How to write an utterly terrifying horror story

Have you ever wanted to write a scary story? Like, a really scary story? Dave Rudden, author of the Knights of the Borrowed Dark series tells us how in three simple (and terrifying) steps.

Dave Rudden
How to write a horror story by Dave Rudden

I love being scared.

Not actual scared – the kind of scared you get from spiders or dentists – but book-scared. Because book-scared is safe-scared. It’s scared with the safety on, with the guard rail down, the kind of scared you can use as a mirror to learn more about yourself. I made my villains in Knights of the Borrowed Dark shapeshifters, so every new monster is like a brand-new horror film in miniature, and I can let my imagination run wild.

If you’re a horror or fantasy writer in training, here are some steps you can follow to create your very own pet nightmares.

1. Ask yourself what scares you

As a writer, you are always your own first reader. My first drafts are always me just telling the story to myself, to figure out what the novel needs, and so I draw on my own fears because I know I’m not the only person out there with them. I steal things - like the way spiders just show up in your peripheral vision or the threat of static on a stormy day.

2. Remember, you are the reader’s eyes

Not literally – that would be squishy and gross. But when you’re making movies, TV or games, you can’t tell where the watcher might look. That’s why directors sneak tons of detail into the background of their films. But when you’re a writer, the reader can only see what you choose to show them. In Knights of the Borrowed Dark, one of my characters hides in a closet as a Woman in White approaches. Because he can’t see her, she is described only in sound – the rasp of her breath, the creak of her feet, the mechanical pop of her knuckles as her fingers clench and unclench… sometimes the less we see, the scarier it becomes.

3. What you fear says a lot about you

We are a product of our fears. They shape us, they make us care about people and make us fight for what is right. What your main character is afraid of says a lot about them. In my book, the villains are made of living darkness, and so my Knights wield the power of fire because fire defeats dark. The more my Knights use their power the more they turn to iron, becoming unchanging and still, whereas my monsters change their forms from moment to moment, horribly and chaotically. Villains and heroes are two sides of a coin, and you can use one to tell the reader a lot about the other.

Now go out there and terrify someone. Safely, obviously. Happy horror writing…


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