The spooky season is upon us, which means it's time for Halloween-inspired storytelling. Halloween writing has been around for a long time, so let's look at how you can go about creating scary stories and adding Halloween flair to your writing.
Read and Watch
The first step on your journey towards Halloween-inspired storytelling is... Engaging with Halloween stories. You can get inspired by reading Halloween-themed books and watching scary movies. For writing, books, in particular, are important since they will give you examples of the type of pacing you can use to build suspense and ultimately shock your reader.
To be clear, you're not just going to rip off another story; think of this as doing your research into how other creatives have crafted spooky tales. You'll notice some Halloween stories are more serious, and some are more fun. By engaging with lots of different Halloween stories, you can figure out what way you want to go about telling your own scary tale.
Creating Scary Stories for Halloween: Where to Start?
Halloween writing isn't easy because you need to create a spooky atmosphere through words on a page with no help from visuals or music. But it can be done, and when done well, it reads great! Here are some tips for adding Halloween flair to your writing.
Start With the Basics
Before you produce a bone-chilling story full of scares, you first need a story idea. Maybe you have a basic premise involving something like an urban legend, a monster, or a supernatural plot point, but what actually happens in your story?
Before you go into crafting details, you need to know where you are going and who is coming along with you on the journey. So start with the very basic elements of your story. Things like:
- Who are the main characters? Are they young or old? Is there one main character or many different protagonists? What kind of personalities do they have? Is one of your characters easily startled, or are they brave and even cocky? What is the relationship between your characters? Are they family, friends, or even enemies?
- Who or what is the big bad? Where are the scars coming from? Is there a monster stalking your hero or a village of people with a secret? Basically, what is the actual horror part of this Halloween story? Is it something very human or completely inhumane?
- Where is the story taking place? Are we in a small, claustrophobic environment for the majority of the story, or is there a big world to be explored?
- What happens at the end? You may make slight variations to your plot as you write, but you need to make a decision on what the big ending is. Will there be a big twist where we find out the villain was someone the hero knew all along? Does your main character survive? Is the bad guy defeated, or does everyone just escape for now? Your reader will want to be kept in suspense throughout the story, but as the author, you need to nail down a payoff for your plot.
- