In a previous blog, I talked a little about horror stories in
general. Now I’ll get more specific. How does a person write a horror story?
What makes a great one? How can you make a convincing story about a monster if
monsters aren’t real?
First, it’s important to realize that horror can take many
forms — gore-filled splatter-punk with buckets of blood… mysterious, cursed
people living in isolated Gothic castles (or even tropical islands!)…
psychological, unsettling horror that makes you feel uneasy… or your ordinary
“classic monsters” such as vampires, ghosts, zombies, and werewolves. Each kind
of horror story has its fans, probably because everyone is scared of different
things (heights, monkeys, bridges, etc.). But whatever type of horror story you
write (or read) there are a few universal elements that should go into any
An important element in writing horror is to invent a
believable horror universe where monsters, angels, vampires, and other
paranormal elements are possible – and conflict with the characters you’ve
The TV show “Supernatural” is an excellent example of horror
world building. The Winchesters go around hunting “things” for a living. They
were raised believing that paranormal creatures were more than legends – to
them, they’re 100% real, no question. That’s what every horror author has to do
– make the reader believe in the element of horror (whether it’s a
nightmare-invading serial killer, a 60 foot sea-creature, or a ghost) and take
the reader on a journey with the main characters. The situations need to be
plausible and told in a way that grips the reader, even if the premise seems a
bit far-fetched (at first).
As with any story, the author has to establish a believable
setting. Whether your tale takes place in a gritty, post-apocalyptic city or a
foggy rural graveyard, you need to give your readers a concrete foundation of
where the story is taking place. Use lots of details and props to make your
descriptions come alive. Ask yourself why your story has to take place where it
does, then take your reader there. My story, “Kropsy’s Curse” makes great use
of setting. What’s better than a horror story set in a graveyard on Halloween?
It’s available on www.fictionwise.com. The link is:
Remember that all characters (even the monsters) need to
have a purpose. Why are your zombies in Wegmans? Your readers will want to know
why (and how) the events in your story are happening. Your job as a writer is
to get readers to suspend their (dis)belief and buy into your story. This is
done by giving characters a goal and following it up with in-depth
characterization and details. You don’t have to go into a lengthy explanation,
just give your readers a reason, have your characters believe it, and move on.
In my story, “The Man in Apt. 3-A”, the main character really didn’t believe a
vampire lived upstairs…until he met him. (Read it for free in the horror
section of my site!)
And try to avoid clichés like the plague! Masked killers
hunting campers in the woods, serial-killing cannibal families, miserable Goth
vampires in ruffles, and mindless zombie attacks have all been done to… well,
death. When writing horror, don’t be afraid to break patterns, make your
characters different or have them go against the stereotype. Give readers
something unexpected, turn a cliché on its ear, or use a different point of
view — it’ll make your story stand out. Why not set your werewolf story in
Hawaii? My flash fiction story, “Guest of Honor” uses setting, mood, and
purpose to deliver a clever ending. It was featured in The Best of the First
Line. Read more about it here: http://www.kelliwilkins.com/horror01.html
My flash fiction story, “Death is Just a Tick Away”
appeared in the premiere issue of Dark Moon Digest’s e-magazine (Issue #1) this
summer. The story is based on a real superstition! You can order a Kindle
Remember, when writing horror, the only limit is your
Want more horror? Visit the horror section of my website:
Look for a special Halloween-themed blog next week, then exciting changes in the new year!
To celebrate my favorite month, my blogs for October will be
devoted (in some way) to the horror and paranormal genres.
As most everyone knows, I write in several genres, including
romance and horror. For some, that might seem an odd combination, but it works
for me. One half of my brain writes the horror, and the half writes the
Although I write hot and spicy romances for Amber Quill
Press, I actually started out writing short horror stories. Since I grew up
reading horror fiction and watching horror movies (the whole horror movie thing
is a blog for another day) it only seemed natural. (After all, Halloween is my
favorite holiday!) Later, I branched out into science fiction and published 40
or so pulp fiction-style sci-fi stories for the Sun.
In horror fiction, I get to explore different settings,
plots, and characters that I couldn’t develop in romance. Sometimes after
working on several romances, I’ll switch moods and write a horror story to give
my brain and writing muscles a change of pace.
My horror short stories are more psychological/spooky/creepy
than gory, and I like to explore the darker aspects of a story and not always
give the characters a happy ending, as I do in my romances. It’s fun to take a
seemingly normal situation (a Halloween party, a man living in an apartment, a
boy with a grudge) and add a supernatural/horror element.
Recently, two of my short stories appeared in horror
anthologies published by Pill Hill Press. (Both books are available on
Haunted: An Anthology of the Supernatural - contains 42
short stories about haunted places. Set in a haunted house, “Whispers from the
Past” blends the paranormal with a startling bit of reality.
Here’s a short
Paul rolled over in the narrow twin bed and tried to ignore
the faint whispers. No matter what he did, they invaded his mind like silvery
He closed his eyes and counted to fifty, hoping to focus on
anything but those quiet sounds on the edge of his sanity. Ghosts did not
exist, yet he was hearing eerie noises in the dead of night.
The whispers grew louder, more insistent. Now and then, he
could make out a word or two in the hushed voice he recognized from long ago.
It can’t really be him. It’s just my over-stimulated
imagination, or maybe the contest people are playing tricks on me.
He snapped back the bedclothes and stood up. The whispery
voice fell silent.
The Four Horsemen – An Anthology of Conquest, War, Famine
& Death – This anthology of twenty-five short stories is based on The Four
Horsemen of the Apocalypse. In “The Ape” a young boy in South Carolina uses an
unusual “toy” as a tool for revenge. Here’s a snippet:
South Carolina, 1961
Billy wrinkled his nose as he entered the dimly lit shop.
The air smelled funny, like a mix of spices and smoke. He closed the door
behind him, cutting himself off from the outside world.
His mind fired a jumble of warnings. Nobody knew where he
was… he wasn’t supposed to be here… who knew what might happen to him?
He fought the urge to yank open the door and run, but he
couldn’t. He had work to do. It had taken every bit of courage he had to get
this far, and he wasn’t going to give up now. Everyone in town knew where the
voodoo-lady practiced her magic—but no kid in fourth grade had ever been brave
enough to come inside before.