This post first appeared on Quora November 29, 2019. Other posts follow below, with links.
Ooh this is a fun question!
With young adult horror, try to keep it suspenseful and creepy. Avoid sexual situations and gore. You need to avoid going into graphic detail.
Pick up a copy of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Any of the collection will do. There are some really creepy tales in there, to serve as a foundation for young audiences. From there, you’ll want to make them a bit more mature, but not overly so (see above).
You have to sit in front of your keyboard and write them. There’s no hack or trick to it and no magic. You have to do the work to produce something. No matter what genre.
Think about what frightens you. How could you make it more frightening? Write a scene about it. Scare yourself. Then keep going. Write more. Keep writing till you get to the end.
You can rework it later in editing for structure and development of your plot. But for now, just write.
I’ll skip the poetic pretense for a more direct answer.
Why in the hell does anyone do what they do? Why do people make comedic content? Why do shoemakers make shoes? Why do I write horror and weird fiction?
- I like the genre. It entertains me. I want to give back to the genre that gave me so many hours of entertainment.
- I can write it well enough that some people enjoy it. Sure, I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. But I can write a variety of entertainment. is better for the squeamish—it’s not horror so much as weird fiction. is … not for the squeamish. While I don’t overdo the gore in preference for psychological horror, I don’t shy away from upsetting topics. I like scares, and I think it’s fun when other people do too.
- The genre connects me to my father. He loved horror, science fiction, and weird fiction. I think he would have enjoyed my work.
And now for some poetic pretense, mainly because I can’t resist. But I’ll keep it short.
The morbid and macabre are part of who I am. Jung called it “owning your own shadow.” And I do. This shadow—the one that slithers in the dark of my psyche, who hides behind the brightest sun of her light side*—deserves a voice. She exists, and I accept her and nurture her so that she stays healthy and doesn’t strike out to where it could actually hurt people.
Is there any way to write a scary horror fiction story in the first person from the perspective of a scientist’s assistant that gets forced into being the lab rat in a science experiment that goes horribly wrong?
Yes of course. You need to figure this out yourself or your story may tend to fall apart or not ring true.
The only way to get better at writing is by writing. Practice often, every day, for a set word count, and you will improve.
Some people could take this question as an outline in itself and produce a story from it simply by writing by the seat of their pants. Others could use it as a springboard to a detailed outline of how the story needs to go.
I used to be a pantser, myself but I found that if I take time to do a detailed outline, the manuscript goes far more smoothly. You may be the opposite.
You have to put in the work in order to find out.
So best practice? Sit down in front of your computer and tippy tappy the keys. Write from your protagonist’s perspective. Outline where necessary.
You already have the idea, so grab Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet and get to work.
Short answer: Yes and no.
Speaking from personal experience, I do tend to write about the things that used to freak me out when I was younger, and stuff from my nightmares. As I got older, those things ceased to scare me, but they still scared other people. Sometimes I’ll dig them up out of the shadows and see if I can dust off the cobwebs and scare myself again. Turns out that yes, I can.
I think the things that scare us as horror writers vary, just as it would for anyone. Some people I know have absolutely zero fear of the supernatural, either because they don’t believe in it at all, or their experiences have led them to believe they’re not in any danger from it. They don’t suspend their disbelief or use their imaginations, and therefore, just aren’t afraid no matter what.
For me, I hate being surprised. I get scared of the what-the-hell-was-that moment. So I use it in my writing. Turns out a lot of people find that scary, because it preys on our primal fears. The fear of the unknown and the potentially deadly.
Now, while I’ll sit with friends and watch a horror film, I’ve noticed that the places that freak them out and make them jump don’t do a thing to me. I either expected it, saw it coming, or the subject matter just doesn’t give me the creeps. But then there will be a moment that’s so jarring or psychologically horrific, I’m almost jumping out of my skin or yelling at the screen. At those moments, my friends (who aren’t horror writers) are clinging to me in terror or giggling madly with nervous laughter.
So in some ways, yes, I’m far less sensitive to fear than other people when it comes to fiction.
As for fact? In real life, I’m terrified of cockroaches (because they really seem to like to run up and surprise me). Now, if I see one and know it’s there, I’m okay. Not scary. If one just flies out from seemingly nowhere? I’m a ball of idiot, thrashing madly trying to kill it, burn down the house, and start life anew in the Antarctic where they can’t find me. Again, it’s the surprise factor that scares me, not the actual insect itself.
When it comes to other people, I have relatively little fear. I’m capable of defending myself and doing it well, and have done so in the past. While I enjoy movies such as Halloween and Friday the 13th, I’m not scared by them.
When I write, I either write from my nightmares, what used to scare me, or the universal terrors that scratch at the backs of our throats and make them clench. The slithering underbelly of our primal instincts. When it’s really cooking—when I’m at my best writing—I’m on the edge of my own seat. When I jump at a noise from behind me during my writing? Then I know it’s going to scare a fair few who read my work.
And I love every minute of it.