Scare Yourself First: A Horror Writing How-To

scare-yourself-titleHorror seeks to scare, terrify, and disturb. It can do this in a variety of ways, each exploiting things both readers and writers find terrifying.

Yes, you read that right. I did say the writer.

You see, the easiest way to terrify the reader and by doing so get the genre’s desired effect is to scare yourself first. To plumb the depths of your mind and soul to exploit your own fears, or twist the things you love into something you find terrifying.

How To Scare Yourself


It may seem redundant to have a graphic reinforcing the theme of the entire post, which I already talked about in the introduction. But grasping this type of thing can be really difficult for people new to writing Horror, and any good Horror writing how-to should, in my opinion, make this type of advice clear and give plenty of chances and time for the reader to slowly absorb it.

So, how do you scare yourself so that you can better terrify your readers?

1) Look for things that scare you.

This bit of advice relies on the idea that you’re reading the genre. If not, go and read some Horror. It’s really hard to write an effective and, in this case, terrifying story if you’re not familiar with the expectations of the readers. What they’ve seen a lot of, what they haven’t seen much of, what they want to see more of as readers etc. To try to in any genre, but especially an emotion-based one like Horror, is to shoot yourself in the foot.

Don’t shoot yourself in the foot when you can start writing with an advantage over those who underestimate the genre.

If you are a Horror reader, think about the things that scare you when reading Horror. What genre tropes do you like? What was the most terrifying story you ever read?

By examining the things terrify you in your own reading adventures, it allows you to use those things to terrify readers with similar tastes to you.

2) Write About Your Fears.

Another easy way to write a story that terrifies both yourself and your readers by extension is to write about the things which you already know terrify you.

Are you scared of ghosts? Write a ghost story. Scared of the dark or deep waters? Write a story featuring either or even both of those fears.

The idea behind this bit of advice is that, like other bits of advice before and after in this Horror writing how-to, you’re trying to lend a hard to master and indescribable quality to your writing. To create the impression for the reader that your heart raced, palms sweat, and flight or fight response was in overdrive while you were writing.

3) Turn Something You Love Into Something Scary.

The aim of this isn’t to ruin your enjoyment of the thing you love, but to ask yourself…what if? What if you have a character who enjoys drinking tea or coffee as much as you do that is going to be killed by a monster, serial killer, curse etc. as soon as they finish their cup? What if you have a romantic scene with cuddling, but one of the people cuddling is a flesh eating demon or a serial killer?

4)Take A Happy Memory And Apply It To A Horrifying Situation. Try Writing From The Monster’s Viewpoint.

Happy memories invoke many feelings in us. Therefore, it stands to reason that turning those memories into terrifying situations is an effective way of creating a truly terrifying story.

Think of something like a baby shower, a birthday party, your first kiss etc. What would that first kiss be like if you were a monster that ate their victim’s soul via kiss? What would a baby shower look like if the people holding it were demons or flesh-eating aliens? A birthday party that is normal and then, at the last minute, turns terrifying when it becomes obvious everyone is going to die?

5)Try Writing From The Monster’s Viewpoint.

A lot of Horror stories are from the point of view of the victim. The person being pursued by the demonic stalker, being followed by the werewolf, trying to outrun the serial killer that is after them and things like that.

Less common is the same situation from the point of view of the monster, which is what makes it so effective. By writing from the viewpoint of the monster, you immediately put the reader at a disadvantage. They’re being forced to identify with someone or something a writer normal doesn’t ask them to. The monster, in essence, no matter how monstrous, becomes human to the reader for the duration of the story.


This is also a great place to go for little-known monsters instead of something everyone else is doing. How many people are writing from the viewpoint of a ghoul just coming of age? Someone who is an unusual strain of vampire? A serial killer that isn’t Dexter-like in their channeling their murderous impulses for the greater good?

While the number is insignificant, it gives an advantage when done right.

Another way to give yourself this advantage is to read books on the craft of monster creation and writing Horror. I recommend the follow books:

Writing Monsters by Philip Athans (Amazon link.).

On Writing Horror (Amazon link.).

Horror Upon Horror by Suzanne Ruthven (Amazon link.).

Until next time.  Feel free to follow me on Twitter and Instagram and the blog or check out my Facebook page if that is what you prefer. I hope anyone reading this has been able to get something out of it.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate in links. All that means is that I may receive a small commission if you click on a link from a product I’ve recommended in this post and purchase/subscribe to one of them. I’ll only ever recommend products I’ve used and enjoyed myself.Thank you for supporting my dorky little corner of the internet!


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