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9 Simple Tips to Write Short Horror Stories

Darius is a former high school literary and feature writer that loves reading books, listening to music, and watching movies.

9 Simple Tips to Write Short Horror Stories

9 Simple Tips to Write Short Horror Stories

The Beauty of Horror

Horror is a vague, abstract word to describe.

In the literary world, it is a genre of writing used to inflict terror, disgust, fear, and dread upon its patrons. That said, horror in itself comes with a lot of sub-genres and sub-cultures that are both fun and interesting to study.

But how does one create such horror? Surely, it must be an easy endeavor for a writer to scare somebody with their work. To tell you the truth, it's not. Horror, and the feeling we get from different sources of consumed media, is difficult to create, let alone to create well. It has molded, adapted, and evolved through the passage of time to be as coherent as someone else's current living conditions. Nevertheless, it is still a challenging type of genre to almost perfectly execute.

Through my time as an amateur writer and an avid reader, these are some of the lessons I have learned about the horror that may help anyone determine what makes a good short story

The scariest part is just always before you start.

— Stephen King

1. Play With Common Fears or Phobias

Everyone is scared of something, even the smallest of things; readers aren't supposed to be entertained by horror. They are supposed to be filled with, or at least feel, terror and/or intense suspense. Common fears and phobias are very effective when written beautifully, or should I say "terrifyingly", in horror stories.

Scared of the dark? Scared of pointy things? Scared of spiders? Scared of that birthday performer in your house? Scared of your suspicious neighbor? Use them and utilize them in your story. Think of what is typically, and sometimes very rarely, is outside the box; your comfort zone, or other people's comfort zone. And be sure to distort them in every way you can that even yourself is spooked when you read the whole sentence or paragraph out loud.

What about not getting the feeling of fear? A radicalized feeling of bravery taken to an extreme? It can be an interesting story to tell, especially in learning the physical and psychological repercussions of having not to fear anything in the world.

Question things that are questionable.

Question things that are questionable.

2. Use the 5Ws and 1H Formula

These are the questions who, what, where, when, why, and how. Write them on a draft piece of paper or on any tool and start asking these questions that revolve around the story you're going to write. These questions can also pave the way for your story's arcs, plots, and twists. Asking more than enough questions and answering them one-by-one is a completely valid process.

Also, plan where and when you would finally post your finished story. Because let's face it, not all people are into the horror and suspense genre. But knowing these W's will help you along the way, especially knowing the platform you're going to put your story — platforms like Creepypasta, Quora, even YouTube — and help you get around and continue your story whenever you suddenly stopped writing and couldn't think of the next scenarios.

Senses like sight, smell, touch, etc.

Senses like sight, smell, touch, etc.

3. Your Readers' Senses Should Be Limited

Limit your readers' senses, but not too limited. It's good if you keep leaving out clues along with your story. Write it as if the readers are the protagonist of the stories you are going to write. Limiting their senses, like what they see, hear, touch, or smell would make them raise a lot of questions and would also create a build-up of suspense or a very interesting rising action. It's like having fog in the story, and while the reader progresses, the fog clears up (or not!). You can also try doing the reverse by making the characters of your story feel all the senses at once. It's just a matter of how you will concoct the structure of the story that creates pitfalls in this, so do be careful on describing as much versus showing what you have to tell.

Photo by charlesdeluvio on Unsplash

Photo by charlesdeluvio on Unsplash

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4. WCOE: Be Wild, Be Creative, Be Original, Be Experimental

Have your imagination run wild! Werewolves, vampires, mummies, ghosts, the majority of these traditionally inclined tropes in stories can still be used in a powerful manner when done right. And, how about twisting them a little bit? Or how about experiments where it could take you away from the traditional narratives or take your writing on the next step? Make your creations more clandestine from one's perspective, or be trivial to explore and create horror from even the most common things (much like how Stephen King create his works).

Sometimes, humans or the characters themselves are the monsters but vaguely disguised as one. If you're having a hard time, try to remember one of your abhorred or horrific nightmares when you were a kid, and then finally come up with something that's more interesting on your part as the writer and spine-shivering for your readers.

If you haven't watched the movie "The Mist", you should.

If you haven't watched the movie "The Mist", you should.

5. Plan Your Twists Accordingly and Effectively

To twist or not to twist?

