15 Tips to help you write a killer horror short story!

Fear is the oldest emotion that we humans have and it has been with us since time began and since the human imagination knows no limits, this fear can quickly spiral into a slippery slope. Some have managed to conquer their fear but some, unfortunately, let fear cripple them.

Then we have people that get joy out of writing and trying to create fear in other people’s imagination.

The horror genre derived from the Gothic literature in the 18th century and quickly became a dominant genre.

We are going to take a look at how you can write an amazing horror short story and develop your writing further.

What is a short story?

A short story is a fully developed theme like a regular novel but it is a lot shorter and less elaborate. A short story is usually between 1,000 and 7,500 words. All the great writers from all around the world have written at least one short story, some started out writing them. A short story is a fantastic way to quickly escape to another world with as they are rarely over 5,000 words.

What are some famous horror short story collections?

  • The October Country by Ray Bradbury (1955)
  • Twice-Told Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1837)
  • Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination (1919)
  • The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson (1949)
  • The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories (1999)
  • Night Shift by Stephen King (1978)

What are the sub-genres of horror?

  • Rural horror
  • Cosmic horror
  • Apocalyptic horror
  • Crime horror
  • Erotic horror
  • Occult horror
  • Psychological horror

The following is a list of the top 15 tips we have gathered to help you write your horror short story better

Submerse yourself in the horror genre

This should come as no surprise. In order to create the best horror short story you can, you will need to immerse yourself within this genre. Read some of the work from leading authors; Stephen King, Clive Barker, Anne Rice (you can find out more in our blog – Top 10 Best Horror Authors).

Practice writing horror, then practice some more

In order to be an expert in your field, you need to practice for 10,000 hours. That is a lot of writing. Maybe you don’t want to be an expert but in order to be a good writer for short stories, you will need to write. It is a great feeling being able to look over your previous work and seeing the improvements you make on a daily, weekly basis. Consider starting off with some horror writing prompts.

Research real-life events

Some horrific, unusual and creepy events happen on a daily basis that many people miss or choose to ignore. Some of these weird and creepy events would make fantastic stories. Be careful not to exploit anyone and profit from their pain. For example, there are many stories of real-life exorcisms and stories about evil ghosts. Most real-life events can be exaggerated and turned into a fantastic horror short story.

Create a horror story based on common fears

Speak to your friends and families, find out what they are most afraid of or even dig deep into your own fears. One of the most successful series of novels by James Herbert was about giant killer rats. An idea so simple become one of the best selling horror stories ever. IT from Stephen King is also a great example. There are many fears that can make a fantastic horror story.

Create an atmosphere that pulls in your readers

How you build an atmosphere for your horror story is going to depend on a few different factors; your target audience, your subgenre of horror and your own experience. Creating an atmosphere for a psychological horror will be different from a gross-out horror story. Will your short story benefit from vivid, gory and gut-wrenching descriptions or will it be better to play with your reader’s mind?

Build your horror story with emotion

Creating a short story that envokes fear and dread in your reader should be one of your main goals. To do this you need to create extreme scenarios that play on your reader’s emotions. Make your readers question their own thoughts, create doubt on their minds, shock them and make them angry. Build on these emotions to play with your characters and your reader.

Highlight your character’s motivation

Your characters need to have clear motivations, one of them, obviously, is to survive but they will and should have other motivations. Perhaps in their fight for survival, they have to overcome a demon, fight a werewolf or banish a ghost? Make these motivations clear at the start of your story.

Don’t reveal everything

You do not want to reveal everything in your horror short story. You need to keep certain things behind locked doors. Your readers need to have their imagination go wild at the thought of what could be. In order to keep your readers hooked, you need to leave certain things undiscovered.

What point of view works best for horror stories?

Most horror stories can work well from both points of views but some will work better as first-person. Psychological thrillers are amazing in the first-person point of view if done correctly. They can make you feel like you are the protagonist. In a horror story, that is what will pull your reader deeper into the uncomfortable world you have created. Your reader should feel the emotion of your protagonist and having the first-person viewpoint can make this easier, though sometimes harder.

A first-person viewpoint works amazingly well with horror short stories because you can quickly create suspense at the start of your story.

The third-person point of view can give you more freedom to explore your short story. If you are finding the first-person viewpoint horror a little difficult then you should find this viewpoint much easier. Third-person horror stories allow you to build up suspense easier and allow you to create a larger background more easily than first-person. It allows you to move around your story easier and build tension from different viewpoints to create an amazing climax.

Be adventurous but realistic

Writing in the horror genre gives your short story a lot of flexibility to create a unique story. You want to make sure your story stays true to its genre and concept. You wouldn’t want to create a contemporary horror story and then 5 minutes later a demon swoops down on your protagonist riding on a flesh-eating unicorn, or maybe you would… hmm…

Learn how to use plot twists to build the horror

Plot twists can be difficult to master but it is something you should explore. Horror stories work well when your protagonist encounters twists and turns and can be a fantastic way to play on your reader’s emotions.

Try Something new

Don’t be afraid to test the waters with something new. There are many different horror stories out there so make sure your story has not been beaten to death. If you want to write a short story about a vampire romance then go for it, but remember this market is saturated and it may be white difficult to ‘break out’. If you want to do a vampire romance story you will have to put your own unique spin on it.

Is it difficult for you to write?

If you have had a personal experience that is difficult for you to write due to emotional reasons, it could be worth exploring. Your true emotions will come out in the story and you may be able to connect with your readers on a deeper level.

Show them the horror don’t tell!

Something that takes time to master and something which can’t be ignored in any story and in any genre, especially horror. If you want to tell people about something horrific then describe it in a way that makes the reader’s imagination go wild and create that horrific image.

It’s not all about the horror

Your shot story does not need to be filled with scenes of horror throughout. Don’t be afraid to add in some humour or some romance. For example, you could write a short story about the ghost of a recently departed loved one. Maybe the ex-partner’s goal is to move on and let go but they can’t because they still love them. However, they are not able to move on to the afterlife until the ex-partner can move on. During this process, the ghost is wreaking havoc on other people’s lives.

There are many different ways you can write your horror short story. You need to find out what works well for you and what works for the specific subgenre of horror you’re writing in.

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