Horror writers tend to make their craft look easy. Create a few characters, put them in an untenable situation, and see if they make it out. That’s all it takes, right? Of course, that’s incredibly reductive. Horror writing is very complex, and getting it right takes some effort. In this guide, we’ll explore some of the basics of how to write horror stories. Plus, we’ll dig into the most common elements of horror stories and give you 10 horror writing prompts to really scare some stories out of your brain.

What Is the Horror Genre?

Elements of Horror

While an experienced artist might have a few things to add to this list, here are the key elements of horror stories that you’ll come across in any good example of horror writing:

  • Relatable characters. Some of the scariest pieces in horror writing have protagonists that remind you of family members or close friends—which makes their outcomes in stories even tougher to stomach. 
  • An element of the unknown. Films like A Quiet Place tend to get rave reviews because they kept the audience in a constant state of fear from something they couldn’t see.
  • An explosive ending. A horror story wouldn’t be, well, a horror story if everyone made it home safely. Horror writers tend to find ways to wrap things up by keeping their readers up at night.

Short Horror Stories

What’s interesting about writing horror is that some of the scariest pieces are also fairly short. In 2018, the folks at Book Riot put together a list of their favorite short horror short stories, which are all shorter than…most books that you’ve probably read. This list of horror short stories is a great place to start if you’re looking for inspiration. 

Horror Writing Prompts

It’s difficult to conjure up a scary story out of thin air. Even the most experienced horror writers rely on writing prompts to, well, scare the story out of them.

To help you learn how to write horror stories, we’ve come up with 10 horror writing ideas. Each of these horror writing ideas are just a one or two sentence-long horror narrative. Start by choosing one, then build it out with elements such as compelling and relatable characters, backstory, and additional external factors that put the protagonists in peril. 

  1. You wake up in a dimly lit warehouse with no idea how to escape.
  2. You have a dream in which your teeth disintegrate—and wake up to find that it’s actually happening.
  3. Your taxi driver suddenly disappears, and your feet are chained to the floor.
  4. Items from around your house are rearranged, and you don’t remember doing it.
  5. All of your neighbors have suddenly decided to take the same vacation that you didn’t know about.
  6. A local police officer knocks on your door and asks to speak to your spouse because you have passed away.
  7. You’re typing in a document and the words suddenly get deleted and replaced with an ominous message about your safety.
  8. The electricity in your home goes out, except for one television that repeats the same four words over and over again.
  9. A spam caller that you have ignored for years suddenly leaves an ominous voicemail full of personal details about your whereabouts over the last week.
  10. Days go by and the people around you at home begin to report you missing, even though you’ve been there the entire time.

Get Your Horror Story Started

Like writers of any genre typically find, you’ll quickly gain an increased appreciation for well-known horror writers as you begin to explore your craft. While this can be a source of inspiration, it’s also an easy way to play the comparison game. Give yourself space for writing horror that you don’t particularly like. You might not write a masterpiece horror narrative on the first try, but over time, you’ll improve with each draft.

Create More Believable Characters

Writing Character-Driven Short Stories

Written by:

Richard Moy