The twist, or multiple twists, of a story express a wide range of reactions from readers and viewers alike, from "meh" to "omg!" kind of reactions. Twisting your story is a fun way to surprise your readers, or even make them cry, especially if their guards are down while consuming the medium. But oftentimes, twisting the stories can be risky.

You have to be a little bit conscious of where your story is heading because the thing we don't want readers to put into their minds is how the story's going to end. I have to advise that there has to be a good, not too slow, build-up of the story, first, before executing the final strike (like the twist in Jordan Peele's "Us" or Jaume Collet-Serra's "Orphan.") In the end, the choice of twisting of a story is yours and yours alone to make.

"Quarantine", a horror movie, is one good example.

"Quarantine", a horror movie, is one good example.

6. Focus on Your Story's Point of View

Point of view is the angle of considering things, which shows us the opinion or feelings of the individuals involved in a situation. In literature, point of view is the mode of narration that an author employs to let the readers “hear” and “see” what takes place in a story, poem, or essay.

This is very, very effective, in my opinion. Most stories I've read (and stories written mostly on the internet) have typically the first-person perspective or point of view, and with this way, it could also help you to further limit your reader's senses (tip #3) because most details are hidden from the protagonist and, especially, from the reader.

Looking through your character's eyes, as though you are him/her portraying in or telling the story, makes the reader feel the same way as your characters do in horrific events — waiting for the unknown and being stricken with fear. It gives the emphasis on the reader's "how to feel" rather than "how to know" or "what to expect." And as they say, the less you (the readers) know (in scary stories), the better.

H.P Lovecraft

H.P Lovecraft

7. Read and Research Other Writers and Their Works

Horror is a genre not easily appreciated by anyone, and creating one is not an easy task. It can be challenging to have readers and build stories and a name when you're a writer of horror.

Depending on your views, ideologies, beliefs, horror can be a gateway to have these perspectives inserted into the story. Or, it can also be the way to have these perspectives distorted. Your horror can be an allegory for a social issue, a warning about a possible future, or even just the phobia of something you can't seem to let go. Junji Ito's works are best ones to hide commentaries behind the horror medium. And though most of his works are graphically made, it still holds the essence of horror story creation. H.P. Lovecraft, the creator of a unifying universe made up of fragmented stories about the cosmos, did say, however, that the oldest and strongest emotion is fear — and that the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. Stephen King's style of writing derives from the realism of horror and how a real life phenomena can be molded into something distortedly fictional. And of course, Mary Shelly wrote something so phenomenally acclaimed that she basically co-invented the genre of melding horror and science fiction.

One of the best ways to generate your specialty for evoking fear is to read, learn, and feel fear from other writers or from other digestible mediums. The internet is a great medium of horror stories published by new and professional authors; the internet itself is a pretty scary place to be. If not, books can be also be a great source for inspiration and appreciation for horror.

The most used flow of stories or movies.

The most used flow of stories or movies.

8. The Basics and Fundamentals of Writing Stories

Horror in itself is still a subjective form due its lucrative and volatile form. Despite this, one must always be mindful to stick to the basics. For one to break rules, one must first learn how the rules work.

Always polish your stories. Check the spelling, the grammar, apply a better usage of word, the clarity of its every piece to make a perfect pie, and usage of simple yet cunning words to at least amplify your readers. And even though it's a horror genre, there should always be a beginning, a climax, and an end to your story.

You can also create a flow chart of your story for you to maximize the ability of where your story will lead. Your character/s should achieve a goal, a conflict resolved, or even just leave your readers in a cliffhanger with open-ended questions running through their minds.

Does a story have to perfect? Not really. Imperfections of a horror story often lead to its greatness.

Extract stories from personal experience. Photo by Elti Meshau on Unsplash

Extract stories from personal experience. Photo by Elti Meshau on Unsplash

9. Extract Stories from Personal Experiences

This may work in any genre in fiction writing, but it works on horror or thriller ten-fold. Extracting personal experiences and shaping them to become your next magnum opus can be a good thing to do, especially if you're fresh out of ideas to write about.

You can take a snippet or part from your personal experiences, weird dreams, or even in boring situations that you can stretch and mold into terrifying stories. You have the power to amplify the normalcy in your real-life phenomenon and create a worthy product that will creep or scare or terrify those who will read it.

