In my time of being a huge fan of all things horror, I have read many horror stories and books. I learned the traits which I did and didn’t like, as well as some mistakes that new writers can make. In this blog post, I will talk about good qualities of horror writing, bad qualities and how to make your story scare your reader.
Just for a little bit of honesty, I am not a qualified writer. My only qualifications in terms of writing are GCSE English language and literature. Therefore, the vast majority of this post will be my opinion which I have formed after years and years of reading and writing horror stories. If you have always wanted the opinion of a die-hard horror fan who has also researched all things spooky, then you have definitely stumbled upon the right place. You may disagree with me, which is completely fine. Feel free to reach out to me on here or even on the Forums! I am always interested in the opinions of other horror fans/writers.
I am also going to be giving some tips about horror stories on Episode since I read many of the horror stories in that section. And I even found some amazing stories that really used the tools at their disposal to make a story which actually lingered in my mind afterwards!
Also, for the fans of creepypasta, fear not. I plan on mentioning one of the creepypasta stories I love and why I love them. I’ll have to keep it all PG-13, but you’ll soon learn that a story doesn’t have to be intensely gory and packed with swear words in order to be scary. In fact, sometimes, the opposite can be just as terrifying.
Good Qualities of a Horror Story
A good horror story to me is one which leaves something with the reader. This could be a lingering sense of existential dread or just nightmares you get for the next few nights after reading.
I love a story that builds tension but either never shows you, or just isn’t specific about what the threat is can just allow your imagination to run wild. It reminds me of the story “Hachishakusama“. It’s a Japanese Urban Legend (just as a side note, Japanese urban legends are well known for being terrifying) about an eight-foot-tall woman who abducts children. That is a terrifying concept by itself, but the fact she makes a specific noise when she is near has lead me to listen out for that noise since I read the story. The scariest part is that I have never been sure how that noise would sound. So, for many nights afterwards, I was scared by all noises.
I could talk about Japanese urban legends forever. I may even make a separate blog post about them. And maybe even another one about Indonesian horror stories, which are often overlooked but just as terrifying. But I want to keep this post centered around why horror stories are good.
Why Are They Good?
Honestly, I think they are good because often there is no escape from the threat. There may be versions of the story that state methods you can use to escape! However, since there is no definite way of escaping the antagonist of the story, it leaves the reader with a fear of what may happen if those methods didn’t work in real life. This is a sign of a very good story, because obviously the threat in the story is purely fictional but convincing the reader’s brain that it is real is an amazing power.
For good reason, those stories are often told in first person. So, the reader feels like the one facing the threat. But for stories told in third person, where the reader is looking in on the situation, making the reader empathise with the characters in the story will allow them to them fear for the character. Plus, they can be just as terrified when they are facing the threat. This is because, depending on the narrative, they can feel like part of the story. They feel like an invisible character with no control over what happens and just desperately hoping the character they love makes it out alive. Similarly, if you make the character unlikable you can also give the reader a good amount of fun with betting against them.
Now, as for my favourite (well one of my favourite) creepypasta story, I am going to mention Psychosis. It has an amazing plot twist! Although, one of my main critiques of it is that I feel like the author could have added a bit more at the end to leave it lingering with the reader. By this I mean that something could have been added to make the reader as paranoid as the main character. But I still think it is an incredibly good story! Primarily, I love it because the reader is made to wonder if they should believe the main character or if the main character really is just losing their grip on reality. It is a very good example of building tension!
Bad Qualities in Horror Stories
I think the main thing that will make me turn away from a horror story is if I don’t feel anything at all. This happens if no tension is built, and if it just relies on graphic imagery instead of a well thought out plot.
Don’t get me wrong! I love popcorn horror and gore but only really in film. I don’t think I have ever read an incredibly gory story and actually enjoyed it. In fact, I often end up quite bored. It is absolutely fine to want to shock your reader with some gory descriptions. Although, if you do, then I suggest adding a content warning at the beginning of the story. Being taken by surprise with that kind of thing may not be good for certain readers.
Another peeve I have is when a lot of tension is being built then suddenly it goes away. When you have your reader gripped like that, do you really want to let that go? Or do you want to grip them tighter and tighter until you can terrify them and leave them writhing and squirming just wanting the terror to be over, encouraging them to read on so that they can escape? I personally prefer this to being gripped then let go very soon after.
Tips For All Authors And Episode Authors
One of my favourite horror stories on Episode is actually quite a popular one called Shroud by Dina D. The author used plenty of overlays and folklore in order to really tell the story. Also, she stated that it was based on real life experiences, which always scares me. I’m a sucker for things “based on a true story”.
Something that can bug me in some episode horror stories is just when there is a bunch of flashing lights and some angry looking scary characters. It isn’t scary. It’s just…silly. Episode isn’t really equipped for horror stories, in all honesty, so to be able to make a good one is a good accomplishment.
Don’t rely too much on folklore either. It is always good to see things being used from different cultures, religions and parts of the country, but some are seriously overused. If you are going to use them, then be sure to blend in other inspirations too. We don’t want a whole bunch of horror stories that have the same threat and same basic plots.
Ease up on the gore. It isn’t that scary. Most people become desensitised to gore now anyway, because of other forms of media showing it all the time. Gore by itself just isn’t that scary. When somebody asks you what the plot of your story is, do you really just want to say “well it’s really gory”? If you want to add gore and graphic imagery please do so, but also make sure it fits the plot, or your reader is likely to get bored.
That’s it for my wisdom folks! I hope you enjoyed reading my first blog post and hopefully I will be back with more soon.