What Makes A Story Scary?

Posted: September 20, 2012 in Discussions, On Writing, Uncategorized
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I’d like to take a look at what makes a good scary story.

While every story is different, many have similar factors. Darkness, creatures, paranormal, and life or death situations are common in horror stories, yet all have one major factor: fear.

As a writer of horror, you have to decide how to take the fear from the pages and make it real to the reader. One way to do this, is to clearly describe how your character is reacting to the fear they feel. An increased heart rate, rapid breathing, trembling, quivering bowels, dizziness, an upset stomach, and so much more can be used to show this. It is very important to show rather than tell how characters are feeling.

For example:

Stan was afraid.

This dull sentence does explain how Stan felt, but instead, try showing:

Stan trembled. His heart was beating so fast he thought it may burst from his chest.

To tell the reader directly how the character is feeling makes for a passive sentence, whereas implying and giving clues helps the reader to feel what the character is feeling. Passive writing makes for poor horror, it excludes the reader by failing to involve them in the character’s view point.

Now, what makes a story scary is a hard thing to approach. Each person has their own set of fears, some are very similar to other peoples’, some are tailored to fit one. How do I figure out what’s scary and what’s not? I write what I fear, often the unknown, ghosts, boogey men, even paralel worlds. I can’t vouch for what my readers think of how scary my work is, but I hope it’s just as scary for them as it is to me.

There are different levels of fear as well. There’s a superficial, or as some call it, a “gross out” fear. This is easier to use, and therefore easier to over use. As a writer of horror, we don’t want to disgust our readers too much on a queazy level, but rather on an emotional level. We want our readers deeply disturbed at the audacity of the protagonist, not puking on their couch because they couldn’t take reading about blood gushing from a head wound any more.

I often feel that horror writers have their work cut out for them. It’s hard to look inside people and see their fears.

Not all horror is about scaring people though. I feel that it also shows a side of life that many don’t get to experience. Through horror stories, people get to experience some things they may never feel otherwise, or it may help someone to realize they are not alone in their fear. It shows the gritty, dirty, and often dispicable things that can make us grateful for all that we have.

Comment. Let me know what scares you.


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