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Six Tips to Write Terrifying Horror Fiction


Yesterday, we saw some guidelines not to let your suspense fiction go astray. Writing requires great care and finesse. Every art does. The difference between the best fiction and the worst may be quite unnoticeable. It may be a small flaw in research that renders the whole story impossible, or it may be a small character trait of the central character or the antagonist. Whatever it is, its effect can be deep. While a good story without any flaws can entertain the reader and be successful, the story with these tiny flaws can alienate the reader within the first few chapters themselves. So, a minute flaw creates a great difference in sales in the world of fiction.

Here, we will see some tips to write pristine horror fiction.

1. Don’t let go of the suspense

Horror fiction has to have some element of suspense. A century-old specter with vampire teeth and tiger claws and enormous size will not horrify readers now. On the other hand, the suspense of who the real killer is will greatly entertain a reader. If you are creating gruesome murders, make them grotesque, and make your central characters go on a life-threatening trail of the murderer.

2. Bated-breath waits

Haven’t you seen scenes in successful horror films in which the character is walking toward a room, trying to explore what is inside it, while the ominous background music (which started low) goes high pitch slowly until the very point when a thud reveals something horrible or something silly? Such elements are a must in horror fiction.

3. The ghost

Who is killing people? In the last century, a vampire or a terrible ghost may make the kill and horrify people. But in today’s world, ghosts are not much in demand. Innocuous ghosts can inspire more terror now. For instance, if you have a very innocent looking girl, who is a ghost, it can prove to be a nightmare to the reader.

4. Better, get rid of ghosts altogether

In today’s horror stories, it is best to get rid of ghosts altogether. I believe the greatest horror comes from inside you, as Stephen King would have said. You can have realworld horror, without any supernatural character. There may be villains in the form of stalkers, serial killers, psychopaths, etc. Such horror stories will be more successful than ghost stories.

5. Murders, lots of them

What is a horror without murders? Better yet, have a string of murders and you will horrify your reader greatly. In fact, the horror can come from very casual deaths or murders. A murder can be quite easy. It is in that ease that horror lurks. For instance, you can have the soldiers at the warfront. A small buzzing bullet can prove to be their end. Or a factory worker, whose end can come of a small engine malfunction. The horror can be inspired by depicting their horrible ends in a gruesome manner.

6. Supernatural elements should have believable nature

There should be fighting fatigue and pain for even the supernatural beings. Otherwise, they will prove to be rather boring. So, make them have human traits, coupled with their antihuman nature and enormous strength. Today, a demon with disfigured face and enormous size, but with human appearance has more terrifying power than a demon creature with only supernatural powers.


The best of the horror stories I read were from Stephen King. They were so not due to any supernatural elements present in them, but due to gruesome nature of human beings living all around us. For instance, one of the terrifying stories of King, The Long Walk, has nothing supernatural in it. It is the story of little children who are made to walk a huge distance, and anyone that fails to do that is shot dead with military weapons. It has some scenes in which little children have their heads shot away, depicted terrifyingly. It was nightmare of a read for me.

Copyright © Lenin Nair 2008


  1. I love horror stories, and you're right - King is the master. It's more to do with how he mixes the ordinary (usually, small-town america) with the supernatural.

    You should also try Peter Straub, his sometime collabarator.

    Excellent tips on writing, with horror it's important to keep the shocks coming where you least expect them!

  2. "Such horror are more successful than ghost stories."

    Just one question: why should anyone take your advice seriously when you can't even grasp simple grade-school-level grammar?

    1. Okay, thats just plain mean. Don't go around hating. If you have nothing nice to say, dont say it at all.

  3. Dear Anonymous, thanks a lot for pointing me to that error. I have very limited time for blogging on the whole, within which I have to write and post articles. Hence, occasionally some grammar gaffes encroach into the articles. Just that I may not notice some time, though I give extreme care to edit my articles.

    It shows that you are a careful reader of my blog. And, you needn't post as anonymous, since I take all criticisms positively.

    The mistake has been edited.


  4. I think I disagree with the tip about lots of murders. Wanton killing isn't really horrifying, sadly enough, unless it's done well. It may work for slasher flicks, but it doesn't hold the same gripping appeal when carried over to novel form.

  5. I read the post and comments. I am working on a ghost story. The way that I wrote it was to keep the reader suspended about the ghost. i am consistent with the ghost too. I concentrated deeply on the human characters. I took time to make myself learn about them. In the end, the people are the enemies and the ghost is the good one, finally crossing over. You can make it work with care put into the writing. The suspense of the possibility of a murder can be the best way to keep your readers turning pages. A string of murders is predictable.

  6. I think you need some serious coaching if you are going to write serious horror. I am just a neophyte to writing and to writing horror specifically (only two published, unpaid stories I admit), but even then I think I can spot an amateur attitude (and unprofessional: justifying an occasional typo I can understand, but not making excuses for lots of because you're busy). Anyone who wants some serious guidance in horror writing would do well to check out articles on writing horror at the Horror Writer's Association website, Dan Taylor's tips at Writer's World, and especially Robert Gray's article at Hellnotes. And if you want to read serious horror, King is a good starting point, but delve into Lovecraft, Poe, Edward Lucas White, Arthur Machen, and the past masters that have stood the test of time.

  7. FYI, I have read quite widely. I also had my ghost story read by a beta-reader who said she could feel the main character's terror. I have read King, Lovecraft, Shelley, Matheson, Poe (of course), a horror anthology called Chilling Tales, Bradbury, and so many other books I can't begin to list them all. Reading widely is a law, not a rule. It's mandatory. I will check out the ones you mentioned that I am not familiar with. I have read the articles on the Horror Writers Association website. There is no one right way to write a horror story- But you have to have a foundation to build upon.

    1. Lady Spiderwitch, I apologize for not being clear. I was not commenting on your comment. I was commenting on Lenin Nair's article. At the time I posted my comment, I had not even read your comment. I like your ghost story idea and I agree with your idea for suspense in your story. I think you will find the authors I mentioned intriguing as they were favorites of Lovecraft.

  8. Thank you for apologizing.
    Happy Halloween!

  9. Great post! As someone taking a spin at horror when mystery is normally my genre, I appreciate the tips.


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