When writing a story, it’s really easy to write with “then speak.” What I mean by that is when the story goes:
She walked to the house and then opened the door. Then she looked inside.
This is a very literal example of this writing faux pas, but it happens all the time. Now imagine reading a really intense horror story with this kind of writing. Just from language alone, it’ll change from spooky to boring. As the writer, you want to intensify the creepiness of your horror, not dull it out by how you write it.
By now you’re probably asking how. How do you write a horror while avoiding the use of then? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you can never use this word but as the writer, you shouldn’t rely on the word then to describe your story. Instead, rely on this writer’s rule: Show, Don’t Tell. It’s pretty self-explanatory; show your readers what is happening in your story through descriptive imagery and don’t just tell it. Think of like painting a picture for your readers, so the images of your scenes are clear and detailed.
Keeping this rule in mind, our example from earlier changes from simple to scary.
She walked to the abandoned house of decaying wood and stood there with an uneasy feeling. As she opened the door, she heard the creaking of the rotting hinges. She looked inside.
These two examples tell the same story, yet one is undoubtedly a horror story and the other could be any kind of story. The second example clearly paints the story, giving the reader no doubt what kind of story they are reading. It draws the reader in, having them anticipate what other horrors await. This is why it is best to avoid “then speak” and write with descriptive imagery.
Now that we’ve gone over the basics, there are ways to use descriptive imagery uniquely within your horror. Before I move on, it is important to note that there are more unique devices out there from the one I am about to tell you. I am only giving you a taste of the options and abilities that you have as a writer to help you get started because uniqueness in a story also comes from the uniqueness of the writer, which is why I can’t tell you everything. If I do, it wouldn’t be your story.
One unique writing device I am going over is shown through the horror film A Quiet Place, particularly the moment when the audience is shown the whiteboard in Lee Abbot’s office. Keep in mind that this is not a book but a movie, so the storytelling technique is different since the audience is viewing the story rather than reading it. However, looking at the way John Krasinski was able to provide multiple pieces of information in seconds of film is helpful when thinking about writing a story. There has been some speculation on this whiteboard, where people dislike it because they see it as Krasinski taking an easy way out from telling the story. I disagree because the information told through the whiteboard was necessary to understand the story and Krasinski was smart enough to utilize the technique of summary.
In writing it is often the case that writers need to choose what needs to be detailed in a scene and what information needs to be shown through summary. As the writer, it is sometimes better to use summary over scene when artists are dealing with time limits or word counts. However, it is important to note that summary and scene should have a relationship with each other in a story, where one does not overwhelm the other. A story with all summary and no scene could read as too fast moving and lacking details.
Summary can be done in multiple ways, depending on what the writer chooses. Krasinski uniquely decided to summarize through a single shot of a whiteboard. By doing this, the audience not only knows information about the antagonist of the story but we also get a taste of Lee’s character through seeing his survival method that comes into play later on in the film. Now imagining this summary technique in a book, the descriptive imagery involved is not only informational but it is also can paint a clear picture of whatever details you want your readers to see. Thinking about portraying information the way Krasinski did opens doors to us writers as we can imagine various ways to summarize information uniquely rather than simply telling the readers.
All in all, the use of descriptive imagery can go a long way when writing a story, and deciding when to use summary and when to use scene will help you write a well-rounded story that portrays everything that you want your readers to know. Now you can go and make your imagery as spooky and creepy as you want when you write your horror.