How to Scare Your Readers Into Coming Back for More
So you think you might want to be a horror writer but not sure how to scare your readers? Do you find your writing taking on a dark aspect that others claim is scary, but you don’t know why?
Welcome to the club. For the longest time I had issues declaring genre because while I write dark, it never scares me. My first book is classified as a “romance,” “horror,” and “occult,” all of which (except maybe the romance part) made me go “Hmm…” I mean, yes, my plot is all about reuniting a cursed ring with it’s intended, and yes, the ring does kill everyone in its path, but…
That’s not scary—not like a zombie invasion or Jason vs Freddy or a really good ghost story. It wasn’t until I read an article that listed The Ring and the Grudge as two of the scariest movies of all time that it hit me. It doesn’t have to be gore filled to be scary.
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Today, I’ll share 5 tips on writing horror based on my own experience writing it.
Thrillers can be horror, too.
In fact, many of the horror movies and books I read stay with me because they are more of a psychological horror than a bloody horror. Yes, I can fear the stranger breaking in my house, but I’m going to fear the unknown even more. Those head games, those weird occurrences, the unexplained writing on the wall… those stick with you. The stalkers you can’t see in the dark, they stay with you. Delve deeply into your character. Don’t be afraid to become one with your antagonist.
Feed your dark side.
How dark you can go may shock you, but it’s human nature. The deeper you go, the scarier the antagonist becomes, the more real it becomes to your readers. If it scares YOU to go there, imagine how much it will scare your readers! Go there. I promise you’ll come out alive and mostly unscathed (which is more than your characters can say!).
Give your antagonist an identity that separates him from the rest of the pack. The most famous monsters in history had their own unique signature, and the more grisly it was, the more people feared. They made history with their ferociousness. Your monsters should be realistic yet epic.
Real life is hella scary.
Dark alleys and shadow covered walls make you quiver. Someone breaking into your house, a boyfriend gone mad, a crazy friend set on revenge… even just a drive down an unfamiliar road can creep you out. Play on these emotions. The stronger the emotions in horror, the more affect you’ll have on your readers.
Paranormal and psych-outs
Why would movies like The Ring be considered the scariest movies of all time over other movies like Friday the 13th? A friend of mine summed it up well. She said the slashers movies aren’t really scary because most of us could do something to protect ourselves, but against the supernatural and paranormal? There’s nothing you can do to prevent it. That’s what makes it so much scarier. The images gets stuck in your head, give you nightmares long after you’ve finished reading or watching the movie. Stephen King is a master of the psych-out. So many of his stories (like Secret Window, Secret Garden) are scary simply because of the psychological impact they carry.
The most important thing to remember about horror writing is this: it is built on emotions, carried by emotions, and succeeds on emotions. Horror is the most emotional writing there is. Add an unexpected twist that psychs your reader out. Bend their mind with paranormal baddies. And, if all else fails, add a slasher or two when needed.
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