How to Write a Horror Story (And a Scary Short Story): In 7 Steps

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Before learning the steps and techniques of writing a good horror story, scary short story, or horror novel you first, have to understand the basics of horror fiction, which is ”fear”.

What Is Fear, And Why Do We Love Reading Horror Fiction?

Fear by the definition is an unpleasant feeling triggered by the threat of danger, pain, harm both real or imaginary and when we experience this strong emotion ”the fear” in our comfort zone where we are safe from all the evils happening in the story or the movie we are watching then this unpleasant feeling of fear gets turned into an extremely ocular pleasant, enjoyable and amusing experience.

Related: Best Horror Short Stories

In short, the amusing feeling of reading a horror story, horror novel, or watching a horror movie can be related to a person who enjoys eating his favorite spicy food to feel its burning pleasure.

Horror fiction is always in great demand either in print or the visible media and many writers have earned a big name in writing horror fiction.

Related: 101 Horror Story Ideas

But are you ”The Tough Guy”? 

I believe someone who gets scared the most can write an awesome horror or a scary story. So If you fear going alone in a dark basement, fear ghosts, get uncomfortable when a creepy stranger looks at you in a subway, you feel fear when someone seems to follow you on the street,  you enjoy watching horror movies but at night you regret that then there is a great chance you can write a better horror story.

But what If you are “the tough guy” who doesn’t get scared easily and can binge the whole night watching horror then first you have to understand what horror feels like.

Related: 100 Short Story Ideas

Pro Writing Tips:

As we all know, we get frightened the most reading those horror stories where we see the characters are ordinary beings not so capable of facing the fear.

So no one will enjoy a horror story where the characters are the extraordinary tough guys easily handling their fears.

Famous Horror Fictions-

Popular Horror Stories (short):

Popular Horror Novels:

Reading some of the best works of famous horror writers like Edgar Allan Poe, Shirley Jackson, H.P Lovecraft and Stephen King, etc. will help you a lot in understanding the craft and techniques of writing a great horror story.

Pro Writing Tip-

Read Edgar Allan Poe, one of the great short story writers who wrote amazing horror fiction and short stories that still amaze, excite, and horrify their readers and you should need to read his works before starting witting your own horror fiction. 


Writing a horror short story or a horror novel-

Writing a horror novel or a scary short story, both involve all the same elements, just when we write a short horror fiction we need to take care of the length of the story because here we cannot elaborate on all the scary and horrific events or scenes a lot as we do in writing a novel.

Now just follow these 6 simple and proven steps and write your first horror fiction today.

  Now let’s begin

how to write a horror story step one

How to Write a Horror Story (Steps)-

1. Choose Your Fear Factor

2. Use The Key Elements Of Horror

3. Use a Scary Tone

4. Set A Scary Background

5. Place A Plot Twist

6. Use The Triple S Concept- Survive, Search, Scare

7. Save The Secrets For The Right Time.

Step 1- Choose your fear factor

A horror story includes some fear factors on which the whole story moves. These fear factors are well known in every horror story.

supernatural entities in horror story

  • Supernatural entities– The oldest fear factors of humans. Since the beginning of mankind, the fear of supernatural entities has been prominent. When people started believing in the strong almighty entity, the gods, then they also began believing in evil spirits, ghosts, and supernatural entities. Humans used to pray from the almighty to protect them from evil spirits and supernatural stuff. People yet in this age love to read stories based on ghosts and supernatural entities.
  • Monsters-

monsters in horror story

The vampires, werewolves, zombies, Frankenstein, Bigfoots, witches, trolls, goblins, etc are well-known favorite fears of everyone because these are popular fear factors among young readers and even children. A little reader may not read a horror story based on supernatural entities or a horror, crime, thriller, but can happily enjoy a Bigfoot story, witches and witchcraft, zombies, etc. So this fear factor broad your readership.

  • Aliens-

aliens in horror novels

This is the fear of a new modern world where people want to know what If an unknown entity, an alien interacts with humans, then how we will cope with the situation and survive. But it’s the hardest fear factor to choose to scare a reader because someone hardly gets scared by reading about an alien invasion or interaction with humans in comparison with getting frightened by reading a ghost story.

  • HumansWe humans get feared by our own species a lot. This is also one of the prominent fear factors in a horror story. You don’t want your favorite character in the story to get followed by a psycho killer for no reason and you read the whole story just to know if your ordinary and sweet character survived the psycho killer or not.

Pro writing tips

Create Helplessness– If any character in the story is suffering from a body defect or not capable of doing something which is normal for everyone then you can create an immense fear among your readers when they will see how your sweet character with a bodily defect will face and survive the fear.

Like we saw in the movie Annabelle when one character, a little handicapped girl not capable of walking is attacked by an evil spirit where she looked helpless and cannot fight back.

Related: 101 Horror Vocabulary

So imagine what if a character in your horror story suffers from a speaking defect and can’t shout and tell the other characters to save her from the evil.

This shit will make your readers go upside down and will create huge unrest, fear, and terror.

Step-2 Use the key elements of horror

Follow the elements of a horror story-

  • Fear
  • Mystery
  • Suspense
  • Surprise

These elements decide your story’s success and failure.

The use of these elements carelessly and without a proper and balanced way can make your horror story go ineffective and worthless to read. These four elements must be present in any horror story.

Fear– Fear is the basic element of a horror story and is like a pizza dough that no one will eat until you add the tasty toppings of mystery, suspense, and surprise.

Fear is useless and ineffective alone and a horror story only containing fear is worthless to read.

