It is an intriguing fact that a sizeable number of the population happens to enjoy the thrill of being scared out of their minds. It’s true. The popularity of the horror genre endures simply because the fright and terror its stories provoke are stimulating, both mentally and physically. After all, you sure can’t be bored when you’re terrified.

Effective horror story writing requires the use of key literary elements that guide the storytelling toward the perfect balance between gore and psychological horror. Employing these tools also helps prevent the author from veering into clichés and utter absurdity. If you are interested in learning more about how to write horror novels, read on!

Exploring the Appeal of Horror as a Genre

As you prepare to write your horror book or short story, it helps to first consider the reasons why horror fiction is so popular among readers:

  • Horror stokes primal fear. Horror taps into our deepest fears, sparking the production of adrenaline, the chemical associated with the fight or flight response. This causes sensory hyperarousal, which triggers a sense of excitement in the reader.
  • Horror reveals the dark side of the human condition. Horror shines a light on the underbelly of the human psyche, revealing things about the characters that are shocking and disgusting – and also fascinating.
  • Horror reflects cultural anxieties. Horror can be deployed to provide commentary about current social issues or to serve as a reflection of cultural anxieties. These issues might include social unrest or war, political movements, such as communism, or climate change concerns.

Before attempting to write a horror story, authors should be voracious readers of horror themselves. By reading a wide range of highquality horror, writers can glean ideas for how to pace their story arc, create dark, scary settings, and evoke a sense of dread and sheer terror in their readers.

5 Tips for Writing Horror

Great horror writing doesn’t just happen. Creating suspense-driven fear requires a particular skill set, which includes the following elements:

  1. Establish Strong Pacing and Tension. Whether the pacing you employ is a slow burn, a brisk clip, or somewhere in between, the tension you create in the scenes should be leveraged to shock, scare, disturb, and appall the reader.  
  2. Mix Genres to Enhance Horror Elements. The horror genre actually includes a broad range of subgenres created by mixing horror with other genres. Mixing horror with historical, romance, fantasy, paranormal, and gothic genres allows the writer to add depth, complexity, and a fear factor to their storyline.
  3. Building Complex Characters. When creating characters for your horror story, keep in mind that the protagonist and antagonist are on equal footing. The protagonist should inspire compassion or empathy, and the villain should evoke intense fear. Build an interesting, relatable, believable protagonist, and a multi-layered antagonist with clearly articulated malevolent motivations.
  4. Explore Psychological Horror. Psychological themes, such as paranoia or psychosis, are often more terrifying than graphic violence, dead bodies, and gore. Drill deep into your own fears or phobias, such as claustrophobia, agoraphobia, or acrophobia (fear of heights) for inspiration.
  5. Utilize Effective Editing Techniques. Once you complete the first draft, it’s time to edit, prune, and polish your story. Identify and trim redundant or unnecessary scenes, and fill out your characters and scenes with vivid and evocative descriptions.  

Self-Publishing Horror Fiction

For writers in the horror genre, self-publishing offers a more welcoming publishing experience. Horror writers can sometimes have a difficult time getting their submissions accepted by traditional presses, where self-publishing platforms provide a welcoming and expansive space for this genre.

Another benefit that a self-published horror author discovers is the large and dedicated fan base that exists in this genre. Social media platforms feature Facebook groups, TikTok and Instagram communities, and Reddit threads that are dedicated to fans of horror. Thus, social media offers fertile ground in which to market your book, reach and connect with prospective readers, and steadily grow your readership. 

Self-Publish Your Horror Stories with Gatekeeper Press

Are you an aspiring author in the horror genre? If so, why not access the expertise of the self-publishing professionals at Gatekeeper Press? We can assist you with every aspect of horror story writing, including developing the storyline and structure, editing and proofreading, cover design, and distribution of your book. Don’t go it alone — call or contact us online today!