Horror allures readers in the suspenseful world of mysterious creatures with unexpected events and turns. Right from Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto to R. L Stein’s modern-day serialised Goosebumps, horror has always been able to elicit impulsive responses from readers. During its nascent stage horror was inspired by urban legends, fairy tales, and had affinities to the unknown mystifying occurrences. Over the years, horror has shifted focus from the other mysterious beings to the mysterious self. The psyche of the self that drives people to the brink of monstrosity became the site of interest for authors. But mastering the craft of horror is a much more strenuous business than reading it. In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about writing horror and the ways to refine your craft.
Read ardently Horror is a genre with a rich and changing history. From grotesque monsters (Frankenstein) to a more nuanced psychological horror (The Yellow Wallpaper), horror has changed over the years. Explore the genre as much as you can. Read different authors, styles, and approaches to horror. Notice the cliches and which authors added their own twist to them. According to Stephen King, “you have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”
Explore the senses Horror isn’t about the horrific incidents or the gruesome monsters but how characters respond to them. Horror like any other fiction focuses on the characters’ tryst with the monsters, and their growth for the better or the worse because of it. Horror effects better when seen through the eyes of the protagonist. In horror, the emotional response of readers tends to run parallel to that of the protagonist. If the monster horrifies the protagonist, it will horrify the readers. Here the use of the character’s senses is essential to the story. The character’s palpitating contortions will signify their emotive response when they encounter a supernatural entity. For example in Dracula, when Jonathan Harker comes across Count Dracula he cannot suppress his queasy feelings, “as the Count leaned over me and his hands touched me, I could not repress a shudder. It may have been that his breath was rank, but a horrible feeling of nausea came over me, which, do what I would, I could not conceal.”
Take your time in building suspense According to Alfred Hitchcock, “there is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it”.
The actual event of meeting the monster or the unknown supernatural event might not be that horrifying as waiting for them to be revealed. Slight noises and the prickling of the fear in the character is what increases the fear in the story. The character ( and through the character the reader ) must experience the creaking noises of footsteps and the moaning wind to anticipate the dreadful event. The state of anxiety which the fear of the unknown creates is what makes a horror story intriguing.
Use your experiences
Think about things that scare you. Your fears: failures, disappointments, diseases, losses. When you write from your subjective perspective, the story gains a personal angle that people can relate to. Your story becomes the channel through which readers experience a fresh untold experience. Tap into your feelings and access the fear you experienced when you encountered something which scared you. Use this fear of the unknown to generate a more affected response from the readership rather than writing about generic horrifying elements.
Turn known into the unknown
Attack places and things that are normal and safe places for people. Startle your readers into disbelief by charging on the core which is predictable for them. Set your story to a place to which your audience can relate; Things they encounter in their everyday life or the place they have experienced, i.e., schools, their homes, railway stations, etc. Turn these seemingly normal safe places into a site of mayhem for them. Horror strikes the most when the known slowly metamorphoses into the unknown. This need not limit to places only. Broden it to people or even the laws of the universe itself. If someone close to you is suddenly changed one day, would it not be horrifying? If time starts to go backwards instead of forward, would it not spook anyone?
The path to writing a good horror is not easy, but it certainly is not impossible. Follow these tips and keep sharpening your skill to have your readers hooked on your stories.