Like no one will be interested in just eating a plain pizza dough without any toppings same as no one will be interested in reading a horror story where the characters only face some fears with no suspense, mystery, or surprise.

Imagine how boring is to read a ghost or a monster or a psycho killer just scaring the characters in the story with no mystery behind who really they are and why they are doing so.

The suspense and mystery play an important role in engaging the reader’s mind deeply in the story and hold the reader’s attention strongly till the end of the story.

  • Difference between Mystery and Suspense-

Some people get confused about the difference between mystery and suspense.

I have seen on many questioning forums that people are confused about the differences between them.

Let’s understand their differences from this simple example-

  • Mystery-Murphy wants to know the mystery behind the locked room in his grandpa’s house.
  • Suspense- Murphy’s dad promised to tell him about the locked room once they all leave the place.

So now you can understand easily the waiting phase of readers for knowing the mystery of something is called Suspense.

Watch the below video to learn about writing a great suspenseful horror story.

Step 3- Use a scary tone

Start playing with words and write every ordinary event in a scary tone. Choose your words wisely while writing a horrific scene and you will give goosebumps to your readers without even showing a single ghost or the psycho killer in the story.

  • How to narrate the story in a scary tone:

Here are the examples of how you can turn a simple-looking word into goosebumps giving sentence-

Example 1-

The psycho killer called Murphy many times, but Murphy didn’t answer the call- [Not so scary]

The phone rang many times at night, but Murphy couldn’t dare to pick up.- [Scary]

Example 2-

The psycho killer then sends a message to Murphy saying he is outside his main door.- [Not so scary]

The phone ringing stopped with a strange message for Murphy, the message reads –Hi dear Murphy why are you hiding from me, don’t you want to meet your new friend who is waiting for so long outside your home just to meet you, dear- [Scary]

Step 4- Set a scary background

Ever imagined what else can scare someone the more except the ghosts, the monsters, an unknown entity, or any other kind of fear. It’s the background setting and the lonely environment.

This is the reason while watching horror movies we can get scared as hell, even by a little kid suddenly appearing from nowhere.

Example 1-

A little kid, one who looks very innocent and practically harmless to the characters in the film, but when this little one is placed into a dark wrecked room filled with old stuff and kids’ toys and when you see this little kid in the darkroom playing alone with his toys, you will not dare to enter into the room alone to talk with that little innocent cute looking kid.

Example 2-

A well-written scary background doesn’t even required darkness to scare someone.

Assume if you are alone at your home, chilling on your couch while watching your favorite T.V show at 3 P.M afternoon in the daytime with all the sunshine coming into your house by the window, then suddenly you feel like you are not alone in the house and someone is behind you, you turned back and found no one but soon you see a little girl in white dress peeping at you from behind the curtains and then goes into a room slowly.

Either you will leave your house immediately or you will follow the little girl with curiosity and maybe later found that she was your neighbor’s little niece who had come to visit her uncle on her birthday and while playing hide and seek mistakenly entered your house but in both ways, you are scared as hell before knowing about her.

Step 5- Place a plot twist

The plot twist and turns in any story are like the turn and zenith slopes in the roller-coaster ride which makes it more enjoyable and scary as well.

Example 1-

Assume your main character in the story is searching for his lost daughter in a wrecked town full of strangers but gets helped by a sweet but strange woman in the search, and at the end, he found out that no one knows the woman in town and the address of the place which she had said she lives is turning out to be a graveyard.

Example 2-

The innocent-looking dumb friend whom everyone mocks all the time turns out to be the psycho killer who killed every friend.

So the twist in a horror story is like extra cheese on pizza, which everyone wants to eat.

So take one character from your story and give him a little twist to give your readers the best horror reading experience.

Step 6- Use ”Triple S” concept- Survive, Search, Scare

Have you ever noticed what basically happens in most horror stories?

The main goal of the protagonist (the main character) and the other characters in any horror story is either to survive the horrific evil entity or to search for something, someone, some truth along with facing the fear or nothing in the control of the characters and they are not doing anything except getting scared by the evil entity.

Or these all three things are happening simultaneously

So they are scared but they had to search for something and also had to survive while searching for their goal.

So use the Triple-S concepts.

  • Survive– Let your characters struggle hard to survive in the story.
  • Search- Write a story plot in which the protagonist (the main character) is searching for the truth behind all the evil events or let him search for someone lost in the struggle.
  • Scare– Let the fear factor in your horror story scare the characters of the story all the time and they are looking for the answer that why all horrific things are happening to them.

So the uses of the Triple-S concept are common in horror tales.

No horror story exists without the use of these three S’s.

So take it as the base of your story and create everything on it, decorate your story with whatever fear elements you like to use.

Step 7- Save the secrets for the right time

While writing doesn’t reveal the important secrets of the story so easily.

Give your readers full time to ride their horse of imagination. If there is a shadow that is present at all the terrible events or at the death of characters in the story don’t reveal its secret until you have completely terrorized your readers.

Let your reader guess who is actually behind the killing of the characters or a character, is it a ghost, an unknown evil spirit, or a psycho killer.

Take your time and reveal it when you have nothing else to elaborate on in the story.


Related: Best Free writing Apps for Writers

About the Author-

Neel Rana is a YA short story author, flash fiction writer, literary enthusiast, and the founder of Pandora Post. Neel holds a degree in BA Honours in English Literature and has been writing since 2017. Neel’s magnum opus YA short storybook, “The Drunken Ghost” has been well received by the readers.