1. Thomas Kitchen

    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

    Nov 5, 2012
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    I'm Welsh - and proud!

    Horror How to Write Horror

    Discussion in 'By the Genre' started by Thomas Kitchen, Jan 22, 2014.

    Hi all,

    Not sure if this is the right place to put this, but I hope it is - I did spend some time deciding! :D Anyway, I've come up with an idea that's snowballed into a rather complete idea, and in a day or two I think I'll be able to start writing. It's a short story, although it'll probably be on the upper end of the wordcount scale, and it's my first horror.

    It's actually psychological if I had to put it in a sub genre, a little bit like the Silent Hill video game series, along with The Evil Within, a soon-to-be-released video game. The thing is, the genre is completely new to me. I'm obviously going to read some horror short stories, but I'm actually more fond of the raw idea I have, and I want to get it down on paper, so I don't want to 'waste' too much time doing that.

    So how is a horror written, generally? Do I use the 'short sentences create tension' thing, or is that too childish? When is less more, and when should I add more description of the setting, characters, etc? It sounds like I'm a total newbie, but I don't want to crack on with the story and find out that the execution is totally wrong. If anyone could provide me with links to good sites or books, then that would be great. I've had a look on Google already, and it's hard to tell good sites from bad if you don't know what you're looking for.

  2. peachalulu

    peachalulu Member Reviewer Contributor

    May 20, 2012
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    occasionally Oz , mainly Canada
    Horror is definitely about creating a mood - usually that's done by constantly referring to the characters reactions/and or emotions to a given event. As long as you have a handle on that the story should be pretty smooth. Never count on the idea itself to come across as scary. Even if the character has found some gooey green thing growing out of a tree - unless he's uneasy, or just stupidly interested ( that's okay as long as he gets a clue at some point ) - the object won't create anything in the reader accept curiosity. If your mc isn't scared neither are the readers. If he's not tense neither are the readers.

    In fact Horror's a bit like Romance. Romance is all about the emotions and growing tension between the romantic leads. I'd say horror is about the growing tension between the Mc and the scary object/thing/presence.

    I don't think horror is comprised mainly of short sentences ( though some writers - definitely yes - use this trend. ) I'd say it is mainly short paragraphs. In fact I think Layton constantly keeps the tension by starting a new paragraph with each new feeling/thought. You can check out his style if you want on Amazon.

    Description is pretty much the same in horror as it is in romance - the most is when things get hot and heavy - lol.
    I'd recommend checking out Richard Laymon, he's got a great, easy style.
  3. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

    Aug 23, 2013
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    1) The protagonists need to be competent. When the cliche stupid teenagers get themselves killed by doing something stupid, and the readers are busy thinking about what they could've done differently to survive, then the story playing in the readers' heads is the one where the heroes survived by doing the smarter thing. They're not scared of what you're telling them is happening, because they are focusing on something else that should've happened instead.

    2) The antagonists need to be even more competent. If the reader wants the heroes to fight because he wants them to win, then it's an action story; a horror story is a story where the reader doesn't want the heroes to fight because he doesn't want them to lose. The villain needs to be more competent than the heroes in order to make a fight a bad idea, and since we've established that a story about a not-necessarily-competent villain vs. a bunch of completely incompetent heroes is not scary, then we can then say that a competent hero must be countered by a super-competent villain.

    The movie that I feel handled this exchange the best would have to be Cabin in the Woods, from Joss Whedon. The heroes technically got killed by doing the stupid things that get every slasher-teen killed, but not only did the movie show the times that they genuinely tried to take a safer, smarter option first, but also the amount of time, resources, and preparation that the villains had taken to trick the heroes into doing something else instead that did get them killed. I could not reasonably think of a way for the heroes to outsmart the villains' superior preparation, and the movie playing in my head was not a movie where I could reasonably have survived any better than they did.

    The heroes need to be seen doing something smart, something that the reader can reasonably believe that he would've done in the same position, and the heroes need to be seen getting killed anyway. After that, not only does it make sense for the survivors to start making stupid decisions from the stress and inability to think straight, but the reader wouldn't trust himself to "correct" the heroes even if he thinks he would've done something different.
    Thomas Kitchen likes this.
  4. Billaferd

    Billaferd New Member

    Jan 22, 2014
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    If your story feels like Silent Hill, then I would suggest to read H.P. Lovecraft. The Silent Hill games and movie were heavily influenced by his work but directly based on Jacobs Ladder, I believe. H.P. Lovecraft's work is in the public domain. He did an extremely good job in writing psychological horror, one of the first if I remember correctly.

    As said above, horror is all about atmosphere. Try reading The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker, in my opinion he is one of the best at creating that atmosphere of complete hopelessness. The film adaptation Hellraiser also does a remarkable job of creating an imposing atmosphere.
  5. Patra Felino

    Patra Felino Active Member

    Apr 5, 2012
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    Great question and great responses so far. As it happens, I'm about halfway through my first horror (I'd classify it as psychological horror, although it's designed to be more interesting than scary, if that makes sense). It's going to be about 10,000 words long.

    I'm trying to keep the reader on edge in ways I wouldn't normally. For instance, when the protagonist, who has been cursed, uses a blender, I'm trying to find a way to describe the sharpness of the blades in a way that gives more of an edge* to the story. I can kind of imagine a horror film doing the same.

    Also, I'm very aware of the pacing of the scary stuff. The MC gets cursed at the end of the first chapter. The first unusual thing happens to him at the end on the second. There are two unusual events in the third (and they're progressively worse). Things are pretty awful from the middle of the fourth, he has an even worse time in the fifth (the whole way through), and the sixth is all dreadful for him and also very weird. I decided the pacing needed to be worked out at the planning stage, as I was worried about exhausting my reader with non-stop horror.

    *This is not a pun. It would be a terrible pun.
  6. Devlin Blake

    Devlin Blake New Member

    Aug 17, 2014
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    Yes, this is how great horror stories are done. In horror, a lot of it is using the right words. For example, blender blades liquify the fruit, but the blade's 'hypnotic' movements can also 'rip', tear', or 'shred' the fruit's 'flesh'.

    Saying 'the blenders tiny teeth ripped through the melon's flesh, splattering it's remains on the smooth glass walls' is better than saying 'the blender turned the melon into pulp quickly.'

    *(I'm aware it's not the world's best sentence, but you get the idea.)

    That's true. Non-stop horror looses it's effectiveness. You need room to breathe between scary scenes. The MC needs to feel safe for a moment, then have that safety ripped away in a very cruel way. This is how you cause the reader to gasp.

    Even Hitchcock did it this way.

    It doesn't need to be whole chapter, just an incident. For example, if he's cursed, then everything must be going wrong. Does something happen to make him believe he's broken the curse at some point? A good luck charm, a day where nothing horrible happens? The MC breathes, the reader breathes, then he discovers horribly that nothings changed at all.
  7. jonahmann

    jonahmann Active Member

    Oct 2, 2014
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    It's more about which details you use, ie the scary ones.
  8. MilesTro

    MilesTro Senior Member

    Sep 5, 2007
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    Horror is about victims being consumed by fear, and the only way for them to escape is to wither solve the strangeness or figure out how to escape it. Survival horror games are good examples. You can read Stephen King books. He is the master of those stuff.

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