So, you’ve decided you want to write horror stories, but do you know what to do first when determining how to start a horror story? Getting started might be the most difficult part of writing horror stories, but once you learn a few basic tips and suggestions, it gets a lot easier. Better still, these tips are not difficult to follow, so let’s delve into some of them.
Starting Your Novel
To start any novel, you have to have a basic idea on the storyline. Brainstorm and write out your ideas. Think about what scared you as a kid, what still scares you, and what scares most people out there. Once you decide what puts fear in most people, you’ve already got a great starting point.
You should also decide on the perfect setting for your novel. Let’s face it, the right setting is crucial in any horror story, and it usually involves a creepy old house, a cemetery, or even a forest or wooded area. Without the right setting, you likely won’t be able to pull off a great story. Make sure the setting is eerie enough for your horror story.
These things being said, here are a few other tips to remember when starting your horror story:
- Develop a past for both the setting and the protagonist. Make sure the pasts of both are given to the reader before you go any further. This definitely adds to the story’s creepiness.
- Go into great detail about everything, especially the characters. The more details you include, the easier it is for the readers to get to know the characters, and that’s what you want.
- Make sure the protagonist is a loner. Protagonists aren’t usually social characters with a lot of friends. They don’t have to be completely friendless, but they shouldn’t have a lot of them, either.
- Plan everything out beforehand. Don’t just write haphazardly. Make an outline before you write the first word, even if you decide to alter some of it later on.
- Decide how to start the story. This usually involves two options: starting at the very beginning of the story, or starting at the end and then bringing the readers back to the beginning.
- Include every character in the storyline somehow. If you have minor characters, don’t forget about them. Make sure each character in your book is an important part of the story.
Once you get started, the important thing to remember next is to write, write, write. You should be writing all the time, and make sure you continue to develop your story on a daily basis. You can go back and change things or edit later on, but for right now your main goal is to write as much and as often as you can.
Other Ways to Get Started
Of course, there are other ways to learn how to start a horror story, because what works for one person may not work for the next one. The basic idea is always the first step, but the next steps can vary somewhat from writer to writer.
Once you decide on a basic scary theme, try turning an ordinary situation into something terrifying by using that theme and incorporating it into an everyday occurrence. Even something as basic as cooking a meal or taking a walk in the park can be made more terrifying if you throw in a scary element. Get creative, and you can come up with some very interesting twists and turns.
You can choose something very scary by considering what frightens most people. Since so many people are claustrophobic, try trapping your characters in an abandoned building, a dark cellar or basement, or even a coffin. This situation will have an effect on nearly everyone who reads your book, because it is what many nightmares are made of.
In addition to these things, try one or more of the following suggestions:
- Make sure the readers know everything about the main characters, including their age and occupation, their world view, any unique physical characteristics, their relationship status, and so on.
- Give extreme emotions to your main character. Make the character experience the death of a loved one, a sense of paranoia, or a sense that something bad is about to happen.
- Develop very distinct, unique characters. Each character should be written about in great detail and have characteristics that are a little different from the other characters.
Character development and attention to both your setting and the storyline are both crucial to creating a horror story that will scare at least most of the people out there. It is also important to concentrate on the very first chapter of the book, because this is what is going to lure the readers in and keep them interested.
Creating the Perfect First Chapter
The first chapter of your horror story is either going to draw in the readers or chase them away, and it all starts with the very first line. Yes, the very first line is crucial to the tone of the rest of the book, so make it memorable and enticing. Start with a unique fact about the main character, or describe the scary situation that your character is already experiencing.
In the very first scene, there needs to be some action, preferably some action that instantly creates apprehension or tension in the readers. If your main character is in distress for some reason, your readers will want to keep on reading so they can understand everything that is happening. An action-packed first line and scene is always a great way to start a horror story.
When determining how to start a horror story, remember that action and tension are important, because without these things, the readers are more likely to stop reading before the book becomes interesting. You want your readers to look forward to what happens next, but that can only occur with a great beginning.
Other suggestions for a great beginning include:
- Create some conflict right away. Have the character wanting to get rid of a ghost, or be in the middle of a terrifying situation, especially one where they feel their life is being threatened.
- Always use an active voice. This is much more descriptive and uses adjectives that more accurately describe everything that is happening in the book.
- After you write the beginning, read it out loud to hear what it really sounds like. You can then go back and revise the text when necessary, but it gives you a better feel of what you’ve written if you first read the beginning aloud.
- When you get to the end, recheck the beginning and make sure it is still appropriate. After everything else you’ve written, it may be necessary to revise the beginning at this point.
A good suggestion is to read various beginnings in horror stories. Horror stories that are already published are a great way to learn more about the art of starting your book. Moreover, if you decide not to add conflict until later in the book, make sure there is a good reason for doing so. Readers generally want the gory details right away, preferably in the very first chapter.
Some Alternatives for Your Perfect Beginning
Of course, starting the first chapter – and the first line – on an exciting note goes a long way in creating suspense and tension for your readers, but there are other ways to do the same. Instead of starting right in the middle of an action-packed scene, you can start the story with what happened right before this incident occurred. If you do it correctly, it will create as much apprehension for the readers as starting in the middle of the incident.
