Writing Horror Stories That Sell
Many readers think of pulp fiction monsters such as vampires, werewolves, and zombies when you mention horror writing. However, modern tales of terror can take their rightful place next to any other genre when it comes to the quality of the writing.
Reading horror novels can even help you improve as a writer, as they bring together some of the most important elements in writing and will teach you about the importance of empathy in your stories.
How to Write Successful Horror
When you’re starting your career as a horror writer, gaining an understanding of the past, present, and possible future of the genre, will help you and inspire you to produce original work.
Understanding the Genre
Reading horror books in many different styles will help you avoid reproducing overused story types and themes. You need to have a good grasp of what was popular in the past and which stories might be popular in the future.
What Writing Horror Can Teach You
Horror fiction can teach you to write with empathy. Your stories won’t work if your readers don’t feel a connection to your characters.
Stephen King, the master of terror, says horror writing is more effective if the characters are likeable and we can get readers to care about them. King prefers to write about nice people who face adversity and come out on top in the end, like the children in It who finally defeat the monster when they’re adults.
In horror books, creating empathy with the characters often involves putting normal people into abnormal circumstances. The idea is to make your readers feel that they’re watching one of their own family members or friends in trouble, by creating multi-layered characters that they can connect with. Horror fiction will also teach you good pacing as the books are fast-paced and the tension accelerates quickly.
King says creating terror is one of the key elements of a good horror story. It’s that feeling you get when the lights go out and you feel something just behind you, or you hear something move, but there is nothing there when you turn around. It’s crucial to slowly build the suspense to the moment of the big scare.
Contrasting the Ordinary to the Abnormal
Stephen King’s stories always start with the ordinary and normal, which then makes the later abnormal behavior of the characters or creepy events, even more noticeable.
King builds the terror by focusing on the ordinary as the tension accelerates–the toy boat falls down a sewer and the reader sees an overturned tricycle next to the gutter.
How to Write Horror
Keeping the following tips in mind will help you produce the best horror stories.
Use Your Own Fears to Scare Your Readers
You will produce your best (and scariest!) stories if you write from your own fears and experience. Even everyday experiences that are a little out of the ordinary, might help you
produce the creepiest horror fiction.
The Importance of Characters and the Emotional Core
A strong emotional core with well-developed characters, is especially important for horror
writing, because of its internal nature. True horror will always happen within the characters.
You can develop your story’s emotional core by depicting your characters’ experience of the terrifying events and by identifying closely with their viewpoints. The emotional core is stronger when characters have a personal connection to the terror, as in Shirley Jackson’s story, The Lottery, where the pagan cult is part of the community.
A Fear of the Unknown
Most people can relate to a fear of the unknown. It causes us anxiety when we don’t have control over the outcome of a situation. In horror books, we’re also scared by what we don’t know. Will we survive an apocalypse and will the world even get back to normal? By only giving readers bits of the storyline, you leave them mostly in the dark, which creates tension. It’s essential to provide your readers with small clues leading to the bigger picture.
It is possible to be successful at horror writing, even though it is a competitive market. Before you get even close to the publishing stage, you can improve your chances of success by honing your craft and learning from those writers who came before you.