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October is the month of ghosts, goblins and vampires. It is the season of fear and the home of Halloween, it is also the ideal time of year to read, and write, scary stories.

The history of the horror story dates back to the beginning of time, and modern-day horror stories fly off the shelf as fast as they are printed. Authors like Stephen King, Dean Koontz and even Edgar Allen Poe have turned the art of the horror story into the popular genre it is today.

Writing horror can be rewarding, and interesting work, but there are basic essentials that every horror story should have if it hopes to gather an audience and frighten the reader enough to keep them coming back for more.

The Essentials of a Good Horror Story:

The basics of good horror are not much different from that of any written work. Good characters, good plot and plenty of detail make up a great portion of any story, but there are things that a horror story must contain if it hopes to be successful and the least bit scary.

  1. Suspense – Every good horror story or movie is built upon suspense. It is that ‘what is going to happen next’ or the ‘I know something is going to happen next’ feeling that pushes the reader to continue on. Good suspense can be built in two ways, either with the reader know what it is that is going to happen but not knowing when, or with the reader not knowing what is going to happen or when it is going to occur. The first example is one of the most difficult to achieve as a writer, Stephen King is the master of this form of suspense. King has the amazing ability to take an event and turn it into pages upon pages of suspense, all while keeping the reader hooked on each and every word. Creating good suspense requires practice, but one of the easiest ways to achieve this is to feed your reader only pieces of the story, little bits at a time. This action causes them to read further in the hopes that the puzzle will all fit together in the end. There is no short cut for creating suspense, it is all in the details and it takes time to write. Be patient and prepared to edit often.
  2. Death – Death is a major part of fear in humans and is a major detail in all, scary stories. Death in your writing does not have to be gruesome to create fear, but it has to be realistic. Using death to induce fear in your reader is not a difficult skill to master, it is about leaving blanks of information to be filled in at a later time. It goes hand-in-hand with suspense and all other aspects of horror writing and again, it all takes time.
  3. Realism – No matter the plot of your story it has to have some sort of realism. What was considered scary 10 and 20 years ago is not the same as today. Society has been desensitized to the horror story over the years, ghost, goblins and alien invaders are not considered the doom they once were. Horror stories today have far more realistic plots and min-altering story lines that leave the reader wondering if they could possibly be true. You can still utilize the old favorites of ghosts and vampires, but you need to be sure that you will be able to use them in a new and exciting way. No longer can a writer simply ‘create’ something and claim it to be true, today’s stories must back up their creations with proof if they truly hope to induce fear.
  4. Suggestiveness – This is another element that helps to build upon suspense, to induce fear and write a good horror story you must leave it to the reader’s imagination. Feed your readers only what you must to make the story move, but allow their imaginations to create the rest, right up until you bring on the ‘big twist’ and the shocking end.
  5. Strong and believable characters – As with any other genre, believable characters play a major role in the horror story. Your readers must connect with your characters, they must want them to live, and they must be engrossed in their battle to survive. Also, you must have that character that your readers hate as well, that character that they know is doomed, and they truly don’t care. Be sure that you spend a lot of time on character creation if you are planning on writing a horror story, as with every other element involved, this will take up time but the result is worth it. Horror stories are often character driven, so if you go wrong here you run the risk of ruining the entire story right from the start.

Things to Remember While Writing Horror:

If you want your story to be a success remember the following…
Avoid clichés – Too many scary plots have been played to death, avoid the obvious fearful situations such as, a woman alone in a dark house, the experiment gone bad, the haunted woods, and the Ouija board are just a few. If you have seen it a hundred times, read it a hundred times, or told it around a campfire when you were 12, choose another scenario.
Be Realistic – You can not get away with writing a story these days that is based solely on fantasy, it just won’t fly. Readers want stories that are realistic in at least some sense. Even if your idea is based on fantasy you must have some realistic elements to back it up. Scientific evidence is a major part of today’s top-selling horror novels, it requires a lot of research on the writer’s part, but it also helps make the story more believable and thus more frightening.
Be Aware of the Gore – There is a fine line between gruesome and grotesque, be aware of the gore content in your writing. You want to scare your readers, but not completely gross them out. Keep the gruesome details to only the necessities  and avoid going overboard.
Keep it Organized – It is absolutely imperative that you keep your information organized or you risk losing your reader’s attention. There is a ton of prep-work to be done when writing scary stories, and keeping organized notes can make the whole process a lot easier on you as the writer.
Set the Stage – Both your characters and your setting should help set the stage for your main point of conflict. Right from the start of your story you need to connect the two and create instant suspense.
Remember that God is in the Details – There is nothing more important that good detail to the writing of a horror story. Use descriptive words, explain and describe the surroundings, characters and emotions. Horror relies on the reader being able to visualize the scene in their mind so the more vivid the image the more fearful they will be when the time comes. There is no need to go overboard, but make sure that your readers can see the scene as you do being the writer.
Until Next Time…
Write On!
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