When writing horror fiction, the goal is to entice a feeling of fear, terror, or even horror in the reader. To have them sitting on the edge of their seat or even letting out a shriek of terror at the moment the axe drops. Maybe even create a new fear that your readers didn’t have before…but do now.
But how does one entice such nail biting terror in their readers?
Here are five tips in showing and creating fear when writing:
- Describe the fear through character body language
Think of your character as the vessel which propels the audience through your story. Like in a slasher film, the reader is going to see and feel what your character feels, so it’s best to reflect that in how your character reacts in a terrifying situation. Fight or flight?
Are they already nervous person? Show that. Do they bite their nails, and bounce their feet? Do they get cold with goosebumps? Show intense reactions that will build tension and apprehension in your reader.
- Build Fear through an Intense Setting Whether it’s a spooky castle or someone’s leaky basement, the setting is key.
Create an environment that creates feelings of terror and anxiety for your character. Think of a walk-through haunted house, the jump scare is built up by the surroundings and environment. It creates mystery, and fear of the unknown. The person in costume jumping out blends in.
Are we in an abandoned building during a zombie apocalypse? Have we uncovered Dracula’s Lair? Build the fear by building the scene for your audience.
- Make Fear Believable through Character Backstory
As the vessel in the story, your character needs to give readers a compelling reason to be afraid. Does your character have a condition or phobia that presents a challenge to overcome in your story’s plot?
Choose a phobia and make a living hell for your character. Similar to that Ichabod Crane of Washington Irvine’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, your reader should be able to relate to your character and understand why their situation is so scary. Start writing about your own fears, and build from there.
- Word Choice is key to invoking terror
Using “very scary” repeatedly will lose an audience quicker than “something very quick”. See how ineffective that was? Not enticing at all. If you want to show off your vocabulary skills, now is the time to do it.
Fear is an intense emotion. So use vocabulary that builds that fear.
Lost for words? Check out Brynne Donovan’s Master List of Ways to Describe Fear! Donovan’s blog has helped me countless times when I had writers block when writing an intense scene.
- Build Suspense in the Plot and dialogue between Characters
A lot of human fear stems from the unknown, and if you only know as much as your characters do along the story, this is a good way to build fear in your readers as they see the plot thicken and dialogue between characters to be dramatic, and the story begins to unravel slowly.
- Drop the Axe!
Once your readers think your character is safe, destroy their world. Drop the axe! Have the monster burst in! Your character finds out horrible news about another character. You can do this by revealing small tid bits of information as the story goes along.
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”—H. P. Lovecraft
If you want a good example of how to do this, check out Darcy Coates’ Small Horrors: A Collection of Fifty Creepy Stories.