by Tegwyn Hughes, jaBlog! Blogger
Have you ever read a horror story set in a medieval town that also happens to be on the moon? Or a scary tale about two fish being chased by an angry alien? Probably not! This is because scary stories are made scary for one particular reason–it could happen to you. By making realistic characters, settings, and killers, your readers will be more scared than if you wrote a story about a pencil that comes to life and chases squirrels around a park.
There is a reason that most horror movies are about a diverse group of high school students, or a family that is new to town, or a babysitter who has just tucked the kids into bed. These are all commonplace scenarios that most people have experienced. Of course, there might be a ghost, a demon, or a mass murderer, but before things get scary, they are first incredibly relatable. Which makes you think–could this happen to me? The next time I babysit, will I be more likely to lock all the doors and windows, just in case!
In the horror genre, setting can be realistic or not, depending on the type of story you would like to write. Haunted houses and abandoned amusement parks can be super scary, but if you really want to create a plot that scares your readers, it’s far easier to set it somewhere you won’t have to explain as much. If the reader can feel comfortable in the family home, small town, subway station, or wherever you choose to set the story, you can put it aside. Horror has so many elements to keep track of that a new or inexperienced writer shouldn’t bother with the setting as much.
If you do write about a haunted house, hundreds of years old, with winding staircases and hidden rooms, you need to do a lot of research. That is a perfectly fine thing to do, but if you want to make your job a little easier, leave the setting as simple as possible.
Horror stories don’t always have a killer. They can have a ghost, evil clown, or rabid dog on the loose. But the fear of death haunts most, if not all, people, which is what makes slasher films one of the most popular types of horror. Think of the Scream series. The killers in these types of horror stories have to be realistic, or you won’t take the story seriously.
This is another case where the occasional killer, like the clown in It, can be a little zany, but it’s incredibly hard to do. Your readers might find it pretty silly when your killer is disguised as Little Bo Peep, and dresses up her victims as sheep after she has killed them.
I hope this article gave you a little insight into why realism is the easiest, and sometimes best, strategy to use when writing horror. This also wraps up my three-part horror series (you can find my other two articles here and here). I hope my posts inspired you to do a little horror writing this Halloween season!