Expressing horror can be tricky. We know what scares us but we don’t always know how to describe it to others.
You can express horror by using descriptive language, sensory imagery and figurative language. Engage the reader’s imagination with a strong atmosphere and setting. Work with your character; convey horror by describing their motivations and experiences and employ cliffhangers.
Expressing horror is an art and it takes time to get good at it. If you’re stuck, or you just need inspiration, these tips will help you get under your reader’s skin.
Use Descriptive Language
Descriptive language can make your writing come alive and express horror in writing.
This involves using the senses to describe your characters and the events in your story. For example, if you want to describe your character’s feelings about an upcoming storm, what does it look like, feel like, taste like?
You should also describe the weather and its effect on your characters. Writing descriptively helps people to immerse themselves into the story, instead of just reading a summary of it.
One way that descriptive language can help your writing is by making you a better writer. If you have a vivid imagination and you can picture scenes as they happen, then you are well on your way to excellent writing.
The more you practice describing things, the easier it will become. You may even find that you start doing it by accident!
Use Sensory Imagery
Sensory imagery involves making your descriptions so specific that people can see and feel what is going on in your story.
Sensory imagery can involve a lot of different senses, but one example would be to describe the way a person feels when someone touches them. For example, if your character is being touched tenderly, then describe the way the touch makes her feel.
Does it make her long for more? Does it make her skin crawl?
These are the kinds of details that can bring a scene to life for your readers.
Use Figurative Language
Another way that you can convey even more emotion and feelings to your characters and the events in your story is by using figurative language.
Unlike descriptive language, figurative language is not meant to be read out loud. Instead, it is meant to be thought about and used to describe things in your head.
Example in a sentence: The sound of the man’s footsteps sounded like a drumbeat to Elle.
When you are writing, you should be thinking about how your words are being used. Don’t just write simply because you want a certain effect or emotion. Think about why you are writing what you’re writing and what it means to your character and the story itself.
Create a Menacing Atmosphere
It is easy to forget the rules of grammar when writing a horror story. The reason for this is that a lot of horror writers don’t need their sentences to make sense because they want readers to be scared.
The best way to create a menacing atmosphere is to make your sentences short and simple, while at the same time, using sensory imagery and figurative language.
This isn’t an easy task. It takes practice, patience, and discipline.
Try to write an entire chapter at once and then revise it to your liking. Always be thinking of the reader’s feelings when you write. A little bit of time spent on this will easily pay off in the long run.
To create a menacing atmosphere, you should use imagery and figurative language to create a mood.
Make the Most of Your Setting
One of the best ways to make horror and suspenseful scenes is to use descriptive language and sensory imagery when you are describing your story’s setting.
For example, if you have a dank and dirty basement underneath your character’s home, then describe this place as such. Describe it as smelling terrible, clammy and cold, with spiders crawling on the walls.
You can describe a basement like this, but it is even better to describe the effect it has on your character. Maybe he is afraid of spiders and hates dank and damp places. A setting like this will make for an excellent scene in your story.
Another way to make the most of your setting is to use the environment to affect your characters’ actions.
For example, if you are describing a character that just lost her son in a movie theatre fire, then maybe she becomes depressed. She doesn’t want to see other people or go out in public. She is afraid of seeing people in the same theatre seats that she sat in the night that her son was killed.
Give your readers a reason to feel sympathetic toward your characters – think about what they are going through.
Read more on Horror Settings here
Let the Reader’s Imagination do Some Work
One of the most important tips for writing a good horror story is to let your readers’ imaginations take over.
Readers like to project themselves into the stories they read, so it is your job to give them details that they can use.
Give them enough details so that they can draw their own conclusions. Don’t give them so many that they are bored, though. Leave some room for them to come up with their own ideas.
Work With Your Character
Even if you are writing a short horror story, it can be helpful to know what your characters want and why they do things.
If they have goals in life that they want to achieve, then let the reader know what these are. This will help the reader sympathize with them and be sad when their wishes don’t come true.
If you have created an interesting character, then make sure you write about them as much as possible. This can be done through descriptions, thoughts, and actions of your character throughout the story.
Make sure that your character is always moving forward and discovering new things.
The voice of your character should be consistent throughout the story so that it can be easy to read. The same things should be happening to everyone in the same way.
Use Flashbacks to Describe Parts of the Story
Reliving past events is a great way to turn fearful scenes into emotional events for your readers.
For example, if you are writing a story about a serial killer that has already slaughtered many people, then use flashbacks to make the reader feel on edge. To do this, you should use the same details that you used in the present from the first scene.
End it on a Cliffhanger
Cliffhangers are probably one of the best things about reading horror stories.
Nothing winds you up like waiting for months to find out what happens next in your favourite series. You know it’s serious when you hold off on the new chapter for a few months more because you just can’t wait until the next chapter is written.
The reason why writers write cliffhangers is that they want readers to always have something to look forward to. We want to know what happens next, and we want to finish the stories. This is why writers write cliffhangers.
Read more about Ending on a Cliffhanger here