How to Write Horror Scenes That Terrify
A horror scene is a very important part of any terrifying horror story. If you're looking for tips on how to write them, then this blog post has just what you need! First, let's talk about the different types of horror scenes that are out there. There are three main categories: psychological, physical, and visceral. The next thing we'll cover is tone and atmosphere - these two go hand in hand because they both decide whether or not your audience will be scared by your story. Finally, we'll talk about how to develop suspense so that your readers stay interested until the end!
Three main categories: psychological, physical, and visceral.
These three categories are derived from Don Norman's three levels of design of three different, yet connected, levels, which influence our experience of the world around us in a particular way. He names his levels: visceral, behavioral (physical) level, and reflective (psychological).
The visceral category "concerns itself with appearances". This means how the visual qualities of the object and how they make the person feel. The best example is a grandfather clock. The grandfather clock doesn't do anything more than a small alarm clock. It tells and keeps time. But a grandfather clock is perceived as an heirloom, mysterious, traditional, and a symbol of wealth. In horror what could be a visceral element of your story, well the old abandon house on the hill, or the mysterious antique wee-gee board found in the attic.
The physical or behavioral category consists of usability. In other words, what you can grab, hold, steer, pull, and feel around you. So the physical will be how you physically feel about the situation. Sweaty palms, cold sweat, or your stomach-wrenching when in a terrifying predicament. Also, the use, appearance, smell, sound, and feel of a weapon your attacker uses or your main character uses to protect him or herself.
The reflective or psychological category is what we use to rationalize the environment around us to influence the behavioral level. We use this to weigh the pros and cons of a situation and determine the best or rational solution. A common psychological theme in horror is no one can see the ghoul, zombie, ghost, or monster except for the main character. It's all in his/her head. They didn't get enough sleep or it's a shadow or animal mistaken for the creature.
Tone and Atmosphere
The atmosphere or setting needs to have a dire, haunting feel or tone. I recommend reading some horror novels and pay attention to the words and adjectives used to describe the setting. Besides the setting be aware of the tone of voice of the main character. Most horror stories use a voice that is melancholy, sad, mysterious, or angry. There are always exceptions to the rule but generally, your reader will be searching for this creepy tone.
Here is an example of tone I used for my book:
"I love my sister.
I love my father.
Both have betrayed me."
Did I set the tone for hopelessness and sadness? Do you feel the mystery and want to learn more?
Here is an example of atmosphere I used in my book:
"Katy can smell every flower that has ever bloomed, hear every whisper of the leaves that ever rustled in these trees, and feel every cool breeze that has ever swept through this forest. Yet, she doesn't know why."
Does the setting feel creepy, ominous? Do you wonder why Katy is here and why she can smell, hear, and feel every tree, flower, and breeze, yet doesn't know why?
Suspense is the core element you want to incorporate into your horror or ghost story. Suspense can be added everywhere. In chase scenes, dialogue, mood, tone, atmosphere, and voice of your main character. Suspense is knowing not to tell the reader something but not withholding too much. "What?" you say. You want the reader to wonder why your main character is not telling the truth about his or her past but you don't want to frustrate the reader or confuse the reader in regards to the plot. My favorite advice I used to help me add suspense to my novel came from Masterclass Blog "10 Tips for Amplifying Suspense in Your Writing"
I hope these tips will add some horror and suspense to your next story. As always, keep writing and share your story with a group of writers. The best stories derive from painless, terrifying hours of revisions and edits. But that's another nightmare for a later blog.