Do you remember sitting around the bonfire and telling frightening stories to your childhood friends? Such horror stories evoked strong emotions in a very short period. Sleepless nights, fear of darkness, and clowns – all these were the consequences of such a scary activity.
When adults, people choose films and books to gain a burst of emotions and tickle their nerves. They try to return in time and again feel like an unprotected child. But what if it is impossible to experience those feelings one more time? Nowadays, it becomes more and more difficult to find a book that can generate unfeigned emotions.
Indeed, plots are getting more boring and predictable. Classic heroes take a back seat. Of course, lists of best horror authors will reveal some of the most impressive wordsmiths. But how to become one yourself? How to create a story able to catch the reader’s attention and not let it slip anymore? Let’s delve into some of the most effective tricks of writing a legendary horror book.
1. Leave Room for the Unknown
It would be unreasonable to proceed without quoting one of the most talented horror authors of all time, H.P. Lovecraft. His famous phrase is: “The oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown”. And who would disagree?
Every reader is eager to find out about the solution to a problem presented by the writer. But to reveal this solution from the first chapters is to consciously kill your book’s potential success. Leaving the audience anticipating the approach of something terrifying is the best strategy.
Who is inside the haunted house? Which of the characters is a murderer? What happens when the sky gets darker? Try to maintain the questions to your plot unanswered as long as possible. Shocking accidents, sudden calamities, unexpected revelations are the instruments you need to employ for creating suspense.
Suspense presents such a development of the plot that compels your audience to continue reading. Giving up seems to be even scarier than finding out the denouement.
2. Let Your Hero Fight with Time
Deadlines are exactly what scares most people, especially when it comes to students. But deadlines can be set not only in the process of studying but also in the book’s plot. How? Put your hero in a hazardous situation and impose time limits.
Can you imagine the scope of pressure when you have to fight a monster in a few days or prevent bloody murder in a few hours? In such a case your reader will swallow page after page eager to help the main character survive.
3. Choose the Setting Carefully
The place where the frightening events happen also matters. Old mansions or castles, cemeteries, or mental hospitals suggest that something frightening is being concealed behind the scenes. Limiting visibility by depressive weather patterns like fog, rain, and lightning also exacerbates the situation.
In contrast, the mix of tense feelings and a positive environment can generate even more suspense. Amusement parks, circuses, playrooms – sometimes the most sinister things happen in unexpected places.
4. Forget about Endings
Are you familiar with that feeling when an episode of your favorite series ends at the most interesting moment? Why not employ such a strategy in your horror book? Such a narrative device has been given a name among the masters of writing. It is called a “cliffhanger”.
Nowadays, horror authors use cliffhangers more often because modern readers tend to be too picky. At the same time, many consider it to be a cheap tactic. Still, who would deny its effectiveness?
There are many kinds of cliffhangers you can use to make a story more sophisticated. But remember to avoid oversaturation. Tricking a reader on each page is a bad practice. Just take note of the following types and choose the most suitable:
- A provocative question at the end of a chapter.
- A loss. Make your character suffer a loss, whether it be an emotional or physical one. The most important thing here is to describe sorrow so that a reader couldn’t help but feel sorry for the book’s character.
- Physical hazard. If you have managed to establish a connection between a character and your readers, it is time to put a hero in a dangerous situation. Indeed, this will tie the reader to the plot.
- Without symbols and signs, the story will lose its appeal. Hint at the danger the characters may face and give ambiguous signs.
- Unexpected news. If the protagonist of your novel happens to be a bad guy, it would be a great move. Making such news comes as a shock for your reader.
5. Play with Forms and Styles
If you still think that you should focus your attention only on what happens, you are mistaken. Sometimes it is even more important how you present the event than the situation itself. A mix of short declarative sentences along with long complicated descriptions makes the reader “hear” and visually depict the things described. This also creates the feeling of discomfort that is closely related to the suspense.
6. Do Not Conceal All the Facts
Alfred Hitchcock once recommended providing a reader with a part of information while the rest is left to their imagination. Indeed, if, let’s say, a bomb unexpectedly explodes in the middle of the chapter, it will bring shock but no suspense will be created. But if the reader knows about such a danger in advance, they will hold their breath in fear waiting for the outcome. The example of this famous “Bomb Theory” can also be applied in writing horror books.
So, the last but not the least piece of advice is to differentiate between suspense and shock. Suspense is not possible without revealing information gradually while shock is an instantaneous event that does not evoke long-lasting emotions.
If you ever felt like you just can’t quit reading a book, perhaps some of the above-mentioned techniques were employed by its writer. Now that you know how to keep the reader engaged, you can compete with some of the renowned masters of horror.