The Dos and Don’ts of Writing Scary Scenes

writing scary scenes

Writing Scary Scenes

Are you struggling to write a chilling, spine-tingling horror scene? Are you at the point in your narrative where adrenaline should flow, and your readers should be screaming? Writing an effective, scary scene can require some finesse, but don’t panic!  Here are some guidelines on the dos and don’ts of crafting a captivatingly creepy chapter or sequence! 

If you’re looking for tips and tricks on bringing forth terror in all of its terrifying glory, then stick around.

Do Build Tension Gradually

Writing great horror fiction or a thriller series isn’t just about doing scary things and writing gore-filled nightmares; it’s about creating an atmosphere of anticipation and tension. One of the best ways to build up the suspense for your readers is to gradually build tension throughout the story so that when the dramatic moment arrives, everyone in your audience will be at the edge of their seats!

To pull this off effectively, you’ll need a few tricks, like introducing small details that might seem irrelevant but that hint at something sinister lurking behind them. Another approach is to focus on the atmosphere. 

Create a setting where it seems almost like something bad can happen, or a serial killer will appear any minute. That way, you’ll have readers constantly waiting for some kind of horrific event!

Don’t Overuse Gore

While including gore can certainly be effective in a horror story, you don’t want to overuse it. Too much blood and gore can pass from scary to gross, with the readers quickly becoming off-put by it. That’s why writing gory scenes in thriller novels, or even horror movies should be done carefully, with consideration for when and how you choose to include them — as in only when they serve a clear purpose in the story.

Gory scenes, even in the horror genre, shouldn’t be included just for shock value but as an efficient tool for showing the level of violence, despair, and horror in the story. I’ve written a lot of gory murders and scenes of horrific violence, but each one serves a point.

Gore, for gore’s sake, has limited appeal. Your readers want horror, but not at the expense of a good story. 

Do Use Sensory Details

Writing scary stories can be a lot of fun, but it also takes skill to paint an eerie, vivid, and gripping picture for your readers. Incorporating sensory details like dimly lit hallways at night, skittering rodents in the darkness, or a post-apocalyptic landscape is one of the best ways to give your horror story a really frightening atmosphere.

Taking the time to think about these essential elements gives your writing that extra touch to genuinely spook your readers. Practicing writing with this kind of detail helps you become even better when writing scary scenes! 

Learning how to describe a scary scene correctly is one of the most important keys to creating a successful horror or psychological thriller story.

Don’t Rely on Jump Scares

​​Who doesn’t love a good jump scare? But writing scary scenes shouldn’t just be about cheap thrills. If you really want to play with your reader’s emotions, put some thought into writing a horror story that builds tension gradually or plays with psychological terror. 

This way, you can craft an intense atmosphere for your readers to fully immerse in. Try writing different disturbing scenarios and surprise them with unexpected turns! Just imagine their fear as they turn each page, and you, the writer, hold all the power.

Cheap tricks like jump scares will ultimately lessen the overall dread in your reader’s imagination.

So come up with original scary stuff and create a masterpiece of scares. Get creative, get writing, and be prepared to hear some screams!

Do Make Relatable Characters 

If you’re telling a scary story, creating characters your readers will genuinely care about is important. There’s nothing more disheartening than investing time and energy into a horror novel only to discover the characters being flimsy, one-note caricatures.

When writing horror and crafting terrifying scenes, inject your characters with nuanced personalities. Let them be relatable, flawed, complex people your readers can emotionally invest in. Develop characters that your readers care about as their journey unfolds.

Also, if you ever hit a bit of writer’s block, sitting back to spend more time developing characters can be incredibly useful.

By ensuring your readers see pieces of themselves in the characters they’re reading about, you’ll be able to take them on a real adventure (terrifying and disturbing them in the process!).

Don’t Use Cliches

When it comes to being a great horror writer telling a great scary scene, using cliches and tired horror tropes can make all of your hard work disappear in an instant. Sure, these tried-and-true situations have been used to frighten audiences for decades, but that doesn’t mean you should rely on them for your own horror writing. 

Instead, use your creativity to think up some fresh and unique ideas to make your thrilling scenes stand out. A few intriguing and unexpected plot twists are often all it takes to bring horror novels to the next level!

Do Play with Expectations

If telling stories that cause fear and dread is your thing, consider playing with the expectations of your readers. Instead of taking a predictable direction, consider introducing a tale-twister. Throw in a seemingly trustworthy character who ends up being the serial killer, or include something like a red herring to keep them guessing. 

It’s all about creating an unpredictable atmosphere in your horror writing. It’s what makes telling scary stories so enjoyable for both writer and reader alike! So don’t be afraid to play with expectations next time you’re writing scary scenes!

Don’t over Explain

When telling a scary story, particularly in horror writing, it’s important to remember the main goal —to write a scene leading the reader to imagine their own horror. Use audible and visual cues sparingly while telling the story. Those cues should be used to build the atmosphere rather than explain exactly what’s happening. 

And always trust your reader! Their imaginations will take over and fill in the gaps between the words you leave for them. It’s these moments of silence in a scary scene that are often the most terrifying! 

It’s a tricky balance between describing using sensory details without over-explaining. But get that balance right, and you’ll end up with a much more impactful story.

Do Use Pacing to Your Advantage

Writing a horror novel often requires a delicate balancing act between wanton terror and suspenseful intrigue. By using pacing to your advantage, you can expertly weave in and out of different writing styles, creating an electrifying atmosphere that will bring your story to life.

For telling a scary scene, nothing packs a greater punch than short sentences. They immediately inject urgency in action scenes and tension into more atmospheric scenes.

If you want to slow it down and create a sense of calm before unleashing the next wave of horror, longer sentences and paragraphs are the key to creating that heady anticipation for your readers. Mastering the writing of scary scenes isn’t easy, but it’s definitely worth the effort!

Don’t Forget the Emotional Impact

When telling a horror story, it’s important to keep in mind the emotional impact of your writing. Crafting a creepy and spooky scene can be frightening for readers, but even scarier is what comes afterward. Writing a scary scene is more than just creating an unnerving atmosphere. You also have to consider the long-term emotional consequences that come with it. 

What feelings should your readers experience long after they’ve turned off the lights? Will they still feel unsettled days or weeks later? Use your writing to create a feeling of suspense and mystery before introducing any scares, so when you do bring those horror elements into play, your readers will feel all the more scared!

Get Writing!

When it comes to writing scary scenes, a little effort can go a long way. Your readers need to feel the fear your characters go through, the worry and dread of what might happen next. Don’t rush and rob them of that! So give it a try! Take some time to hone in on your main character’s emotions and work on setting the atmosphere. Your readers will thank you for it.

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