Experiences vary from person-to-person. It could be as mundane as remembering the first time you successfully cooked an omelette, or as horrific remembering the last time you witnessed a gruesome murder. And though some experiences may be too hard to extract, because of their underlying real-world psychological effects, that's okay. You, as the writer of your piece, have the power and final say to extract stories from your experiences.

Shadows of the Seas

by @davrowpot

I am posting this for everyone to be wary of what they post online, or what they search, or what they intend to find and intend to do on the internet; to be considerate and to always ask permission of the people they capture, living or not.

There's a famous cruise line from a certain country that books a lot of passengers now and then. Most passengers, like myself, book a cruise trip, especially in the middle of summer. There was one weird thing about the cruise line that I booked, though...

Because there were extra passengers.

You see, in our kind of age today, VLogging or Video Blogging has become a trendy thing, mostly to the youth and young of age. They post it online, gain followers, and even monetize it just like posting written articles on a blog. I was one of those VLoggers, as we call ourselves, that wishes to gain popularity from the masses. I started my VLogs posting on YouTube, and now I have like a thousand plus subscribers in it, too. Not that much for me, but I still keep doing the thing I love no matter what (and I already signed up to monetize my YouTube account.)

Everything was going smoothly during my stay on the cruise ship. I started Vlogging from its entrance until I get inside the ship and until the ship finally sailed to the open sea. I brought my laptop and tools to edit my videos while on tours. The itinerary of the Cruise Ship was six nights and seven days, landing to different countries just across the Americas.

It was until my third night in the Cruise Ship that I noticed something really strange. I was at the dining table, with everyone whose dining time was set at that time, that I had the idea to Vlog myself dining the Cruise's delicious food (they are very well known for it). I asked permission, of course, to capture the beautiful surroundings and the food. I pointed my camera in front of another cruise ship goer with her husband (with their knowledge and permission), and there I saw it.

I told you that there were extra passengers, right? Well, the fact is, they're not human. Well, they're human-like in form, but I don't what they are. As normal people, we would see them and call them ghosts. But aren't ghosts supposed to be silhouettes when in contact with a camera? Because the ones I captured resembles a pure, shadowy figure that you could easily distinguish that it's a human. You could see the texture of their details as if they are mannequins ditched in black color because their movements are pretty recognizable. They have no face, or clothes, or hair. Just shadowy, black figures that look like they've been mold into one.

I looked at them away from the camera and didn't see anything that could ruin my camera's taking of them, like any loose material or even a sheet of the curtains of the cruise, and then when I looked back the figure was still there — sitting with them, displaying itself like itself was enjoying a dinner. When I showed the footage to the couple, they were in such shock their eyes were huge while covering their mouths.

When I opened my camera to take its footage again, it's not there anymore.
I stumbled upon capturing more of these figures in the coming days and nights of my stay on the cruise ship. In the kid's playground (the Cruise have one), in a bar, in the balconies, and even in my room. The one in my room was "hiding" behind the curtains of the window, just standing there as if it was staring out in the ocean.

The weirdest thing is that sometimes I could hear their voices. They are very faint, human, but deep voices. The smaller figures in the children's playground were laughing voices. And what weirded me out is sometimes they look at me, filming them, like somehow they know that I can see them through my camera. This forces me to stop my recording, the very reason why there's a lot of cuts made in the Vlog.

I recorded every "figure" I saw on the cruise, doing seemingly what normal, existing people would do on the cruise, and edited every part until I created the finished product of the video. It was a masterpiece, I said to myself.

When I posted the Vlog on YouTube, it exploded in a matter of days. My normal views of up to 100+ became tens of thousands, and the number of followers I have skyrocketed. The comments were filled with shocked and horrified people, some even claiming that they are paranormal experts and this "kind of thing" I've shown to them is new.

Some comments say that I purposely edited the video to make it seem like there figures on it, like what would Hollywood producers and directors would do in their scary movies. I pinned a comment stating that the only edits I have had made were cutting the video and sewing it again to make the final VLog.

After several months, I started seeing relevant videos of other rising VLoggers with them taking footages on the same cruise ship. Each VLog with its variety, with one depicting theories to one creating conspiracies. There was a VLog of a fellow VLogger that I am a friend of, of how he told stories about ghosts finding their bridge to heaven and/or hell and that the Cruise Ship was that "bridge" he was talking about.

