Halloween is a festival with ancient Celtic origins. At this time, people typically try to get as spooky as possible by telling stories, watching films, pulling pranks, and donning costumes.
In the modern age, horror stories are more likely to come across the viewer’s (dark and scary) path as a film. However, the written word can still chill us to the bone. Any essay writers looking at crafting a short, scary story should read on for an appraisal of the scariest stories you can hopefully only imagine.
Look to the past
Samhain is the original Halloween. It is the tradition which is based on a mission to ward off spirits and ghosts. There are two means of doing this in the Samhain tradition; wearing costumes and lighting bonfires. The festival is not related to the equally spooky Gunpowder Plot and Bonfire Night celebrated in the UK, although the timing is pretty peculiar.
Horror fans are aware of films like Midsommar and the Wickerman. They draw on a mystical pagan or druidian sense of ritual and rite. In these stories, and there are many from cultures around the world, human sacrifices are made to appease things we can’t fully understand.
The contrast of such mossy and arcane myths with the plight of modern living is an excellent juxtaposition you can use in writing horrific Halloween stories. Scary story writing doesn’t need to be super accurate when it comes to history or world-building, so writers should be weary of creating too many rules and regulations; otherwise they might stray into more of a fantasy novel.
What scares you?
Personal fears are another fine place to start mining for scary stories. By bringing our own fears and phobias to the narrative we may be able to write in a convincingly fearful tone of voice. It can be difficult, if we have no obvious phobias, to imagine what might scare us.
If you are a fearless warrior, or presume yourself to be, cast your mind back to a time when you were scared. When we become afraid our bodies react, our physiology changes, and we perceive the world differently. Can you remember a time you were afraid, felt in danger, or had a different perception of the world? Note down some memories, as abstractly as you wish, as it’s these abstractions that can kick start the writing process. For instance, what was the light like? Did you focus on any specific object in particular? Was it loud or quiet wherever you were?
Write characters people care about
Let’s be honest – terrible things happen every minute of every day. But are we scared by all of them? Not at all. In the news there are a million different ways to die, yet we generally don’t feel afraid of what we see and what we read.
We feel afraid, vicariously, when we feel like we know or are somehow attached to the narrative. So then, in a horror story, the character in peril must be someone relatable. Character writing is an incredibly complicated and simple business. Rather than tell you exactly what a character is, there are some character tropes to avoid, such as a Mary Sue.
Tropes are, however, an interesting reflection of human society and archetypal psychology. Subversion of tropes, either character or plot based, can be disorientating and create atmospheres of either absurdity or humour. Much like how anything can be funny, anything can also be scary. That’s a bit of a riddle, though a great deal of writing is about unravelling and re-constructing hints you pick up through your reading.
That last point brings us to the following idea: read more to understand how to write more. Everything about the way you write from individual sentences, character profiles, and plot structures will improve markedly if you read as much as you can.
That’s not to say you have to read constantly (allow time for reflection), but reading is the key to being a good writer. It keeps you abreast of what things have been done before, demonstrates how to do and how not to do things, and it is proven to improve your cognition – thus making you more likely to be a scary horror writer capable of words that will scare your readers.
Some of the best horror novels you may wish to read if you need inspiration are the Shining by Stephen King; Dracula by Bram Stoker, Hell House by Richard Matheson, the Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, and the Amityville Horror by Jay Anson.
Writing horror stories relies on having a good sense of timing, wit, humor, and darkness. You need to cultivate a sense of what is and what isn’t scary. Do this through research of different cultures, psychology, and whatever makes your hairs stand on end.