8 Tips For Writing Short Horror Stories

Have you been writing short horror stories for a few years or maybe only a few days? These tips will help improve your short stories and even longer stories too. Keep in mind: there are no rules. These are only guidelines.

Giant spider creeping up on a child.
💀 Make your prose scary!

1. Start with what scares you. 

Heights? Losing your teeth? Spiders? Clowns? Are there situations or places that scare you? Explore your fears.

2. Limit the number of characters.  

Readers connect with your story through your characters. Too many and your readers will fail to identify with them and may even have trouble telling them apart. For flash fiction and super short stories, no more than three characters are probably best.

3. Limit the time frame of the story. 

You don't want your plot going slack so it's best to compress the action into the briefest time period possible. Having the story take place over several days or hours or "real-time" in most cases is going to be more effective than spreading a short story out over weeks or months or years. There are always exceptions of course.

4. Establish the Setup.

The setup should be established right away, especially in a short story. This should include:

✔ The setting/backdrop: time period (when), location (where), is it day or night?

The tone (atmospheric/creepy).

The viewpoint character (your main character who the story is being told through).

The viewpoint character's story goal/motivation (which may change as the story progresses).

The inciting incident that jump-starts the story into action. 

You can delay the inciting incident a bit by foreshadowing or hinting at the conflict to come. Basically, get this stuff established and out of the way so your reader is grounded in the story and then you can pull the rug out from under them and slowly scare their pants off.

5. Choose your POV wisely.  

POV (point of view) is the perspective from which your story is told. For horror, a close POV with your main character is key. This puts you right there with them and even inside their head so you know what they're thinking and feeling. That's why I recommend writing in a first person POV or a close third person POV. Here's a great article on POVs.

6. Use the 5 senses.  

Once again this is why a first person or close third person POV is key. We can SEE, HEAR, SMELL, TASTE, and TOUCH along with the main character. Although, don't try to force all of these into your story. Use them where they would naturally fit so you can enhance what the reader is experiencing... fear.

7. Use internal dialogue.

Basically, internal dialogue is what your character is thinking. It's the conversation they have with themselves. This is why first person or a close third person POV are key. We can get inside their head and eavesdrop. This is one of your most powerful tools as a writer but you also don't want to overuse it. Here's a great article on using internal dialogue.

8. Avoid cliches.

If you're writing horror, I'm assuming you're a horror fan. Take note of all the genre cliches. The things you've seen or read a million times or the plot points you can sense coming from a mile away. My advice is to avoid them or twist them up so your readers have no idea what's going to happen next. Don't be predictable! Here's a list of 44 horror cliches.

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