Horror Writers Association Blog

Writing Prompt: A Family Fear

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Young Horror brings you writing prompts to energize your week with spooky idea inspiration. Are you writing picture books, chapter books, middle grade, or YA? Your next great idea could be sparked right here. Check back every first Monday of the month for inspiration. Share your ideas and discuss in the comments below. Look out for our September feature article: Found Footage Horror, on the third Thursday.


Parents can pass on their own fears to their children. Do you jump every time you see a spider in the house? Little Jimmy is picking up those cues, and he’ll either torture you by chasing you with spiders or start jumping and shrieking at arachnids too.

Child holding adult hand

What fears do you carry as an adult? Do death and taxes make the list?

What visceral and primal fears do you still carry from childhood? I still race up the basement stairs when I’m done with laundry, just in case something is following me.

Give a parent character a primal fear, then brainstorm how it would manifest in their child. What habits, tics, or avoidance mechanisms would the child take on? Children are excellent mimics, and yet they translate the gestures and phrases of adult life into their own childlike version. If a parent was afraid of dogs and gave them a wide berth on the sidewalk, would their child then avoid dogs and people with lots of fuzzy hair/beards? 

Here are a few common fears to get you started:

  • Animals (dogs, cats, bats, lizards, spiders, mice, etc.)
  • The Dark
  • Service People (garbage handlers, mail person, waitress)
  • Noise (thunder, garbage disposal)
  • Places (basement, attic, under the bed, behind the shower curtain, closet)
  • Situations (crowds, public transport, airplane takeoff)

Writing Prompt

Write a scene where the parent and child encounter a shared fear, and both react in ways that make the situation increasingly dangerous.

Share your ideas in the comments below, or on Twitter with @horrorwriters #writingprompt or #YoungHorror


Author Head ShotShanna Heath is an author and monster slayer who writes horror for all ages. Childhood can be terrifying. Shanna makes monsters, then shows kids and teens how to defeat them. A lifelong horror fan, Shanna was inspired to write horror for young people after re-reading Baum’s Ozma of Oz as an adult. You can find her scary kids book and movie recommendations on her website, or connect with her on Twitter and Facebook. Shanna’s favorite young horror read is Coraline by Neil Gaiman.

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