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There are three main types of fear.

  1. Shock. The main purpose of shock fear is to startle the observer.
    Example: A loud scream or sudden scary figure appearing out of a closet.
  2. Paranoia. The purpose of paranoia is to make the observer feel nervous and unsure about his/her surroundings.
    Example: A story about ghosts makes you feel chills when you hear a floorboard creak.
  3. Dread. The purpose of dread is to create such a suspense that the observer is overcome with a feeling of personal dread. A feeling that something bad will happen. This is perhaps the most powerful form of fear—the stuff of nightmares.
    Example: A horribly grotesque figure is rocking on the ground; you dread that it will look up at you.

Anonymity vs. Specifics

  1. Anonymity. Using anonymous cities and people is often used by writers (namely inexperienced writers), who mistakenly think that the "not knowing" factor of it will be more likely to scare people. This is not always true; in fact, it can end up making your story more laughable. "One time in a little town there lived a kid who..." et cetera.
  2. Specifics. Being specific can often be much more powerful than being vague. When people want to be scared, the idea that the story could be real is much more tantalizing than "it happened in the woods somewhere". Even if the place doesn't exist, clarifying where it happened, and to whom, can often make it far more unnerving.

How It Starts

  1. Throw people right into the shit. This is usually not a good idea. A story beginning with "It's going to get nem this may be my last diary entry" is weak. Oh no, something is going to "get" someone I know nothing about, and do something to them maybe. The story could be about Anne Frank, or a grotesque kidnapper or some shit.
  2. Lead them in. Start things off a bit normally, and slowly interject foreshadowing into the story. Give people the sense "things are not normal... something's not right here..." and so forth. If you can build the suspense high enough, people will feel paranoid, and maybe start feeling dread.

Building the Story

  1. Subtlety. A little subtlety goes a long way. Reading about a gentle scratching on the window is a lot scarier than your window suddenly shattering. Seeing something out of the corner of your eye is scarier than opening your bedroom door and seeing a girl with no face on your bed. The beauty of subtlety is that you can make it lead into something more obvious.
    Example: Story starts with you seeing shit out of the corner of your eye, then it stops darting away so fast, and eventually you see the whole thing.
  2. Don't drag it on. REALLY long stories either need to be incredibly well-written, or not written at all. The story needs to progress on, building on the terror the whole time. Not spending ten paragraphs reflecting on this one time you went to the store and saw a missing person's poster, and how you saw that poster at three other stores, but the name changed each time. That can be explained in a few sentences.

What Is Scary?

  1. The unknown. Tap into something unexplained and seek to give it a terrifying, and semi-believable answer. Things with no known answer are great places to draw from, rather than something totally explainable in common language.
  2. Science. By talking technically, you can fool people into believing its authenticity.
  3. Children. A story about a child is scarier than one about an adult roughly 80% of the time. This is because children are usually viewed as innocent.
  4. Mirrors. Mirrors have always been popular subjects of horror, and for a good reason. They allow us to see ourselves, but, as funhouse mirrors show us, things aren't always what they seem.
  5. The unclear. Static, blurry photos, etc. This gives people a chance to let their mind wander. If their mind is in the right state (where you put it - one of paranoia), these unclear things lead them to their own horrific conclusions.
  6. Abandonment. An abandoned house can be wondered about. A bright, cheery house... is obviously not scary.
  7. Faces. Eyes, teeth, and smiles can all be described in such a way that they unnerve people.
  8. Pictures. Whether it's a Victorian painting where the eyes move, or a digital picture where your friend has a 666 on their forehead, pictures are thought to be static and still, and when they aren't, it's scary.
  9. Technology. Technology is an expression of man's control over the known world. When technology acts strangely, it can be scary.

Death Is Overrated

  1. As an ending. "He died", "It killed him". HOLY SHIT HE DIED WHO A WHAT THE FUCK... Yeah, dying isn't scary in and of itself. It's so overplayed that people are immune to it. Someone going missing is better than "they found him two weeks later".
  2. As a subject. "People mysteriously kept dying" isn't scary either.
  3. Same with murder. Unless the murderer is outstandingly sadistic, writing about a serial killer is overdone.

Should We Fight "It"?

  1. Yes. Some characters try to fight against "it", and always fail. In a way, it has become a cliché. It is also slightly unreal – most people, when confronted with something scary, would be too afraid to fight back, lest they anger "it".
  2. No. Most characters try to hide from/ignore it. This is usually better, as it lets "it" become harder and harder to ignore/hide from.
  3. They don't know about it. This has epic potential. You know in movies when the view changes to behind the bush and is moving a little? We know something else is watching, but the character doesn't (this is also known as dramatic irony). When done right, this is horror at its best; when executed poorly, it's terrible. So be careful.


  1. First Person.
    • You are the hero. "Hero" in that you are the person shit is happening to. When people are scared (like the narrator), they have heightened senses. They can suddenly hear the quietest winds and the lowest whispers. Rely on the details to set the mood; when the shit goes down, try to only reveal what the narrator knows. Don't use "later I found that", "little did I know", "but it turned out that", etc. Only what is experienced first hand should be used.
    • You are "it". NO, just don't. "You are the zombies".
  2. Second Person. "You", the reader, are being lead along. Be careful with this. At its best, it can scare the shit out of people; at its worst, people will laugh at you. And it's usually at its worst.
  3. Third Person. The easiest and arguably the best. Never TELL US; always SHOW US. "John started to get scared" vs. "John closed his eyes and started humming a cheerful song to himself, but he had to keep stopping to swallow his own spit. Each time he stopped, he closed his eyes even tighter.

Punctuation and Language

  1. Proper usage. ALWAYS (make an attempt to) USE CORRECT PUNCTUATION AND GRAMMAR (when possible and/or necessary). A well-placed comma, hyphen or question mark can really make a difference. Notice how all joke stories are written in ALL CAPS and have no punctuation? When you eat fine food, do you shovel it in as fast as possible? Or do you take moderate bites, chew, and swallow at decent intervals? (NOTE: This usually applies mostly to third person; first and second person have more options.)
  2. Repetition. Repetition has always been scary. Try to be careful not to use it too much.


  1. Regular movement. "It started to run at me." ...yaaawn...
  2. Irregular movement. "It started moving slowly towards me; it was writhing, twitching..."
  3. Non-movement. "It sat there, unmoving, unblinking..."

Word Choice

  1. There is always a perfect way to say something; you just have to find it. Consider the implications of the following line:
    "It began to twist its body into weird shapes."
    "It began contorting its figure into strange positions."

Ending your story

  1. Leaving it open-ended. Adds to the paranoia because people aren't sure where "it" went; all they know is that it is still out there somewhere.
  2. Wrapping it up. Kind of shuts off the story. It may not leave them scared, because they know the evil spirit was sealed away.
  3. WTF happened? Try to be clear on what happened; even if nothing happened, be clear about it.
  4. WTF did happen? End it on a mysterious note – one that is both confusing and slightly "leading" can be very effective. Be careful about this.

How to start a story

  1. Start from the end, not the beginning. Get the scary idea in your head, and go backwards from there. The most important part of a story is the scary element, so make sure that is the main focus and is developed before anything else. Try something that scares YOU. That way you know more about it, and the feelings and nuances said thing creates, so you can develop it correctly.
  2. Put that thing into a non-scary setting; develop your surroundings.
  3. ...THEN worry about characters.
  4. Write an outline.
  5. Use the previous tips to deliver a coherent story
  6. Read it over as if you were an asshole on 4chan. Would you laugh at you? Or is it good even then?

See also

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