10 spooky writing tips from horror writers


When you think about it, the horror genre doesn’t make sense. We sit and look at pieces of paper with words on them, imagining monsters that we know are all made up … and it scares us so much that we have to sleep with the lights on? Seriously? Writing scary horror is no easy task. If you’re a budding horror writer (or even just an enthusiastic campfire storyteller) you might want some tips on how to turn your stories from a slightly spooky fuel to a spooky nightmare. . Here are some writing tips from horror writers, so that you too can terrorize anyone you meet.

Of course, most of the general writing tips also apply to horror writing. Read widely. Try to write every day. Write stories that matter to you and anchor them in real emotions. But horror also comes with its own specific challenges. I mean, how do you know what makes something scary? How do you capture this scary thing and put it in your own handwriting? Are clowns really played as a horror trope?

Each author’s process is different, and each has a different set of deep and dark fears. But these horror writing tips will help you find your own way to add fear to the world:


There are three types of terror

Basically, there are only three things that can really panic someone. At least, according to Stephen King:

“The 3 Types of Terror: The Gross-out: The sight of a severed head tumbling down a staircase is when the lights go out and something green and slimy splashes onto your arm. Horror: the unnatural, bear-sized spiders, the dead waking up and walking around, is when the lights go out and something with claws grabs you by the arm. And the last and the worst: terror, when you come home and find that everything you own has been taken away and replaced with an exact substitute. It’s when the lights go out and you feel something behind you, you hear it, you feel its breath against your ear, but when you turn around, there’s nothing there … “


Use your own fear

Shirley Jackson believed that we are always writing, categorizing small moments and dialogue snippets for later use, “much like the frugal housewife neatly arranging all the junk of green beans and cold bacon and serving them beautifully in a fancy casserole dish.” She paid special attention to the things that scared her:

“I’ve always liked to use fear and take it and understand it and make it work and consolidate a situation where I was afraid and take it all and work from there.”


Get inside your narrator’s head

RL Stine frightened a whole generation of kids with a very simple rule: get into your narrator’s head. If we see through the eyes of a character in a frightening situation, we start to feel like we are in a frightening situation (plus ventriloquist dummies are universally bad). He told AdWeek:

“There is no formula. I think we have to create a very close point of view. You have to be in the eyes of the narrator. Everything that happens, all the smells, all the sounds; then your reader starts to identify with that character and that’s what makes something really scary.


Don’t worry about being “legitimate”

There will always be literary snobs to tell you that horror, like all genre fiction, is not as important or “legitimate” as real fiction about middle-aged men who cheat on their wives. Tananarive Due suggests that you stop worrying about trying to be a “legitimate” writer, and just write what feels right to you, even if it involves ghosts:

“… I got it into my head in creative writing workshop classes that you couldn’t be expected to be a respected writer when writing commercial or genre books. Legitimacy has always been very important to me … well, though, i said the heck with it all. i wasn’t going to try to be Toni Morrison or Joyce Carol Oates, i was just going to be me, and i was gonna write about people I know … “


Take your nonsense seriously

On a related note, you need to take your ghosts and elves seriously, as even the most awkward of evil clowns still represent a very human fear of the unknown. Ray Bradbury believed that writing should be enjoyable and that writers should be selective about which critiques to listen to:

“I have never listened to anyone who criticizes my taste for space travel, side shows or gorillas. When that happens, I put my dinosaurs away and leave the room.


Go where is the pain

Anne Rice has a really scary piece of advice for horror writers: go where the pain is. Write about the one thing you can’t get over because that’s where the real horror lies:

“Writers write about what obsesses them. You draw these cards. I lost my mother when I was 14. My daughter died at the age of 6. I lost my faith as a Catholic. When I write, the darkness is always there. I go where the pain is.


The scariest thing is to feel out of control

For Clive Barker, the horror comes from the realization that we are not in control. Excellent horror writers not only crave gory and shocking value, they remind their readers that everyday life is always about to dissolve into chaos:

“Horror fiction has traditionally been treated as a taboo. He speaks of death, madness and the transgression of moral and physical limits. He raises the dead and slaughters infants in their cradles; he makes pet monsters and begs our affection for psychos. It shows us that the control we think we have is purely illusory, and that at every moment we are teetering in chaos and oblivion.


Just start writing and correct it later

Horror writer and poet Linda Addison suggests that you shut down your inner editor for that first draft and just let all of the gruesome weirdness of your subconscious flow onto the page / screen:

“Know that even when you don’t put words on paper / computer, you are writing. Living is writing. Everything we do fuels creativity, even in the least obvious way. It is a rule with which I often struggle because I know the quality I want, but I also know that it’s important to write it from start to finish and the editor’s mind doesn’t help me with that. “


Tell your own story

Write in your own world, not someone else’s. Create your own monsters. This is what Neil Gaiman does. From a podcast interview with Nerdist:

“Tell your story. Don’t try to tell the stories that others can tell. [as a] beginner writer you always start with other people’s voices – you’ve been reading other people for years … But, as quickly as you can, start telling the stories that you can say it – because there will always be better writers than you, there will always be writers smarter than you … but you are the only you. “


Keep it real (sort of)

Helen Oyeyemi’s writing mixes realism with magic and horror, but for her, that doesn’t make her writing unrealistic. As long as the emotions are genuine, you can let go of worries about sticking strictly to reality:

“I tend to prioritize emotional realism above the known laws of time and space, and when you do that it’s inevitable that weird things will happen. Which can be quite pleasant, I think. “


Previous 25 writing tips for fall because it's the perfect season to get your creativity flowing
Next 12 writing tips from Bates students and teachers | News