Writing different genre’s can be tricky, each genre will have its own sense of style, its own tropes and its own tone. I’d like to talk a little about writing horror today as it’s the genre I tend to write, along with Fantasy and a smidgen of Sci-Fi.
To write a great horror story you will need several key elements: –
- ‘evil’ or ‘bad’ characters or events/phenomenon (depending of if your writing supernatural horror or not)
- A sense of fear (goes without saying really)
- Subversion – not always essential but a lot of the great horror stories have an element of subversion in them.
To include tension in your story you will need to understand what works and what doesn’t. You will need to experiment with building and relieving tension. To use a non-horror example the Marvel cinematic universe does this quite well, these films are usually light-hearted action romps but they work so well because they know when to raise tension and when to release it.
You cannot write a good story if you’ve ramped your tension levels up to a thousand and kept it there for the whole story. It cannot be maintained, and this can be difficult to work with. I’m currently writing a novel where the setting is oppressive and there’s a constant threat level from the setting itself. Trying to find ways to keep that feeling of a threat without having constant tension is very difficult, but essential if the story is going to work.
Evil or bad characters or phenomenon
This should go without saying really, a good horror story needs a good villain or a good supernatural element that is causing the main characters distress and is a real threat. It’s going to be the main event so to speak, otherwise what is the story going to be about? If the story is about something else but there’s some horror element to it then its possible, you’re not actually writing a horror story but something else with a twist of horror.
If you’ve got your evil/bad character then you need to give them real and credible motivations. The serial killer will be far more effective if they’ve got a good reason to be a serial killer. Remember though the reason doesn’t have to be ‘good’ to the everyday person it just has to be good for your evil/bad character. It needs to drive them. For example, your serial killer who only kills a certain kind of person because they remind them of an abusive parent. That’s a shit reason to kill people in real life but a credible motivation for your serial killer, who would have been mentally damaged by said abusive parent so as to not be on the same wavelength of everyone else.
You can’t have a good horror story without fear, your audience is reading your story to get that chill running down their spine, to get their blood cold. The easiest way to accomplish this is to tap into common human fears. Take IT by Stephen King for example, that was an amazing story because Pennywise was (for the most part) a clown, clowns are scary to lots of people. Then when he wasn’t being a clown (burr) he was anything and everything else that people were and are afraid of. He was a wonderful way to tap into the common fears of the audience and extort them.
Common fears can include, spiders, snakes, the dark, needles, dentistry etc.
Horror loves to subvert things, so adding a little subversion can work but be careful you don’t play into tropes to heavily. It can really damage your story if its full of tropes, tropes mean that your audience knows what’s coming, it’s easy to second guess and that robs your story of tension and fear.
To subvert things, you need to turn them on their heads, for example, horror loves subverting children, something innocent and sweet and turning it into something dangerous and creepy, think children of the corn. In the slightly more up to date references look at the recent movie The Nun, nuns are pure, holy, kind women who have given themselves over to religion, yet in this horror story the Nun is a demon (I see what you did there horror genre).
So, try and find something to subvert in your story, but at the same time don’t force it, make it organic to the story (easy right?)