Horror Writers Association Blog

Halloween Haunts: Writing Modern Horror


By Heddy Johannesen

Horror has a seductive hold on us. Horror is like a tentacle crawling from the crypts of our darkest dreams to suck us into horrific nightmares. If done properly, it casts a dark magic, sending chills down readers’ spines.

Now is the time, now is the hour. In my opinion, horror movies such as Insidious 1-2The Possession of Hannah Grace, and Sinister aren’t scary to me. I am an avid writer of horror fiction and I am well read. In order to give readers or viewers the fright royale, readers should be too afraid to not leave the lights on all night and hide under the covers. And curse the writer because they can’t put the book down.

The writer must make extra effort to horrify jaded readers. There is a difference between horrifying and terrifying. One of the two you experience more deeply. Terror is more potent. I won’t watch The Exorcist which deals with similar themes as the movies mentioned above. The Exorcist doesn’t turn away from the revolting horror, it stares it in the eye. It makes you look too, when you don’t want to. -and doesn’t let go. The same is true for Silence of the Lambs. But it doesn’t need to gross readers necessarily just to be scary.

Novels such as Dracula and Frankenstein reflected the time or era in which they were written. In Victorian times, darkly romantic fanged noblemen were scary because the society had different fears and beliefs about death than now. Those fears wouldn’t faze us today. Anne Rice made vampires intimidating and sexy. That is why the novels were successful. Today, writers like Suzanne Collins draw from what they view in the world today. We are more sophisticated now yet desensitized at the same time.

If you are interested in penning a horror story, I suggest the following tips: Get out of your own comfort zone. Change the environment where you write. Bring your writing pad, coffee, and lurk in a cemetery, visit a haunted location or a morgue, or research the folklore of your hometown. You might create something original, which can be helpful. Go on a trip to a quiet seaside town that has a paranormal history. Be safe as you explore new eerie cemeteries or towns. Getting out of your comfort zone breathes new life into your writing. Buy a tarot deck to inspire you, read dark poetry of a poet you never heard of.

Trust in yourself. If you’re fearful while writing the story, there’s a good chance your reader will be too. Pay attention to your dreams. Often dreams reflect our daily lives and what is hidden in our subconscious. Heed your insights and flashes of inspiration. I penned a dark novel based on a flash of inspiration that I would never have dreamed up otherwise. Learn all you can and be open minded. Then when you have created your villainous monster, you can make him or her or it the main character. Be true to your creation, your own monster. Your readers will recognize the true effort you put in.

We have global communication today. We can see the world events on the Internet. The Internet opened a window into the savage truth that we could be in the grip of an almost impending apocalyptic doom. Now that is scary.

The following books are helpful such as On Writing by Stephen King, On Writing Horror- the collection of essays by the Horror Writers Association, The Horror Writer by HellBound Books, Writing Monsters by Phillip Athans, and writing the Paranormal Novel- Techniques and Exercises by Steven Harper. These books go into real detail about writing about the paranormal. Within this genre, there is more freedom to create what you want whether that be a sparkly vampire, toothy werewolf, or chain rattling ghost.

After you read these books, highlight the advice, and incorporate the advice into your writing. For a good story about a ghoul of choice to be believed, it must be believable and written well. All stories benefit from good writing. Be consistent about the traits, superpowers, or awesome abilities your monster has. We all know vampires hate garlic and sleep in coffins, but maybe a coffin-shaped bookcase could be their nesting spot during the daytime.

Clean your writing/ office space. Light some sage and clean the energy to allow for the creative energies to flow unimpeded. Light a candle or incense. Play music that inspires you as you create your ghoul or axe-wielding maniac. Create a special playlist and soundtrack. Buy a new set of highlighters, pens, white out, a binder, paper, and a fresh bag of coffee. Do what it takes to make you commit to the writing for the long haul.

Keep a routine when you sit down to work on your story. Reach into the deepest darkest part of your imagination. Free write a scene of confrontation between your protagonist and your monster. Or the monster is the protagonist? These days your demon or ghoul needs to be ORIGINAL. Everything in the paranormal novel realm has been done … or has it? That part is up to you. Know your monster! Make it consistent and believable. It must be original. If you are seeking more inspiration, clip and keep newspaper articles. Read widely in your chosen genre. That will let you know what has already been written by other authors.

Allow yourself to imagine, you may invent something that no one has done before. That is a huge advantage in the field of writing and publishing. Being original and true to your monster is extremely important. The world wants to read a story that has never been written before. They do not want thirty knockoffs of It or The Babaduk. For example, I published a short story about pumpkins that can eat people. The vines can extend themselves and the pumpkins were toothy and bloodthirsty. Talk about a real twist on our favourite squashes!

The Horror Writers Association has helped me as a writer. There are many others out in this crazy world who crave a good horror story as much as I do and I don’t feel so alone. They prove readers still want to be scared.

Audiences and readers today have seen everything. A novel can be successful still, but writers must be unabashedly original to truly terrify their readers. Look at what is happening in society. The monsters of yesterday are not the monsters of today. It worked for Stephen King and Thomas Harris and with luck, it can work for you too.I hope you have enjoyed reading this. It might spark an idea or two and you would then be on your way to writing a Gothic novel like Northanger Abbey or something like the Pit and the Pendulum by Poe.

My writing has appeared in Ghosts, Spirits and Specters Volume 2, Samhain SecretsWax and Wane: A Gathering of Witchy TalesOne Night in SalemUntimely Frost; Poetry Unthawed, One Hellacious Halloween Volume 1 by Horror Novel ReviewsThe Dark Ones: Tales and Poems of the Shadow GodsThe Queen of the Sky who Rules over All the Gods: A Devotional Anthology in honour of BastCrone Newsletter EzineEternal Haunted Summer EzineWitches and Pagans MagazineEssential Herbal magazineCircle MagazineNaming the Goddess and Paganism 101

My blog can be found at: https://theparanormalquill.wordpress.com.

My Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/ghosts.spiritsandapparitions

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