After more than a year of the incident, I tried to contact him to do a VLog with him together. There were no responses. His YouTube channel was even deleted. I tried contacting the Cruise Line of the Cruise Ship if they have had something to do with it, as well as the travel agency, but they only gave the same robotic, scripted response to call them. I tried messaging him on social media sites where we have contact with, but the screen only shows "User not Found." Soon, more and more people have been booking the Cruise Ship (I can see it online), and that's when I decided to create one more VLog about it to investigate.

It was the night before my Cruise Ship that I stayed in a hotel. I was on its sixth floor. The rooms were spacious, and the employees are great. The overall service of the hotel was stellar. But when I asked one of them, particularly the one working in the lobby, about the figures I saw in the Cruise Ship more than a year ago, he gave me a frightened looked and said that he doesn't know anything.

It was past midnight that I was editing my first VLog entry before boarding the ship in the morning when all the electricity in the hotel shut down. There's a mini-radio inside my room where an employee said that it was caused by accident and they are working on getting the electricity as soon as possible because the hotel, to my surprise, doesn't have any backup generators. The only light in my room was the light coming from my laptop placed on a tiny table at the foot of my bed.

I heard something shifting by the hotel window, and since it was not illuminated by the moon's light, I took my camera out of my bag, opened its flashlight, and like an autopilot on a plane, began taking footage. I scanned the whole room first, stating that the power went out of the hotel but still stating that the services of the hotel were good. I flipped its screen and switched it to capture a video of myself, like how you take selfies on your phone.

That's when I noticed that the curtains behind me were shifting. I stopped for a second and then continued with my narratives. But the curtains behind me moved once more. I flipped the screen and switched and faced the camera to the curtains. The shifting of the curtains gave me tremendous goosebumps because, well, it was impossible for wind to get inside my room.

Shadow People

Shadow People

I was staring at the curtains for a while, and when I looked at the camera, a figure slowly walked out of it. It was facing me, looking at me, and walking slowly. I felt an intense chill running down my spine. I looked outside the camera, and there I saw the figure, getting nearer and nearer to my position. I tried to stand up and ran for the door, but I couldn't move my body.

That's where I dropped my camera, still facing the figure with its flashlight, with me petrified in the figures every step. All I could remember is that it stopped in front of me, face to face, as if looking through me. I could vaguely see its shadowed details — and there's still no face. I could hear and feel its heavy breathing across my chest until I passed out.

I woke up in the morning, almost gasping for air. I looked around my well-lighted room with my laptop still open and my camera on the floor. I looked at it and saw that all the videos I've captured that day were deleted — all but three; and when I played it, I finally understood why my VLog friend went "missing".

The first one was the video of the figure and what it did last night, the coming out of the curtains and coming towards me. I couldn't believe that it was saved because I dropped it on the floor when I was fearing for my life. How was it saved? I still don't know.

And the second is a close-up video of me in seven seconds, passed out on the bed.
The third one was my full-length, almost an hour, footage in the Cruise Ship, the one I took more than a year ago. They weren't doing the things they were doing when I first took the video, not that I can't remember it. They were just static, either sitting or standing in one place. And when I was watching them, I realized one thing that all the figures were doing — they were all looking at me.

I'm still seeing videos of other people on YouTube about the Cruise Ship and its figures, but the volume was getting low, as well as its relevance. The VLoggers I've been seeing making videos about it, too, were diminishing by days until there was a time that all of them haven't posted any video anymore or at all. And when I search them, it's either they have already deleted their Channels or have three words showing up in their social media accounts — "User not Found".

I packed and left the hotel as soon as possible and went straight to my parent's home; I didn't get on the Cruise Ship that day.

Further Reading

  • 11 Disturbing Horror Stories From Creepypasta
    Having a hard time sleeping at night? Searching for inspiration to create your own horror story from scratch? Let me introduce you the online manifestation of the horror genre—creepypasta.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Darius Razzle Paciente


Robert Sacchi on September 27, 2019:

You're welcome.

Darius Razzle Paciente (author) from Metro Manila, The Philippines on September 26, 2019:

Thank you Robert!

Robert Sacchi on September 26, 2019:

Good tips. Your story does a great job of emphasizing your points.

Darius Razzle Paciente (author) from Metro Manila, The Philippines on August 29, 2019:

Thank you! I have tons of ideas, I just can't get started on them because of school works and other things that keeps me busy. I hope I could write more soon, or even write a mini-book.

Muhammad Abdullah on August 29, 2019:

A Really great horror dude. I'm sure you will write a fabulous book.

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