Writing Horror

Halloween is a great time to think about writing some horror stories, even if horror is not the genre you usually work in. Horror literature and movies, and dressing up for Halloween too, provide us with a safe and controlled way in which to face our fears. No matter how much the story may make you jump or scream, nothing is actually going to happen to you. Psychologists use these theory by gradually exposing phobics to the experience that causes them anxiety. But writers knew this secret long before the shrinks worked it out.

Horror sub-genres

Suspense/Psychological Horror

This sub-genre is fairly subtle and plays on the reader’s own anticipation rather than producing gory details. It can therefore be one of the most effective at scaring readers because it involves the reader in constructing some of the story, using their own imagination.

Also sometimes falling under Psychological Horror is the use of mind control techniques or hypnotism. Also popular is the subtle manipulation of the victim by an ordinary human being, but which is made to seem supernatural.

Slasher Horror

Teen slasher movies are very popular viewing around Halloween time. These stories get their horror kicks also from seemingly invincible or supernatural predators who are really a co-ordinated team of ordinary teens.

Science Fiction and Medical Horror

Medicine, and surgery in particular, is an area that scares many people. What really goes on when you’re placed under anaesthetic? This question has spawned (excuse the pun) much horror literature, from women bearing evil children to discovering bodies harvested of their organs.

Often the technical detail the author introduces can reach into science fiction. The more technology we have surrounding us, the more that scares us too. There’s plenty of material to play with here.

Vampires, Werewolves, and Zombies

Humans gone wrong scare us, and the traditional big three are vampires, werewolves, and zombies. These all involve passing on a curse or disease, usually with a bite, that transforms the next person into a blood-hungry killing machine.

Monsters and Aliens

Have you checked under your bed? The dark has always had a hold over us because we don’t have the same clarity of vision as during the day, combined with slightly sharper auditory ability – but not sharp enough to make out exactly what it is we’re hearing.

We’re not prepared to deal with aliens because we don’t know how they might appear or what they might do to us. If their technology is so much ahead of ours, we have little hope of enough of an advance warning.

Animals and Innocents Gone Wrong

A wild and angry bear protecting her cubs doesn’t scare us nearly as much as a rabid dog that just wants to kill anything around it. Children, and even toys, can be terrifying if they don’t seem normal, or if they’re controlled by something paranormal.

The Supernatural and the Occult

We love to play with things we don’t understand. Ghosts and stories of haunted houses, or ordinary people with strange powers, intrigue us and frighten us at the same time. Stories about demonic possession, evil beings, and black magic have been popular with writers in deeply religious areas and times, as a way of explaining and facing the scary part of religion, and holding on to the promise of exorcism and control over evil.

This article was first published on BellaOnline in October 2006. © Elsa Neal

If you want to try your hand at writing horror stories, try these books:
On Writing Horror : A Handbook by the Horror Writers Association

The Philosophy of Horror by Noel Carroll - explains how to create the effects of suspense, anticipation, and fear in a reader