The horror genre has a special appeal to its readers, and its writers too. It is one of the most difficult genres to write for, because different people fear different things.

So how do you write a good horror story? Here are five key tips from an avid horror fan:

1. Write about something that truly scares you

If you write about something that scares you, you’re sure to get more emotion into your writing. It can be that childhood monster in your closet, the fear of losing your child, or an irrational and intense dislike of dishwashers: If it’s real for you then you can make it real for your reader.

2. Don’t forget to create that spooky atmosphere

While stories set on a stormy night in an abandoned house seemed clichéd, their atmosphere has always worked for them. Though not all settings need to be gloomy or macabre, often an average picture of suburbia will lead to a more intense impact on your reader than a haunted forest. The important point to remember is that setting and atmosphere all add to the overall feel of your story.

3. Make your characters make real choices

Often a character’s actions will exacerbate the situation, so make sure that their choices are ‘real’. By real I mean that they should seem like the most likely choice for that person to make. When the crazed killer is chasing the young teenage cheerleader through her house, would she really run straight past the front door and up the stairs to the second floor (like we’ve seen in so many teen movies), or would she bolt through that door and search for help instead? Ask yourself what you would do in that situation and let your answer depict the character’s actions.

4. Be elegant and subtle in your writing

The key to a good horror story is that it’s elegant. The finely woven tale of suspense and tension, filled with the unknown, is often far more horrifying than an axe-wielding maniac who slashes his way through the plot. Be subtle and you will make an impact. Be cunning and you will catch your reader off guard.

5. Scratch that Writer’s Itch

Have you felt the need to write a story but stopped because you’ve felt it’s all been done before? Don’t let that hold you back. Try your hand at the haunted house story; give it your own unique touch by writing it with your own characters, your own words, your own ghosts. Because that’s what we writers do: we take a plot, an idea or a person and we make them our own.


Ultimately, horror comes down to finding the right combination of plot and character. What scares your reader should terrify your character because if your character isn’t scared, your readers won’t be either. Remember this valuable piece of advice: when it comes to horror, it’s not the story that makes it good, but the way the story is told.

About the Author:

H R Green is a writer of short stories and has a passion for teaching Creative Writing.

She won the 2011 SA Writers’ College Short Story Competition with her story “The Tokoloshe”. With a BA Degree in English Literature from the University of the Witwatersrand (2007) and an HonsBA Degree from the University of South Africa (2009) she is about to embark on her Masters Degree.

She completed the Short Story Writing Course at SA Writers College.

Photo credit: flickr.com_Baz In Briz