Introduction: How to Write a Horror Story
Trying to write a horror story? You have come to the right place! Whether it's a school assignment or it's just for fun, these instructables will guide you on your adventure of writing a horror story.
Step 1: Look for Inspiration
Before you start writing your horror story, it's always good to look for inspiration. It will get ideas started in your head, and it will help you identify elements of a horror story. Two examples of great horror stories are 'The Boarded Window' by Ambrose Bierce, and 'The Landlady' by Roald Dahl. I will be referring to examples from these two stories, so you might as well read these two stories for inspiration.
Step 2: Identify Elements
After you find a horror story then you should analyse it. Look for literary devices and other elements. I will use two stories as an example: 'The Boarded Window' and 'The Landlady'. Both of the stories that I have read and analysed, have many literary elements that are used effectively to communicate. Below you will see a list of literary elements with an explanation and example.
Imagery: When a writer appeals to one of the five senses. (eg. 'The body lay near the window, where the beast had left it when frightened away by the flash and report of the rifle. The clothing was deranged, the long hair in disorder, the limbs lay anyhow. From the throat, dreadfully lacerated, had issued a pool of blood not yet entirely coagulated. The ribbon with which he had bound the wrists was broken; the hands were tightly clenched. Between the teeth was a fragment of the animal's ear.' The Boarded Window) This is a good example of imagery because it is a detailed description that appeals to your visual sense.
Simile: An expression comparing one thing to another using 'like' or 'as'. (eg. 'But the air was deadly cold and the wind was like a flat blade of ice on his cheeks.' The Landlady). This is a simile because it compares the wind to a flat blade of ice using the word like.
Symbolism: Using an object or an action that has a both literal meaning and represents something else. (eg. “Not in the least,” she said. “I stuff all my little pets myself when they pass away. Will you have another cup of tea?”) This is symbolism because it is directly saying that the woman stuffs animals but if you read the story, you can also conclude from this that the two stuffed animals in her house, represent the men that lived there before. Therefore it has a literal meaning, and also represents something else.
Indirect characterisation: When a characters personality is revealed through their action or dialogue. (eg. '“Excuse me,” he said, “but is there a fairly cheap hotel not too far away from here?”' The Landlady). This is indirect characterisation because from the dialogue we just read from the character, we can make assumptions that this man doesn't have enough money, or he is a looking for a bargain.
Direct characterisation: When the personality or appearance of a character is revealed in a straightforward manner using adjectives or facts about the character. ('Billy was seventeen years old. He was wearing a new navy-blue overcoat, a new brown trilby hat, and a new brown suit, and he was feeling fine.' The Landlady). This is a good example because it is giving us facts about his appearance and revealing what he looks like directly.
These are only few of the devices that enhance the communication. But they are definitely worth using in your own horror story.
Step 3: Start Thinking About Characters
Characters shape stories and are very important elements of them. Characters are what build the plot, at least in horror story. Therefore this is an essential step and should be done attentively. In a horror story, there can be multiple main characters or only one main character. This is a choice for you to take. In 'The Landlady' there are two main characters that are there throughout the whole story, one being the antagonist and the other the protagonist. But in 'The Boarded Window' there is only one character who is the protagonist, and the antagonist in the story is an animal that only comes in towards the end of the story. Both of these choices are effective in their own way. First you may want to come up with a protagonist, this is the character of whose story is told. Then you should come up with an antagonist, this is the character who gets in the way of the protagonist's plans. Remember- the protagonist and antagonist don't have to be either good or evil. After you have decided the characters you should come up with a back story for at least one of the characters. This should be preferably for the 'creepy character' in your story. The backstory should be somewhat mysterious, and not reveal all information about the character. You might choose to not reveal the backstory at all. Instead you could have the characters past affect the way they act. But mainly don't make your characters boring!
Step 4: Consider Your Setting
A setting is the location where the story takes place. In novels, there might multiple settings, but in short horror stories, there tends to be only one. A setting is extremely important because the type of community on time period one lives in can affect that person in many ways. In a way it defines the character. Although this step of deciding settings is after the step of deciding characters, they both should be done more simultaneously, rather than after one another. The main character and the setting should be linked. For example in 'The Landlady' the story takes place in the landlady's house. Or in 'The Boarded Window', the main character, Murlock, is a hunter and sells animal skins. So the obvious setting for this story would be a forest, or in this case a cabin in a forest.
Step 5: Make a List of Important Events in Your Plot
This is one of the most important and one of the hardest step. This doesn't necessarily have to be a list, it just has to be some type of plan for your horror story. Before you start planning, you should decide the tense your story's going to be in. Often, writers use two tenses in a horror story. For instance, you might want to write the story in present tense and then include flashbacks. However, this can make your story complicated to understand if it is not well written. You have already decided your characters, so now you need to figure out how they will meet, how one will affect the other and how they will form a story together. As one of your characters should have a mysterious backstory, find a way to connect their past to the present. Their past might influence the way they act. This technique will create tension and suspense for your reader.
Step 6: Find a Way to Start the Story
You know what they say- it's all about first impressions! So you have to find a way to start your story in a way that will grip the readers' attention. Like most stories, you should either start your story with either action or dialogue. The beginning of your story should give some information about the protagonist. Not all but some.
Step 7: Follow Your Plan to Write a Story
Now that you have written a beginning, follow your plan to continue the story. All the events in your story though, should not seem like a list. You should take your plan and make it flow. One incident should lead to another one. If you find that your story isn't going too smoothly, then feel free to make changes to the plot. The plan is only an outline. Don't forget to use the literary devices throughout the writing of the story. Refer to step two to find literary devices that you should use.
Step 8: End Your Story Preferably With a Cliffhanger
The end of your horror story plays a big role. If you read any horror story, you will find that the end is usually a cliffhanger. Not all your questions are answered. In fact some of the most important facts remain concealed from the reader. So if you want to follow this example, you should also keep a secret from the reader. This might be secrets about the character's past, or if the character has been acting weird or mysterious, you might never disclose why this is so. Or you might end the story with something completely absurd and never give and explanation for it. You could also leave clues throughout the story to indirectly point towards what happened, and the reader can figure out what happened looking at that. Whatever you do, do not end your story in a way that the reader will directly know everything and have no unanswered questions.
Step 9: You're Done!
Yay! You have successfully written you're first horror story! But remember, before you share it with anyone or submit it to your teacher, be sure to edit it. Look out for spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes. Also look at your writing style and the way your story flows. Get someone else to revise it too. They might spot mistakes that you didn't. Finally you can share and show off you horror story to your friends and family!