As a writer, I can tell you that the creation of a story and putting it into words for an audience to read is an art form. Just like any other art (like music, dance, or theater), becoming a successful writer is not about talent but instead, it’s about learning the craft to obtain the skill. Yes, writing a good story takes a skill that you’re not born with. Instead, you learn it.
This article will tell you all you need to know when writing a horror story, but take everything I say with a grain of salt because writing, like any other art form, is derived from artistic freedom. As the writer, you can take your artistry in any path, in any form, that you wish. That being said, it is important to note that literary genres have structures and techniques used to execute this art form, and writing horror is not different. As you may well know, the literary genre of horror has sub-genres. Through a marketing eye horror is one genre, but as a writer, you know that there are sub-genres underneath the branch of horror. As the writer, you can make the choice to mix and match these sub-genres or you can pick one to stick with for a story whether it be a poem, short story, or novel.
Let’s go over these sub-genres so as the writer you know what is available to you when writing in horror. First, there’s the thriller. This genre describes what readers will be experiencing while investing themselves in your story. Thrillers thrill the audience, giving suspense to the reader. Questions are often prompted by this genre such as:
Will she survive?
Does he know he’s being followed?
Forcing your reader to ask these types of questions is what makes your story a thriller.
Now that you know what a thriller is, there’s a technique you can use to ensure that your horror contains the thrill. The technique is called Dramatic Irony, which means that within your story you reader knows information that your character does not. Using Dramatic Irony places suspense in your story and puts your reader on edge as they are anticipating the moment when the character finally knows what the reader already knows. An example of this in the 1993 film Jurassic Park when Dennis Nedry deactivates the security system in order to escape with the stolen embryos. The audience now knows that the dinosaurs are free and they are in suspense until the characters are made aware. This example of dramatic irony only lasts a few moments within the story, but as the writer you can make the choice to leave the readers in suspense for as long as you want.
The next horror sub-genre is gore. The genre is pretty self-explanatory. Gore involves the bloody, gruesome, and morbid bits of a horror story. However, this genre has another sub-genre that branches off of it which is the slasher. An example of this classic horror genre is Friday the 13th. A slasher is essentially a story that derives from a mass murder. As the writer, you have the choice to make the murders as gory as you want. If you are struggling with deciding how morbid, bloody, gross, etc. you want your gore/slasher story to be a writer’s technique you can use is what I call the Reader Reaction. While writing your story think about how you want your reader to react. How do you imagine your reader responding while they are reading your story? Do you want them to want to vomit, to sit uncomfortably, or to simply say, “Ew.” Knowing how you want your reader to react will help you hone in on how much gore is in your horror.
The third sub-genre is the supernatural/paranormal. Although these two are very different, I have branched them together because the strategies and techniques used for executing these genres are very similar. In case you don’t know, the supernatural genre involves the use of mythical beings such as vampires and mermaids. The paranormal genre uses ghosts, demons, and any other spiritual being. Both of these genres have the story revolve around entities that question reality. With the supernatural/paranormal, it is easy to write the clichés to create another typical horror story, but as the writer you want to play on the uniqueness of your story. Give your readers something that they haven’t read before. A technique you can use to avoid writing the clichés is the Reverse and Opposite. Take a story and make changes to create something new. Some examples could be reversing gender roles, making your protagonist do the exact opposite, etc. Reverse and Opposite involves reversing aspects of your and making things the opposite from the original. Playing around with this technique will create interesting and new ideas that you probably wouldn’t have originally thought of. When using the Reverse and Opposite with the supernatural/paranormal, it opens your horror story to be more than just a story about a ghost or vampire because the horror plays with the unexpected, which can be truly scary.
The last horror sub-genre is mystery. A mystery is a story that involves the readers questioning aspects of your story, wondering what the answers are. This genre is mainly known as the classic murder mystery, but as a horror writer you probably want to go darker and more morbid than the cliché Agatha Christie detective story. To ensure that your mystery is as horror-like as you wish, use the techniques and strategies of the other sub-genres and go to town to make your story a true horror story. Going back to what I said earlier, the sub-genres of horror can be mixed and matched in whatever what you wish. You can write a gore mystery, or a paranormal one. Either way, there are so many options and techniques you can use when writing your horror story.
As the writer you have the artistic freedom to take your horror story in any direction that you want, using any techniques that you choose. The sky is the limit when it comes to writing. Now that you know the basics of writing horror, knowing the sub-genres and how to execute them, you can go to the drawing board to craft your horror story.