brush up on your skills or see what other people have to say about writing this genre. No matter what your reasons for researching horror writing, I’m hopeful you can find some tips or tricks in this article that might inspire, educate, or prompt you to do your best at writing your next horror piece. Right off the bat, my biggest piece of advice is this: if it scares you to write, chances are it’ll scare your audience to read.
For this article, I’ll mainly be focusing on the broad genre of horror writing, though many of these tips and tricks can apply to gore, science fiction, fantasy, and any other genre that could use a little horror thrown in for good measure. In a few cases, these tips and tricks can also apply to writing as whole.
Be Familiar With Fear
If you’re a brave soul who doesn’t shy away from dark places, large insects, mysterious strangers, or situations that would normally make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, you might want to start reading and/or watching horror pieces. I’ve been afraid of the dark my entire life, and even now that I’m nearing my thirties I still won’t go into a dark room without some sort of light source in my hands. It’s because of this fear that I know how afraid others might be about the same thing, and as such I can channel that fear into my writing to make the reader feel it as well.
If you’re the type (like me) who is easily scared, then you won’t have to dig too deep to write about frightening situations. Those who aren’t as faint of heart might have to start researching the genre in order to get a sense of what really scares people. If you’re really not frightened of the things that normally scare others, you might just have to fake it until you make it.
Make Mental Notes Any Time You’re Afraid
I can’t count how many times I’ve walked down a dimly lit street, my heart racing at the possibility that someone is hiding in the shadows just a few feet ahead of me, and realized that it was exactly the kind of thing I want to add to my horror pieces. That feeling of uneasiness and uncertainty mixed together to get your blood pumping and heart racing are exactly the kind of thing my readers will want to feel from a horror piece.
I don’t always whip out my phone or notepad in scary situations, but often at the end of a long day I’ll jot down a few notes of scary things that happened during the day for future reference. Later, when I’m actually writing my works, I’ll take a look back at my notes and see if I can incorporate any of them into the current section I’m working on. It helps when I’m stuck or don’t think a part of my writing has enough tension in it. Much like adding a bit more spice to a dish, I a can either flavor my writing perfectly or overcompensate and make an inedible dish no one wants to try. It takes time to learn how to balance your writing, but it is quite important to practice.
Watch Scary Movies
To be a good writer, you have to have good source material to build upon. Many people will argue that to be a good writer you have to have experience in whatever you’re writing, but many of us have never been to space, fought a dragon, or been murdered by a monster. For these situations, since there is no real-life experience you can have, you have to build upon pre-existing experiences that can at least match up to what you need.
Watching scary movies is one of my favorite ways to ramp up my heartbeat and give me ideas for how I want to incorporate fear and tension into my writing. The fear I’m feeling in the moment when I’m watching something truly terrifying is hard to come by in my normal daily life. While I’m immersing myself into the movie, I can start to get a sense of what exactly it is that I want my audience to feel when they’re reading my work.
Learn How To Write Suspense
It goes without saying that movies and writing rely on somewhat different tactics to get the audience to feel genuine fear and emotion. Watching someone standing in a semi-lit room while a dark, shadowy figure starts to slowly move behind them is very different than reading, “a dark, shadowy figure slowly rose behind Johnathan, who had yet to detect its presence.”
Readers don’t have visuals to aid them in understanding what’s going on in a story, unless of course you’re making a horror picture book, which still requires some written detail to make the pictures come alive. Aside from that, all the readers have are the words of a writer to stimulate their imagination and make them ‘see’ what’s going on. If you can’t write convincingly enough about a topic or subject, your reader will be less likely to imagine what’s going on in their heads and won’t be able to follow the story. If you’re not sure if your writing is convincing enough, you can always have a peer or friend read your work and tell you what they think.
Much like everything else in life that requires a creative mind, don’t be afraid to read what others have written before you to get a sense of how they captivate their audience. Obviously it goes without saying that you shouldn’t plagiarize another writer’s work, but it’s perfectly fine to take pointers from those who have already honed their skills in order to build your own writing skills as well.
Find What Works For You
Not everyone writes the same, just like how not everyone talks, walks, or dreams the same. If you took the above advice and read what others have written to get a sense of how they’re going about things, you should remember that you don’t have to recreate what they’ve done if it doesn’t fit your style. Even if you read the entirety of Mr. King’s works in the horror genre and love the way he builds tension and suspense, you still don’t have to copy and paste his exact style in order to write well.
Many writers fall into the trap of thinking that their writing isn’t good enough because they believe another writer is better. Unfortunately, this stops many writers who might have had an excellent piece of writing from ever showing it to an audience. I honestly never thought I would be able to write horror well. I had an idea for a scary story due to my love for scary movies, tried my hand at it, and the response was overwhelming. I couldn’t believe how many people were reading my work and enjoy it. Even if you think your work doesn’t live up to the same hype of other writers, you’ll always find the truth in the response from your audience.
You’ll never know if your writing holds a candle to other horror writers if you keep everything to yourself. It’s a scary thing to let others see something you poured your heart and soul into, but it’s an absolutely necessary step you have to take if you’re ever going to grow. If you really want to get your work out there, you can’t be afraid of making it publicly available. If you have to start small and only show friends and family first, that’s alright. You don’t have to take a dive and immediately make your work available to anyone and everyone; you’re free to take your time.
When showing others your work, you can do so anonymously to make sure the feedback is unbiased – generally by using an online forum – or you can confide in close friends and family who will soften their critiques, but hopefully still give good feedback. If you’re trying to get your work published by a reputable company, you can’t be so afraid to send in your manuscript that it stays on your desk or in your digital files forever. Anytime you feel afraid or uncertain about sharing what you’ve done, just think of all the people who might benefit from seeing your hard work. It was only after seeing how many people were downloading and buying my series that I realized that I had a duty to release what I had so others could enjoy it as well.
Last Tips and Trick
Believe in yourself. No one is perfect, and no one has a monopoly on writing for the masses. When it comes to writing horror, if you can scare yourself while writing your own work, it’s likely that someone who reads your work will be scared at well. In the end, all we can do is learn from our past experiences, try and better ourselves, and move forward.
If you’ve been looking for a sign to start writing horror, show someone your horror writing, or take the next step in getting published, this is it. You can do it. I believe in you, and you can believe in yourself, too.