3 Tips On Writing Supernatural Horror
When it comes to the supernatural, most people know nowadays that vampires, werewolves, and zombies, don’t exist. Yet, sometimes when you’ve been up late at night, or you and the dog finally have a Friday evening alone in the house, you still leap at that clang you heard downstairs. Was it the heater kicking on because it’s November in New England? Nope! Has to be murder shadow clowns! How many times has that chill crawled down your spine late at night? Or when your dog looks at you, hoping you’ll go check out what that strange noise was? How great is that feeling?
Why do we still get so nervous about these things, yet we know the chances of something hiding in the shadows is slim to none? It might be because some of us, such as myself, enjoy the idea of the supernatural existing, or it could be something connected to the real world, represented by a paranormal creation. The reason is different from reader to reader, but if you as a writer, can tap into the ‘why’ of someone’s fear, your supernatural horror story can take on an entirely new level of darkness, which is exactly what this article intends to help you with!
When You’re Building A World Of Supernatural, Add a Dash of Realism
One of the biggest reasons the supernatural horror still has a strong, dedicated following is because most of the stories reflect a part in daily life many of the readers can connect with. There’s a reason so many monsters live in the woods-the very woods that the hero has to travel through. And why is that? Well, how comfortable walking through the woods, at night, are you? You’re on edge, every little noise makes your head spin, and at the very least, there’s always a sense of unease.
See how you felt a little nervous at the idea of walking into the woods, during the middle of the night? Good! Now go use that in your next story, but instead of only referencing the darkness, perhaps add a werewolf stalking its prey, a vampire claiming to guide a poor, lost victim back home, or anything else you find that fits from the supernatural world. The point of the supernatural in this aspect is to, purposefully, give validation to someone’s fears, by creating an excuse as to why they feel a sense of unease.
This simple tool of tapping into people’s genuine fears only to give it a paranormal twist is the very core of supernatural horror. A big reason this is such a commonly used tactic is because it addresses people’s fears; something we can all understand. Validating someone’s fear means bringing it to life. Similar to snakes, spiders, dark caves, all these things are biologically unnerving to humans. So, let biology help creep out your readers, then re-affirm their fears with your supernatural plots!
Timing Is Everything
When it comes to horror, you could just fill a room full of corpses and make people feel uncomfortable on how descriptive you are in explaining the blood dripping from their wounds. I can’t say people will reread it, but you can still try-it’ll certainly make a name for you! Rather than being a one-trick pony, pay attention to the time in which your story takes place. This alone could help you elevate your creep-out factor to an all-out, unexpected high within your readers.
Since the previous section spoke more about fears you can use on people in today’s current time, I won’t spend much longer on creating horror in a modern setting, but I will add one more note. If you’re here to inspire fear, leave a sense of truth or reality to your supernatural being. A big source of fear is wondering could this happen to me, which many horror authors use to assure you’ll be keeping the lights on at night. So, feel free to think about what might scare you in the story if you were a reader, and put it in. Or perhaps ask a list of friends what scares them and use the most common pick.
I always like referencing Mary Shelly when I discuss timing in horror. For us, Frankenstein is a classic. Many people appreciate the history, some appreciate it for being the origin of monster horror, others for the steampunk aspect. But back in its time, it was considered a modern-day horror. By the end of the book, the monster has escaped and is on the loose within the world, while Doctor Frankenstein fears the monster has done him in. And with the monster having killed several times in the book, it left people with an overall feeling of dread. Since Frankenstein’s monster was never caught in the book, although it was a work of fiction, people still felt unease near darkened alleys or dirt roads late at night, after reading the book. This fear is something Mary Shelly knew enough about where she was able to add a new reason, Frankenstein, as to why people should be afraid of the dark.
Nowadays, it can be difficult to write a horror that takes place somewhere within the past. Mostly, because it is hard to fill people with dread when your story starts ‘Back in the 1600s. Ya’ know, 400 years before you were born.’ And if you feel this is the case with your story, have no fear! Keep on writing your tale, but be unnerving. It’s safe to say you’re reader will know your story is a work of fiction, which can actually work in your favor! If a reader grabs a horror, knowing it’s fiction, it means they want to be creeped out. So give it to them. Where is your story taking place? What common themes or fears did people back then deal with, in their culture? What ties do they have to the modern-day reader you’re writing for? Once you know what this connection is, place your reader within the fear. Let them get lost in the sensation of ‘creeped out.’
If you can get your reader to forget they are on their thirty-minute lunch break, and that little alarm they set to remind them to get back to work is what scares them back into reality, then you’ve done exactly what they wanted! They wanted to leave this world and get lost in the darkness of another. So remember, find similar fears between when your book takes place and a similar fear your reader might come to face with, in the modern era. Use this with the biological fear mentioned earlier and you’ve got yourself a proper psychological horror!
Fill Your Story With Werewolves, Not One-Trick Ponies
A big problem that early horror writers run into is their predictability. If you have a monster kidnap someone, don’t always have it be in the same location. The idea of a monster taking you is frightening to think of, but if you make each kidnapping the same every time, eventually you’re reader will start to predict when it will happen. This ruins any chance of scaring them. And if you feel the need to take your victims from the same spot, throw off your reader a little bit. Build tension about someone approaching ‘the spot,’ and don’t let them be taken. By keeping your readers off-balance, returning them to a heightened point of uneasiness, the stakes have risen, and a new level of anxiety has formed. You removed the comfort of knowing what would happen next. This is another little ploy to further push your reader into the realm of ‘creeped out.’ The biggest takeaway from this section is: Do NOT become predictable. You might be able to get away with that in other genres such as fantasy (because killing a dragon is always cool), but people come to horror because they want to be brought to a mental space of an uncomfortable nature. You make all your deaths predictable and you’ll find yourself lacking book sales, and more importantly, good reviews.
** A Final Note On Horror
Try to find ways where you can sprinkle multiple types of fear within your story. From there you can mix and match how you write horror, keeping your reader guessing putting them in the mental haze they’re looking for!