Choosing the right point of view can make or break your story. Point of view is one of the main ways that you create atmosphere.
The best point of view for a horror story is third-person limited if it’s novel-length or first-person if it’s a short story. Third-person limited follows one character. It lets you build atmosphere but gives you more freedom than first-person. First-person hooks the reader faster and is more intimate, but it is harder to write a complex story.
Point of view refers to who is telling the story. You can also think of it as the way the reader experiences the story. In a movie or TV show, the point of view is from the camera that follows the action. The audience experiences the story exactly as the camera sees it. In writing, you can get more creative because you can go places a camera can’t. You can write a person’s thoughts and describe experiences. You can write a story from the point of view of an object if you want.
Points of View
First-person is the easiest way to write. You are writing from your own perspective. first-person is written as “I” and “me”, such as “I went into the bar looking for Mickey,” or “She walked up to me like a ghost gliding across the floor. “
Writing from first-person point of view is a good way to hook the reader. It implies intimacy. You are in a conspiracy with the reader where the two of you are experiencing the story together. When something happens to the protagonist, the reader is more likely to sympathise with them.
If you want to write a short story then first-person point of view is the best way to go. You can grab the reader quickly and get on with the meat of the story. This style was often used in hard-boiled detective stories.
The atmosphere in a first-person story is also suitable for mysteries and solving strange events. The reader is with the protagonist as they uncover each piece of evidence. And when something horrible happens, the reader is right there too.
The drawback of first-person is that it tends to be limited in dimension. It may be too intense for longer, more complicated stories. Another drawback for horror stories is that the reader knows that the protagonist survives. Otherwise, how could they tell the story?
Second-person is written as “you.” For example, “You pick up your sword and charge at the creature in front of you.” It is the narrator telling the reader what they have done, or what they are doing. It requires the reader to suspend belief and go along with what the narrator is saying.
Writing in the second person tends to be more gimmicky than other styles of writing. It is hard to write a compelling story without making it sound like a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Second-person can be done well, but for most stories, it just isn’t necessary.
Second-person point of view has the advantage of establishing a connection with the reader very quickly. It addresses the reader as one of the characters in the story. Because of this, the reader must be willing to go along with the story. You might argue that the reader is already willing to go along with the story if they have chosen to read it, but they may just be browsing or looking to try something new. second-person will generally work better for an established fan base.
If you are going to use it, second-person works better for short stories because of the limited perspective.
Third-person is the most common way of writing. In third-person you write “he,” “she” and “they.” For example, “He ripped the shotgun off the wall and blasted the apparition,” or “They ran for their lives as the mine began to collapse.”
Third-person takes the position of an invisible presence that looks over the shoulder of a character. In third-person, you can be anywhere. You can describe a character’s thoughts, their actions, or anything that is happening to them.
Third-person point of view is the same as in TV shows and movies where the camera follows the protagonist. This point of view gives you the most freedom since you can describe events from any position you may need to move the plot forward.
Third-person can be limited to just one character or it can be omniscient where the focus changes to follow many characters.
For horror stories, third-person limited is often the best choice. It allows you a lot of freedom while sticking to one character. This is the style most often used by writers such as Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Staying with one character keeps the reader engaged while the perspective of third-person lets you build atmosphere over time.
One of the main differences between third-person limited and first-person is that third-person limited requires you to build the atmosphere slowly and first-person places you in it directly. This is also why first-person is better for short stories and third-person for long stories.
Third-person omniscient tends to lack the tension of limited. It is used to follow a large cast of characters where we may want to see how they interact with each other and watch their development. To really build a sense of dread though, it is better to stick with a limited number of characters, preferably one. If you want to follow more than one character, you can place the point of view on a different character in each chapter.
A great tactic to use in horror stories is to use an unreliable narrator. This is where the person telling the story gives clues that they can’t be trusted. The reader is cued in to the fact that events didn’t really happen the way the narrator is describing.
One of the best examples is Edgar Allen Poe‘s The Tell-tale Heart. In this short story, a man is describing how he murdered an old man, while at the same time trying to convince the reader that he is sane. He describes the old man as having a “vulture eye” which made his blood run cold and tells of how he waited silently peering through a crack in the door for the old man to sleep. These kinds of details let the reader know that the narrator is insane.
An unreliable narrator, when used with a first-person point of view, lets you hide things from the reader, so it’s a good choice if you want to include a twist. It can be difficult to hide things with normal first-person point of view.