Horror is a genre of emotion. Its goal being to instill some form of fear in the reader for the duration of time they’re reading or watching a Horror story. The best ones staying with you well after you’ve closed the book etc.
In this post, I will discuss three of my own top Horror writing tips. Each of them a content-focused tip instead of a step-by-step, that I hope will help you with writing your own Horror shorts.
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Write What Scares You
Some may think it is obvious, but those just venturing into writing a Horror short sometimes go for gore over what scares them as writers. And there’s nothing wrong with doing that, long as it works and the story still ends up scary.
But it is easier to write a Horror story, especially a short story when we as writers tap into our own fears. Fear of the water. Fear of the dark. Fear of the woods etc. Anything that scares us can help to make the language in our work more effective, more spine-chilling.
It’s true editing a story that deals with a deeply seated fear is…difficult. And that new Horror writers may be inclined to just write gore in place of something that truly scares them to avoid it. But it’s well worth the potential sleepless nights if our Horror shorts end up being the terrifying tales we want them to.
Gore Isn’t Scary
It seems like such a definite tip. A statement of something absolute and unchanging. As if I’m saying all gore isn’t scary or that gore is only a cheap trick intended to gross out readers and nothing more. I’m not. While gore can be a cheap trick, what I mean is that gore isn’t frightening on its own. A good Horror short or any Horror story that uses gore should be tying the gore into the emotions of the readers.
One of my favorite examples of this was the NBC show, Hannibal. Each episode had a new, gruesome murder for the main character, Will Graham, to help solve. Scenes like the corpse totem in Trou Normand or the bloody angel wings scenes from Coquilles.
The show even showed in graphic detail its namesake, Hannibal, cutting open Will’s skull while Will was still conscious. But the gore didn’t overwhelm the show and become boring because viewers had been made to care about the characters involved. Each week people tuned in for fucked up dynamic between Will and Hannibal.
Know The Type Of Story You Wish To Tell
Perhaps not as self-evident as writing what scares you and not relying on gore for the sake of gore, I still find knowing the kind of story I wish to tell to be invaluable when writing a Horror short.
Do I want to write your typical vampire story with a twist? I can and have written those. Do I want to write about a mother having trouble weaning her child? I’ve made the mother into a demon having trouble fully weaning her child onto human flesh. Do I want to write a love story? Yes, I did say love story. I’ve written scenes in which a pair of serial killers who are in love carve their initials into a still living victim.
At this point, I know the type of stories I like to tell. Which leaves me to just write the story without worrying the idea isn’t any good. The ideas are good because they’re the type of story I’m interested in writing. If you have trouble with this, sit down and write all the things that you’re interested in. Take one of them and see how you can turn it into this disturbing, horrific thing.
Don’t tell stories that don’t interest you, because then you won’t be frightened by your own work. And that just makes editing the story into its most polished and scary form more difficult than need be.
My all time favorite book for lots of great tips and tricks concerning writing Horror is the essay anthology published by the Horror Writers Association, On Writing Horror. While you won’t find the tips from this post in there in so many words, but it isn’t hard to discover them in some form or another. Nor discover much more that will help with writing Horror shorts.
If you’re more inclined to listen to podcasts, Writing Excuses has an entire tag dedicated to Horror. Season 11, Episode 18 is being an especially good example of the tag. Go on over and give them a try.
What tips would you suggest for people new to writing Horror short stories?