You can even start with what happened right after the incident, because this type of scene can describe the aftermath and make readers much more interested in what happened during the incident. Concentrating on an action-packed scene, or what happened immediately before or after that scene are all great ways to start your horror story.
Of course, for any of these things to work, you have to be thoroughly familiar with the horror genre, which means reading books that fall under this category on a regular basis. Horror can be difficult to write because what scares one person may not scare another, and the key to writing this type of story includes elements such as surprise, total fear, and suspense.
Just as there are different types of comedy, there are also different types of horror stories. This includes ghost stories, stories based upon urban legends, and good old-fashioned scary stories. Read all types of horror stories so that you know how they are supposed to read. Reading horror stories that are already published also gives you a sense of what horror publishers are likely looking for.
Speaking of Types of Horror Stories …
When learning how to start a horror story, it’s best to start at the beginning – that is, determine what type of horror story is most interesting to you. In most cases, there are three different types of horror stories that people respond well to, and these include the following:
- Basic horror story: this type of story centers on fear, whether it is a psychological fear or a supernatural one.
- Thriller horror story: this includes several overlapping genres, including stories about slashing, ghosts, possessions, zombies, haunted houses, and so on.
- Gothic horror story: this type of story is usually fantasy-based and has aspects such as romanticism and fear combined.
Once you determine the type of horror story you wish to write about, the rest of the process becomes a lot easier for you. This isn’t to say that the three basic types won’t overlap at times, but it is still a good idea to start with a clear view of the type of story you want.
Detailed Descriptions Are an Important First Step
As mentioned earlier, detailed descriptions are the key to creating the perfect beginning for your horror story. The more detailed, the better, and this includes extensive details on:
- The setting
- The characters
- The philosophy
- The introduction of the narrator
- The elements of the plot
The great thing about writing a book as opposed to writing a short story or an article is that you have time to develop the characters and the setting. You can take your time and go into as much detail as you wish to describe everything in detail, which means your readers will be lured into the book a lot sooner and feel more like a part of the story.
Never underestimate the power of detailed descriptions about everybody and everything in your book. These go a long way in helping your readers understand what is going on and why, which means they’ll be more likely to turn the next page so they can learn what happens next.
Other Ways to Start Your Horror Story
Of course, there are other ways to start your horror story that are also very effective. Not all horror stories have to start the same way, so for some variation, you can try one or more of the following techniques:
- Consider writing a prologue or introductory chapter that describes something which happened in the past – for instance, an unsolved crime – then start chapter one with details on where the characters are now.
- Add something unfamiliar to something familiar at the very beginning. Take a familiar action – say, walking down a flight of stairs – and add something unfamiliar to it; for example, have the character think there is one less step than there really is.
- Use some introspection before you get started. Write what you’re good at, even if it’s been done in the past. You have to do what you’re good at, regardless of what the topic is.
- You can also try some writing prompts for horror stories to get you started. These are all over the Internet, so it shouldn’t be difficult to find one that will work for you.
There are many different ways to begin your horror story, many ways you can take something standard and turn it into something macabre and eerie. If you read other horror stories, learn to visualize, and improve your vocabulary, you can come up with a lot of solutions regarding how to start a horror story.
You can even try a free-writing exercise to come up with some of these solutions. Just sit down and start writing without planning what you’re going to write. Whatever you come up with in the end, you can use it to start creating your outline so that the actual writing can begin.
Some Practical Tips to Start Your Story
Regardless of how macabre your introduction is, it still needs to be based in some reality. After all, what makes a certain scene scary is how it makes the readers feel. They automatically put themselves in the character’s place, and if it scares the character, it will scare the reader as well. If the reader can feel what the character is feeling, it makes the horror story that much more terrifying.
Other practical tips for starting your horror story include:
- Don’t rush what’s happening. Go slow and write in great detail. You want to build up a sense of anticipation in the readers, and this takes time.
- Write the scene as if it just happened. This way, it will be more vivid in the readers’ minds and they will feel more tension over it.
- If there’s a ghost in your story, make sure it wants something specific, and that it wants it from the main character.
- Act like you’re actually warning the readers of something. Make the voice of the story more earnest. Have someone warn the main character not to do something, then have the character do it anyway.
- If you want extra scariness, try to tell the story like it’s happening in the middle of the day instead of after dark. This will make the writing even scarier because most people don’t expect scary things to happen during daylight hours.
- Have the narrator sound like he doesn’t believe in what’s happening in the story. A story about ghosts should have a narrator who is hesitant about believing ghost stories!
- Make sure the gore you’re using isn’t too gory. The gorier the writing, the less scary the story is, as a general rule.
There are also openings to horror stories that are too cliché to be used, and which make the story less believable and interesting. These include beginnings such as:
- Introducing the story as if it were a dream.
- Describing in too much detail what the weather is like.
- Making the first sentence too long or complicated, or difficult to understand.
- Having a serial killer that wants to kill or sleep with the victim – or both.
- Having the main character look at themselves in the mirror so you can see what they look like.
Figuring out how to start a horror story isn’t complex, but there are some basic do’s and don’ts that you should follow, and this is certain to help you start your next horror novel.