Welcome, foolish mortals to our haunted blog post. We here at Three Houses Press love Halloween and wanted to keep the spooky times rolling with a look at what to do when your horror isn’t scary.
Have you ever started reading a supposedly scary story only to discover that you aren’t scared in the least? Horror is one of the hardest genres to get right because not only do you have to have a great plot with excellent details, but you really have to get stuck in it, believing the terrible things you’re serving up. Books are generally an escape for people, but a horror book has to be especially griping. Below we’ve listed a few things to think about before you start writing your next horror book to make sure you’re able to scare as many readers as possible:
Where you set a novel is super important, but possibly even more so in a horror story. Are you going classic with an old creepy house, or are your characters being tortured by a haunting in their brand new, modern apartment building? Be very specific with your details and make sure you commit to getting things right. Readers will be thrown off by obvious mistakes, and the story won’t be quite as frightening. Choosing a setting and/or time frame that is very unexpected for a horror can be a good way to tell a new, interesting story but be careful not to go too broad.
Finding the right POV can be challenging regardless of genre. However, in horror, point of view impacts the overall tone and narrative of your story. In horror, we often are given the POV of the principal hero who saves the world or lives the longest for a reason–they are the one that is going to primarily be up against the big scaries. However, don’t be afraid of venturing into the POV of a side character or a character that lives on the page for only a short period of time. Just remember that the more of the world you show, the more you are revealing. The more you reveal, the less there is existing as mystery and suspense, which is an absolute must in horror writing.
Way back in July (feels like a million years ago doesn’t it?) we took a look at pacing. In horror, pacing is everything and most often comes in the form of building tension. Hooking your reader earlier and keeping them on the knife’s edge is a horror hallmark. However, it can be tricky to find the right buildup. You need to determine the stakes of your story early on and build your tension off of those stakes. Be sure to give readers a breather, but not so much of a breather that they forget what is waiting for them perhaps only a page away. Rapid rises and falls between moments of tension creates the opportunity to almost write in jump scares, where readers are caught by sudden frights in the same way Pennywise jumps toward the characters out of nowhere in IT.
Think about the things that commonly scare people. I’m not exactly thrilled about spiders, but they don’t scare me. Yet to others they signify the end of the world. Use what scares you as a basis for your stories, but don’t be shy about peppering in things that don’t make your heart stop. Make sure to utilize some instinctual fears and remember that something as simple as realizing that nothing is as it appears can be just as terrifying as a jump scare.
Sometimes when you’re stuck, the easiest thing to do is put whatever you’re working on off to the side and focus on something else. In genre writing, it’s easy to get caught up in tropes. But tropes aren’t always a bad thing, especially when they work. If you’re feeling stuck with your horror, revisit one of your favorite books, movies, or shows within the genre, but this time try looking at it with a critical eye. What do you like best about it? What works in this story? What doesn’t? Where are you most terrified and most compelled to turn the pages as quickly as you can read? Revisiting works that inspire you can be a great motivator and help you see where your work is failing.
So those are our spooky tips! We hope they help you on your terrifying journey as you become the next Stephen King. Did we miss anything? Comment below and let us know! And don’t forget, we’re always on the lookout for new submissions and we’d love to see what you’re working on.