If you want to know how to write a short horror story, it’s important to understand the key aspects of the genre. But, more crucially, you’ll need to know how to effectively scare your reader in a short form of storytelling.
In this blog we outline the key pieces of advice you should take into consideration so that you can confidently know how to write your own short horror story.
Use your own phobias as inspiration
What better way to write something that you know is scary than by using your very own fears as inspiration? If you’re looking for a starting point for a short horror story, first delve into what most terrifies you.
Think of the worst nightmare you’ve had, or something that scared you as a child, or even a specific scene from a horror film that caused you to lose a night’s sleep. Then use these as a jumping off point for your story.
By doing this, you know exactly how you felt and reacted to those fears. This means that you’ll know how to write them in the best way to reproduce those feelings in your readers.
Your own nightmares are unique to you, but even if some of your biggest phobias are commonly shared by many people, that’s also a good route to explore.
Explore common fears
Being afraid of the dark, spiders, and even heights are common phobias for a reason. It may be that you think that some are familiar territory within the horror genre and that you want to write something unique, but using these fears can provide a strong foundation for your story.
Because these phobias are shared by many people, using these elements provides a surefire way to get effective scares.
Use all senses
Horror is a challenging genre to write in because it aims to evoke stronger, more visceral reactions in its readers. While the different senses should be used in any form of storytelling, they are particularly crucial in horror.
It can be easy to just want to describe the appearance of a monster, but don’t forget to incorporate other senses like sound, smell and touch.
Your story might be set in a forest at night, so the darkness will obscure your characters’ sight. But what about the other senses? Can they hear the whistle of wind through the leaves, a distant howl of a wolf, or perhaps the snap of a twig behind them?
If a character explores an abandoned house, think of what they might smell. Is there a stale, dusty air from decades of being undisturbed? Or could there be something putrid, rotten, caused by something festering deep within the building’s foundation?
Focus on your main character
Most horror short stories will be centred around a protagonist whose perspective and actions are key to how the horror is presented.
You cannot command a reader to feel a certain way, but you can show them how the protagonist does. Whether its shock, repulsion or terror, focus on how they react and how their emotions develop throughout the story.
Pay attention to their actions too. The decisions that a character makes is more effective at portraying their thoughts than expliciting writing it.
This is where show-don’t-tell comes into play. If a character is scared, don’t say they’re scared. Instead, you could describe how their heartbeat quickens, or the chill that has them start to shiver, or their decision to grab a torch to see what might be lurking in the shadows.
Limit the reader’s sense
While your main character will be crucial in how you frame the horror in your story, it also allows you to direct the reader’s attention.
As you use the different senses to build up a picture, remember to leave plenty of details to the imagination. What you don’t explicitly describe is just important, if not more, than what you do.
Think of the shark in Jaws. The film rarely actually shows the creature, but the audience can picture exactly what might be lurking in the deep water. A devoured corpse, a distant shadow moving in the depths, or a glimpse of a fin is enough to fuel the horror in a much more effective way than showing the shark outright.
You should try to achieve something similar in your writing. Give the reader enough details for them to fill in the blanks to the full extent of their frightened imagination.
Read examples of short horror stories
In order to learn how to craft compelling, effective short horror stories, you’ll need to read plenty of examples of them. This will allow you to understand how to use the short story format to your advantage so that your scares have even greater impact.
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Horror short story examples
You can find many examples of short horror stories online, so before writing your own you should take some time to pick a few out, read them, and analyse them for how they explore the genre. Here are some key examples:
- ‘The Phantom Coach’ by Amelia B Edwards
- ‘The Tower’ – Marghanita Laski
- ‘The Black Cat’ by Edgar Allan Poe
- ‘The Monkeys Paw’ by W. W. Jacobs
- ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
- ‘The Jaunt’ by Stephen King