So You Want to Write Horror. Tips and Tricks From ZHanny Publishing

I have some very special content for your viewing pleasure. Today we put our team’s experiences and knowledge together. So, you need some tips on how to add that little spice to your writing eh? Do not fret young one. Today we combined our experiences to give you tips and tricks on what makes a good horror story a great horror story when writing. There’s no time to waste. Let’s start from the top:

Tip #1: Describe that feeling of being watched. I’d imagine that I am not supposed to talk about this book that is still in the works right now. It is just too good of an example not to use. In this story, the characters are walking through a closed department store. As they are walking, they notice something odd. It seems like the mannequins are are facing their direction. It is almost like the mannequins are watching them. Like anyone would do, the characters continue working on the topic at hand. In their minds, the mannequins were probably set up like that. While preparing some equipment up on the other side of the room the characters turn to face the back of the mannequins. To their surprise, ALL the manikins are facing their direction again. Maybe they are going crazy, or maybe they all turned themselves 180 degrees. People hate being watched which is something us horror writers and publishers use to our advantage. Actually, let me rephrase that. People hate the unknown, which is something you will see throughout this article. You do not know the intention of the person staring at you. Combine this with a few of the tips in the article, and you have the beginnings of some horror gold.

Tip #2: Feel free to play with the lights: This method is one of my favorites. In ZHanny Publishing’s book “Demon Thief” there is a scene that sticks out in my mind that uses the lack of light to it’s horror advantage. Emily, the protagonist, walks into a dark shed in which there is a single dangling light bulb. Emily is busy looking at an item in her hands. In the background, an ominous presence grows in the shadows to the point where it reaches out and turns the light bulb off with a “pop!” By playing with the light, various portions of the antagonist is slowly revealed. This is super important when writing a horror story. You want to keep that mystery as long as you can hold it. What better way to do that besides using light like a blanket to slowly reveal topics and ideas to the reader.

Tip #3: Foreshadowing. Do you remember that security guard that told you to leave the bakery before it got dark? No? You don’t remember when the owner misspoke when he asked you if you wanted to be casserole instead of inviting you in for casserole? Let me refresh your memory now that you are locked inside for the night. There’s a reason she was so persistent. Boom! Foreshadowing. Great in all kinds of writing – especially horror. This element is key for the next level. When I see foreshadowing in stories, I know that the writer took their time crafting a serious plot before just jumping in. Everyday readers appreciate this too. Foreshadowing creates story layers that, in my opinion, thickens the plot soup. When done correctly, readers begin to question motives, ideas, and actions. Exactly what we want to have happen.

Tip #4: Using sounds to add tension. I can not emphasize using this tactic enough. Imagine yourself walking through your empty house or apartment. It is completely quiet and dark. The electricity went out and you are looking for a candle. Every step that you take makes the wood floor beneath your feet slowly creak as you walk through the kitchen down the stairs into your basement. As you reach the bottom of the stairs you hear the “CRASH!” of a glass plate breaking on a tile floor followed by the slamming of a window closing. You can feel and hear your heart rate increasing by the pounding in your ears. No one is supposed to be home until next week. By utilizing the power of sound, this otherwise bland paragraph is brought to the next level. If you were to take out the bold-ed words shown above and emit them (of course still making the sentences complete) you would find yourself bored in no time reading through the excerpt. It’s easier for people to put themselves in the shoes of your character when they can actively hear what your character is hearing.

Tip #5: The feeling of being trapped.  When I am working with my team, I actively encourage trapping characters or keeping the space tight when the time feels right. Do you every wonder why all the crazy stuff in books/ movies happen in those small enclosed spaces? I am talking about when the exorcism is about to begin in a small bedroom, or when you are standing in a moving elevator and the lights suddenly go out. When you walk into a basement with one entrance/exit only to find meat hooks hanging from the ceiling. I’d also like to quickly reference the lack of light section above. There are several reasons why Emily goes into a shed to look at her stolen goods. One of those reasons is because a shed is a perfect place to get trapped.

Tip #6: Right about here in the article is a great place to bring this next topic up.
Give them (meaning the reader and the characters) hope of getting away. It can not be all doom and gloom. If all the reader feels is dread, what’s to make them come back for more? You are going to want to keep the reader interested enough to find out what happens. Hold the reader on the razor’s edge. What drives a good scary story is that flicker of hope. If I am reading a book and everyone is getting sawed apart one by one with consistency, I might just close the book and say, “well, I already know how this is going to end.” I’d imagine you would probably say that too! That’s not a story, that’s just a massacre. Give the readers a good plot twist. Maybe one of the characters gets away. Maybe the bad guy gets temporarily knocked out. Very cliche examples, but examples nevertheless.

Tip #7: Create tension with disadvantages.  Congratulations, you’re suddenly thrown into a zombie apocalypse type situation. It is OK because you have everything you need to survive. By everything you need, I mean you have: one gun, one machete, and a club style sandwich. Alright action! You look over at the three windows in the room. All of the windows are covered in zombies eyeing how meaty and delicious you look. One of them is holding a fork and a knife. You hear them *POUND POUND POUND* at the glass as they try to get inside. From the corner of your eye you see a arm quickly reaching across the table. It’s ZHanny, and he stole your gun! ZHanny disappears into the shadows making a slow growling chuckle. That’s OK because you still have your machete and sandwich. Wait, where’s your machete? From the other corner of your eye you see the machete slide off the table with a metallic *THUD*. The machete hits the cement floor and disappears from site. You hold your club sandwich in your quivering hands as the *CRASH* of glass is heard in the background. There’s no way out. All jokes and partial comedy aside, I am sure you understand the concept. People fear being unprepared and overwhelmed. Let me rephrase that. People hate feeling helpless. In story telling, people have no choice but to follow the plot line. I encourage you to strip the main characters down until the odds are against them. There is some real stress and fear created in those moments of overwhelming odds.

Tip #8: Do not let the character(s) have what they want. Like seriously. Don’t. One of biggest concepts in horror is the lack of control. When some writers spend enough time with the characters they created, they develop feelings as though they want to take care of them. Yes it is easier to give the characters that weapon to defend themselves, but is it what is best for the story? It’s almost like you are the parent of a child. You know that if you give your child an energy drink at bed time, you will pay for it shortly in the future. On the flip side, you know that if you give your characters everything they want, no one is going to be scared. Be the parent your story needs. Be prepared to say, “no.”

Tip #9: Creating tension with time constraints. Make the reader feel as if time is running out. There are so many ways to do this. I like to use this tactic towards the end of my stories. Creating a time constraint too early can wear the reader out. Done correctly it can squeeze out the extra tension you need to make the reader feel like they just barely got away. Writers get super creative when coming up with time constraints. Examples of this range from slowing being lowered into a boiling pot of acid to trying to find your way out of a fully involved store fire. If you think about it, both examples are time related. Heck, just the other day I watched re-run movie where a chain was slowly dragging an individual into a meat grinder. People are just too darn creative.

Tip #10: Creating a feeling of being controlled or manipulated. You hear and about this concept all the time. The master manipulator. The puppeteer controlling the strings. One of our team member’s recently created a scene where the characters were standing in front of fuzzy buzzing old televisions. You know the kind where you can change it to a channel that doesn’t exist? All of a sudden, the televisions switch to a face that appears to be watching them. The face almost seems to be mocking them from afar controlling their every move. All of a sudden, it all makes sense now. He was the one causing all the unfortunate events.

We know that there are certainly more than ten tips to help you write horror. Let us know yours in the comments below or on our social media!

-ZHanny Publishing Team

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