Five Tips for Writing the Perfectly Spooky Tale

Trick or treating may be off this Halloween, but that does not mean the fun has to stop. Before we get started on the three day Tales of Terror challenge over in my Facebook group, here are a few pointers to get your child thinking about how to chill the reader to the core!

  1. Setting

Setting is vital in horror stories. We should feel a growing sense of unease about the place where our characters reside. It could be reflected in the weather, or the loneliness of the landscape, but the place where the action occurs should almost function as an additional character in the story. Take Dracula for example, the events that occur would not be as chilling if we had not seen Jonathan Harker’s journey through the dark woods of Transylvania, accompanied by the ominous sound of the wolves howling. The reader should feel tense almost from the beginning of the story, ready for the frightening events that will occur.

2. Suspense

One of the hallmarks of this genre is suspense. The secret to suspense is to build gradually and not to keep your reader in a completely heightened state of tension all the time. There should be moments where the reader almost relaxes, as this will then mean that it will be even more effective when the suspense begins to build again. Devices such as short sentences, or rapidly switching perspectives can help to heighten this effect.

3. Avoid the cliche

This is a really common issue for students who are trying very hard to adopt the conventions of the horror genre. The problem is, if the scares are too obvious, the reader will become desensitized and the effect will be lost. How many times in a horror film does someone suggest taking the shortcut through the woods, or a girl decides to turn down a lift and walk home on her own? If a character does something too obviously dangerous, then the story runs the risk of becoming silly rather than scary.

4. Get us asking questions from the start

A sense of mystery is really important in horror stories. For example, in Frankenstein, we do not begin with the scientist’s tale, but instead the voyage of Captain Walton, and the discovery of Frankenstein lost in the Arctic. Straightaway, we want to know what has happened to this man, and why he is so traumatised. The writer has caught our attention by beginning in an unexpected place.

5. Show, don’t tell

This is important in all stories, but in horror, it is really important to engage the imagination of the reader and make them feel completely immersed. Your character should never say “I was scared”. Instead you need to show us that they are scared. For example, in The Woman in Black, we are told that the narrator feels his heart beating “like a hammer on an anvil”. The use of the simile makes the description so much richer and keeps the reader much more engaged.

If you would like to find out more about writing the perfect spooky tale, then make sure you join my free three-day challenge in my Facebook group, Flying High. To join my group, go to:


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