How to Write a Scary Story

Ok, we know why you’re here and I’m not going to beat around the bush. Let’s get down to how to write a scary story.

The Plot:

This is fundamental in story building and there are a couple of avenues you can go down, but they each have to follow a set of rules.

“Something must happen in order for something else to happen as a result.”

This means stories should be narratives that have a beginning, middle, and ending. You can’t just have a beginning, awesome climax and a dud ending, or the opposite way round, or none at all. It’s all got to fit together just right.

Think about the things that scary you, try and elaborate on them until you have a plot. I find inspiration from newspapers, writing prompts, taking to people and other random stuff. You just got to know how to use it, and it becomes easier the more you do it.

Take this one for example. Carrots. On their own they just that, carrots. But, what if I said a carrot had been murdering people? Now your creative juices should be flowing.

Ok. Let’s look at the plot in a bit more detail. You can separate a plot into Acts if you like. Act 1, Act 2 and Act 3. In the first Act your story begins and action steadily rises. In Act 2 the story climaxes. In Act 3 the story has falling action and resolution.

The main arch of a story is as followed.

Act 1 – [Exposition, rising action] Act 2 – [Climax] Act 3 – [Falling action, resolution]

If it’s easier for you, let’s look at it without the Act, but it still has to follow the same basic principles.

Exposition – Rising Action – Climax – Falling Action – Resolution.

Or a more intense version is:

Exposition – Rising Action – False Climax – More Rising Action – Climax – Falling Action – Resolution.

Let’s take the top example for ease.

Exposition: When you think of all the really good books you’ve read can you remember how you got hooked within the first pages, or even paragraphs. This is essential to having readers engaged in your story. The reader doesn’t want to know about how your character is doing the shopping or cleaning the house, unless the house is trying to eat them or if the shopping have come alive and are now zombie fruit, or carrots.

You have a paragraph to pull your reader in and keep them reading. How do you do that? Easy, hit them with a mystery or a scare.

It doesn’t have to be the big plot reveal just a weird phone call or strange event.

Take this for example:

This is a story I’m very reluctant to tell, sometimes things are better buried and left alone, but if I’m right…and I know I am, bad things are coming, and that’s the really scary part.

Even with my eyes squeezed shut it did little to help. I knew if I opened them he would still be there, even though he really wasn’t. That’s the thing about the dead, sometimes they didn’t know they were dead, and the others ones, well, they were worse.

With the opening paragraph I’ve suggested that something bad is coming back to get me and no amount of running away or burying it will help. The next paragraph tells you a little more about what’s to be expected.

Rising action: What we can do here is get right to the crunch. Starting your story with some mystery or action gets your main character in the shit straight away, and while they’re trying to get out, you can elaborate on the backstory and build your world, adding tension and suspense all the while your monster or murderous carrots are chasing your characters.

Take this for example from another story.

The smell hits me first as I moved through the corridor. It’s like rotting flesh and sewage. Like something had died, and then something else has eaten that corpse, and then died all over again.

I scanned the hallway ahead, 3 doors on the left and 3 on the right, and one facing me – all closed apart from the latter that let out a tiny dull light. Something zips passed me like the wind on a cold day, spinning me around, and childish giggling echoed down the hall accompanied by the snap of a door shutting.

We know straight away that the character is in the shit and he’s not alone.

Climax: The big reveal. You’ve been holding back the twist, and now it’s time to unveil it. Make sure you don’t let on to the twist before it’s ready. Readers love guessing what the twists are, but they love being wrong even more. So when your murderous carrots are actually you forcing whole ones down people’s throats it will come as surprise.

Also a good tip here it to cut down your sentences. Quick sharp worded sentences add the urgency and action to the climax. You don’t want long drawn out sentences describing thing in intimate detail, just quick and punchy. Maybe the climax is a fight scene. You don’t want to be describing what the monster are dressed like, you want to show how it’s coming to eat you.

Here’s some examples:

Instead of writing: I noticed the shadows move. Use – The shadows moved. Instead of I stood up and turned around, saw the thing coming for me so I ran. Use – I stood, turned, saw it coming and fled.

As for reveals, take this two paragraph horror I wrote as an experiment. It doesn’t let on until right near the end, and bam, you didn’t see it coming.

Sometimes, you don’t know someone as much as you though you did. Take Bethney for example. I thought her love of holding hands was just a comforting mechanism. A neurotic childhood affliction caused by a distanced father. It just goes to show I really didn’t know shit.

Never did I imagine how deep that affliction went. Not until I opened a forgotten draw under her bed and found a collection of severed hands. All beautifully preserved and drained of blood. You might imagine I ran there and then, but your wrong. It not everyday you see the darkest side of the one you love, and I knew seeing now that she needed my support. Even if it was just someone to hold her hand.

Falling Action: Your character has just made it out alive but barely. Maybe a friend has been lost, taken or killed by a indescribable monster. Now is the time to get away, maybe the things is still out there ready to strike again, perhaps you’ve killed the monster only to realise it’s Mr Hopper the janitor. Whatever the circumstances you’ve got to calm your audience down from the thrill ride of your climax. You can use this to answer some of those burning questioning in your audience’s minds and continue into the resolution.

Resolution: So your reader has been on a roller coaster ride through their emotions and now they need some closure. You can’t just end your story bluntly, letting them guess at why and what’s. Although a little mystery is always good to keep them wanting more, but you don’t want to leave loads of questions unanswered. This is the part where you fill in those questions. Why what happened happened, and what will happen in the future.

You got caught forcing the carrot down your last victim throat and now have gone to jail, where they’ve let you work in the jail kitchen.

If your leaving the story on a cliffhanger, you’ll need to add your mystery here, but be prepared to do a follow up story or otherwise you’ll lose those followers you gain by writing a great story.

Pointers.

Show don’t tell: Throughout your story show don’t tell. As a rule of thumb it’s better if you write “Jason’s face flushed and he banged his fist on the table.” Rather than “Jason was angry.”

There is an exception to this, you can tell when you want to keep your story short. For example. “My daughter loves pretending she’s a mermaid,” over writing 200 words describing her dress up costumes.

Use the right words: If your writing a scary story use scary word. No one will find “the thing smiled wide with yellow teeth” scary, but with a little change up. “The thing’s smile stretched over his cracked yellow teeth.” Or, “her breasts were saggy” can be “her breasts looked like two deflated balloons.” It can all add up.

Learn from criticism: it’s hard I know, but the only way you’ll get better is to write and put it in front of people to read. You’ll go through some pretty shitty feedback until you find someone that can do it correctly. Try joining a writing club and also try critiquing yourself. The better you get at it, the better you’ll be at helping someone else’s, and the better they will be at helping you.

Now, go write yourself a horror story!

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