The way to tell a scary story is the same whether you are writing it or sitting around a campfire telling your friends.
Start with a story that is interesting in its own right. Make it plausible and use suspense rather than gore. Use a scary tone and engage the reader’s imagination with just enough detail. Many horror stories have similar themes so put your own spin on it to make it original.
Telling stories is an art that takes time to master. A good storyteller will polish their craft over many years.
Horror stories are one of the oldest kinds of stories. Just about everyone has told ghost stories to their friends at some point in their lives.
If you want to get good at telling stories and improve your writing, check out these tips.
Start With an Interesting Story
If your story is interesting in its own right it will be much easier to tell it. You can’t make a boring story into a good one no matter how good your technique is.
Often, of course, the story will come from things you have seen or done. When finding a story, it helps if you have a distinctive twist or slant. Think about how you could tell it in a way that no one else has.
The story is the most important part of the narrative – so good source material will always be your most important tool. If you don’t have an interesting story, then you will probably run into problems along the way.
You can still write the story and try to improve it, but your ability to do so will be reduced.
Make it Plausible
The secret of a good scary story is that there has to be something real at its heart. The more real it seems, the better the reader’s experience will be.
At some level, they don’t even need to know they are reading a work of fiction. If you can convince the reader that what they are reading is something that really happened, then they will be much more engaged.
Try to find some aspect of the real world to work with. If you are writing a ghost story, think about places that are supposed to be haunted or places that look like they might be.
Use Suspense More Than Gore
If you think about how to make a story scary, then think about what it is that scares people most. Perhaps your subject should be more closely connected with psychological effects and emotions than physical effects and bodily damage.
The anticipation of something scary happening is often more effective than the actual event. The threat of someone being murdered is more chilling than the description of their death.
If you use too much gore in your story, it becomes boring and repetitive. Then you’re not going to be able to get the most out of your story.
The best horror stories rely on suspense more than gore. Focus on how your characters will be affected by events in the narrative rather than the details.
The physical effects should not be an important part of your story; they might be there, but they shouldn’t dominate or distract from the narrative.
Instead, write about the characters’ reactions and how events are changing them. Use the threat of harm to guide them, rather than the act of it. This is how you use suspense to drive a story.
Read How to Structure a Scary Story here
Use a Scary Tone
If you were telling a story around a campfire, you might use a scary tone of voice to make your story creepier. You would probably act out parts of it.
When writing a scary story, you should try to do the same. Imagine you are talking to a group of friends and write the same way you would talk to them. You could make a scary tone in your head as you write down the narrative.
You could also create a creepy character to act as the narrator. For example, the Crypt Keeper from the comic book series Tales From The Crypt.
Good storytellers don’t just talk. They act out the story. This can be difficult to do in writing, but attempting it is likely to improve your stories.
Engage the Reader’s Imagination
Your story should be able to stand on its own without any of the visual elements of movies. To do this, it helps if you include some way of getting the reader involved. The easiest way is to let them use their imagination.
What you describe should be limited enough for the reader to fill in the rest for themselves.
You don’t need to describe every detail of a scene. It’s often better to just give enough information for the reader to figure it out and leave the rest to their imagination.
You shouldn’t describe too much, but you should also try and include something to motivate the reader.
The story should always be about something. It might be about ghosts, but it should also be about overcoming grief, being brave, or discovering your true identity – all things that can affect people on a psychological level.
The details of the story should always relate back to the situation of the characters in some way.
Read How to Express Horror here
Make it Original
There are a lot of great scary stories that you should try reading. You can’t beat the classics. If you read something that you like and find it scary, see if you can find an element of it to use in your own work.
Try to think about why it’s scary – not just because you liked it or because the writer is famous, but because there is something about the way the story is written that keeps you actively involved.
If you think of a story that you like, try to find a way of writing it that is different. Give it your own spin.
To be original, you don’t have to create an entirely new concept. You just have to use a known concept in a new way.
If you can make a classic story idea feel unique, then it will be more likely to succeed. It says something about the creativity of other writers that they can use the same time-tested themes but still be original – even when they aren’t trying to be.