Kids today have it so much easier than I did. We live in a world where the internet has allowed for many ways to find and read scary stories. Whether it is a physical copy of a book you check out from the school library, or a website for Creepypasta or urban legends, there are plenty of creepy tales out there. More importantly, more people are writing stories than ever before.
I encourage children to write horror. Reading and writing horror can be an exciting hobby that also improves your writing skills and boosts critical and creative thinking, as horror requires someone to be able to create mystery and intrigue purely through the written word.
If you love to read scary stories, trying your hand at writing them can lead to an exciting brain-boosting hobby (and career!).
What are the parts of a story?
There are 4 essential elements of a short horror story. These four things must be represented, or your story will seem incomplete to readers.
A story must have characters that take part in the action. The characters are often what makes us want to read a story. We relate to them, find them funny, sometimes we even despise them. No matter how a character is meant to make us feel, they are what keeps the reader interested.
Your main character, or protagonist, will serve as the point of view from which the reader learns much of the story. It’s important to think about who the protagonist is as people.
- What does your main character eat for breakfast?
- Does he or she have siblings?
- What kind of house do the live in?
- How will their past experiences serve to guide their decision making during the course of the story?
Asking yourself questions like these can help you get to know your character thoroughly, which helps you write a more complete and natural sounding story. I suggest you write a bio for your protagonist and other supporting characters that starts with their name, birthday and what kind of major events occurred in their life up until the events of your story. Even if you never include many of these biographical facts about the character in your story, it help you craft a character that makes choices based on something grounded and believable.
All stories are about conflict. Without conflict, there simply is no story.
The problem or spooky situation that the characters are dealing with is the conflict, and it guides your story along. The characters become swept up in the conflict as they react to it.
Sometimes, this conflict is a physical threat. A physical conflict could be a poltergeist tossing books at the main character, or a monster stalking them. Other times, this conflict is internal threat. The character undergoes psychological changes as a person, or struggles with an emotional problem. In horror stories, these kinds of conflict are less common but can be done very well
The second most common conflict in a horror story is an opposing character, referred to as an antagonist. Sometimes it is a murderer, other times it’s a mysterious entity, but the bad guy can be whoever you choose.
There can also be more than one source of conflict in your story, but they should each serve a purpose and move the story along.
In horror stories, the conflict is most commonly an outside entity or force that is trying to hurt the main character in some way and disturb their normal life, but the protagonists response to conflict can itself be another source of conflict, such as in my book Breakfast of Monsters where the protagonist Brenden makes a series of poorer and poorer decisions that ultimately lead to his undoing. Keep in mind that a story can have multiple sources of conflict as you brainstorm and plan your story.
Your events tie together to make up the plot of the story. The plot should make sense, and conflicts that arise should fit together naturally. With horror, your plot has a little more leeway. The events of a horror story can be difficult to rationalize and explain.
The setting of a story is the time and place that your story happens. This could be a dark bedroom, a New Orleans mansion in the 1920’s, or anywhere you can imagine. You can create a whole new world for your story or draw inspiration from the one we live in. Either way, painting your readers a picture by describing your setting in detail will make your story great. Common settings for horror stories include forests, hotels, camping trips, outer space, and the main character’s home. Setting is vital to a horror story’s success. You want to set the stage in the reader’s mind with descriptions that are eerie, unsettling, and dark.
With the basics of story writing down and a good amount of reading done for inspiration, you should be ready to try your hand at writing your own horror story. While you write, think about the things that scare you. Even the small things, like walking down the stairs into a dark basement or a scratching at your windows, can inspire an amazing and terrifying tale.
Five Steps to Write Your Own Scary Story
There are five basic steps to writing a scary story. If you follow this method, you’ll produce a spooky short story you can be proud of.
1. Brainstorm your story’s premise.
This stage of writing can be quick for some, but others may spend an hour or so trying to come up with a good idea. Take all of the time that you need. It may help to do some free-writing. To do this, simply take a piece of paper and a pen and begin writing down your thoughts. Let them flow freely, and don’t edit.
The planning phase is a good time to read other short horror stories. They can serve as inspiration, but reading other scary tales also gets you in the right ‘zone’ to write your own horror.
Some of my stories are attempts to update an older more classic tale. For examples, Rideshare of the Dead is based on urban legends about hitchhiking ghosts. Other tales are based on things I recall growing up, such as morning children’s show hosts which inspired It Came From the Attic (in particular, The Ramblin Rod Cartoon Show and its predecessor, Rusty Nails).
I think a good horror story is one where you take something people find ordinary or happy, and twist it into something perverse. Thus many of my stories are based on things I liked as a kid.
2. Sit down in a quiet place and write a short summary of your story.
You don’t need pages and pages of writing. Just get a basic concept, a few paragraphs of what transpires during the plot.
As you write out this general summary of the tale, constantly think about what is happening inside the head of your main character.
What are his or her motivations? What kind of personality do they have? Are they brave?
It is important to know your character well before you begin writing. This will ensure their actions seem natural to your readers. For example, a shy young girl who is easily spooked probably wouldn’t jump to investigate a scary noise. Knowing that about her before you begin writing will keep your story on the right path.
Example summary: A boy is hiking alone in the woods when a crunch alerts him that he is not alone. The entity chases him to the edge of the woods.
Your summary should not be a full plot outline. It’s more of an idea to keep you on the right path as you write. Try to visualize the story as though it’s a movie in your head.
3. Sit down and write a first draft of your story.
You should not worry about making it “sound good” on this first draft. The aim is to get the story on paper while it is fresh in your mind. Write freely, and follow thoughts where they take you. You can always make edits later.
4. Read over your first draft.
As you read through, address any spelling or grammar errors in your tale and look for sections where story elements are missing.
Fill in blanks or unclear details as you find them. If something needs to be further explained, go into more detail by writing additional sentences. You might even re-write several paragraphs to make the events of the story flow better.
If a passage is a little too wordy, make cuts where you need to. A good tip is to read your story aloud and make sure it flows well and does not sound awkward. If you hit a snag, re-writing that section will make your story sound much better. It is easy to get discouraged in this phase, but remember that even the best writers of all time have had to edit their work. Re-read and edit your story as many times as you need to do so. It’s not done until you are comfortable with the way it sounds.
5. Submit it!
The purpose of writing a story is for other people to read it.
Once you feel confident in your work, send it away to a local writing contest, or try out an open-submission website like the Creepypasta Wiki or reddit’s Nosleep forum. This gives others the opportunity to read your work, but it also gives you a chance to grow and receive feedback on your writing. Constructive criticism is a wonderful way to improve your writing, so be sure to share your story with your friends and loved ones, too.
Writing is a great hobby to get into for kids and adults alike. It is a great form of self expression that improves confidence and listening skills. It encourages your imagination to stretch and grow while