What's the Best Horror Writing Advice You've Ever Heard?

I thought it’d be fun (and helpful) if we all shared the best horror-specific writing advice we’ve ever come across, whether given directly by somebody you know or something you came across on a blog or podcast.

I’ll go first:
Probably the best horror-specific writing advice I’ve ever received is that it’s often scarier if you leave something up to the audience’s imagination rather than depicting it (I’ve heard this tons of places, but I believe I first heard it from the late horror icon himself, Christopher Lee).

I’ve always thought of that advice in terms of violence, but a few years ago, a William Hope Hodgson scholar made it even better by showing me you can also do it to make the scenery scarier too. Let’s say your character visits a creepy, remote house. While it’s perfectly fine to describe the house in detail, it’s sometimes more effective to describe it with “emotional” adjectives (adjectives that reflect the POV character’s emotional reaction rather than reflecting the object’s physical characteristics), such as saying that the house had an ‘ominous’ shape or that the door made an ‘awful, sickening’ noise as they shut it behind them.

That kind of description is just specific enough to make the story’s mood clear to the reader while at the same time being just vague enough to let their imagination create the scene in a way completely distinct from any other reader.

So what about the rest of you?


I’ve had the same type of advice as you have, that keeps things unknown and to the reader imagination can invoke their own fear and get them immersed into the story etc :wink:

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Good to cross paths with you again, @JMills . I remember you from the old forums.

That advice seems to be pretty popular. Like I said, I first remember hearing it from Christopher Lee. Where do YOU first remember hearing it?

I once heard someone say (Yes, I don’t remember that person :sweat:) that the implication of the scene is much scarier than the actual act of horror.

And another would be when horror is simply described as something real it often creates a confusion whether the thing that is written is real or just delusions, which creates ambiguity that will creep out readers. This is however is limited to psychological horror.


Nice! Is there a movie or book that you feel is really great at using that ambiguity that you mention in your second point?

Nate D Burliegh mentioned it to me when I used to talk with him all the time about horror stuff :slight_smile:

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Watch (the obvious one) The Shining by Stanley Kubrick. The movie is slow paced so that you can think & notice subtleties. While I didn’t like the book as much as the movie, people say it’s good.

And I would really suggest Let The Right One In the Swedish version by Tomas Alfredson. It creates a horror that is not about horror per say… It is in the background. The main conflict of the story is two kids trying to know each other & fall in love. It’s again based on a book but I haven’t read it.



I love that movie

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None. I am looking forward to reading the responses to this thread.

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Best horror advice I’ve ever read was, “Write like your grandmother won’t read it.”

I remember pulling punches, thinking that as an amateur writer, if anyone I knew ever read my stuff, they’d think I was sick.

And maybe I am lol

But I write about what scares me, and with little apology.


Nice. That’s the spirit :slight_smile:

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I get what you’re saying.

Interestingly, though, my OWN grandmother has a pretty high tolerance level for that kind of stuff (she’s more of a crime fiction enthusiast than a horror enthusiast though).


Nice. Your grandmother sounds pretty awesome :slight_smile:

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For me it would be to never hold back and never be afraid to push the bar of what’s normal or socially acceptable. I try to keep that in mind for my book Breaking Eden. There is one character who brings the true horror to the book and his name is Harold Humphrey. He has this special room for his gimp, as he calls it, and if I write it the right way people will be shocked at what’s in store.


The late Ray Bradbury said stuff that more or less lines up with what you’re saying.

Going by an interview he gave for a failed audio drama series, his attitude seems to have been that an author shouldn’t hold anything back or censor themselves, especially not when they’re working on a story’s first draft; if they honestly end up feeling uncomfortable with the results, they can always go back and revise before submitting or publishing it, but they should at least get it out on paper (or in some other tangible form) before discarding it.

This isn’t so much as advice as much as observation. To write horror is to dip your toes into a darkness no one wants to lurk, which is what @K_E_Francis was saying. A good creepypasta story, The Russian Sleep Experiment, is a great example for that and it also pulls in to what @JMills was saying in a way. It is being in a dark room, blacker than black, and you can’t see a damn thing. No one wants to know what the hell is staring back at them.

If you can summon up enough courage to look back at it I think you could write a pretty damn good horror book.

I also suggest House of Leaves. This is the ONLY horror book that has ever made me cry and feel like I would never get out that book. A truly good story that I had borrowed from work and later bought a copy for myself.


Very, very good book.


Good advice here, thank you all.


I heard this bit of advice not too long ago… sorry, not sure if I read it or if someone said it, but horror needs the three B’s.


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Can’t recall the origin, but somebody remarked that the difference between horror and terror is that terror lets you know just exactly how awful the situation is. Horror should be the things are seen only fleetingly, and which the character (and the reader) are both letting their imaginations get the better of them. Horror should be the build up to the climactic moment of terror. Everything after that is running like hell and catching your breath afterwards.

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