5 Points of a Good Horror Story

Published by

Posted on August 26, 2016

People think they know what makes a great horror story, but they really don’t. You’ve been hyped up by a horror movie or book trailer only to feel like you should’ve waited for the DVD or 99-cent eBook download. 

With such let-downs in mind, I’ve decided to construct what I think makes a strong horror story. I’ve mentioned why fear works, how horror has changed  andwhy we love horror, but I’ve never broken it down into categories before. Without further ado, I believe a good horror story is broken down into fear, surprise, suspense, mystery, and spoiler. This is how:

1. Fear

At the risk of pointing out the elephant in the room, fear is by far the most important factor of a great horror story. The real trick to constructing a story based on fear is making sure you can scare people with fears they may not have. Along with establishing fears and connecting them with audiences, it’s important to keep an element of surprise. 

2. Surprise

Making someone to fear what you’ve created isn’t the hardest part; making the fear surprising is. This is where an imaginitative mind is useful. The cool thing about horror novels versus movies is that you can toy with someone’s imagination a lot further. You paint a picture in such a way that the reader’s mind can become lost in thought the same way we might think there’s a ghost in the house during the thirteenth hour.

Expanding on a fear often contributes to surprise. Establish fears from the usual tropes, then soil the audience’s pants with an expansion that will echo throughout their night terrors. Of course, surprise after surprise can grow tiresome. Sometimes you must make the reader want more scares, and this is the beauty of suspense in horror stories.

3. Suspense

Some surprises come at the end of a long suspense. The best scenario consists of someone waiting for something to happen, and when it does it’s completely unexpected. An expansion on the same scenario includes fear. We might even know what will happen to character based on their fears, but there’s still the anxiety of waiting. 

A better horror story is one that builds up the suspense. We don’t just want minor chords and pop-out scary faces, we emotional connection with the characters and we want to live out their stress rather than face obstacles akin to a garden snake popping out from behind some vegetables. Of course, a nice touch to suspense is a good mystery.

4. Mystery

Unless it’s in the form of whodunnit, many readers have strayed away from mystery within different genres of literature. Rather than let it go, I embrace a strong element of mystery. Actually, our taste is to process as many unknowns in a story as possible.

However, more simplex mysteries seem to be the breaking point. Whether small or large, we like not knowing a few things about a character. In general, horror stories featuring a group of innocents will wait until the mid-point or even the end to tell you what the main character – the leader in this case – fears. It will surprise you by the way they encounter their fears. And it will keep the suspense until the very end, at which point to mystery is solved.

5. Spolier

The main character freaks out at the sight of a spider, so you know they’re gonna face one at some point. This can be positive anticipation with surprise and suspense. 

You might realize there’s a false sense of identity in a novel. Therefore, you suspect the narrator might be a little unreliable. This adds to every element, especially mystery.

This study reveals people like spoilers more than anything else in a good story. When a reader or viewer knows something about the story from the beginning – a something that would traditionally be in the climax of the story – they are unable to look deeper into the story itself. Their eyes will be open to detail. This is like rereading a novel, only without rereading it.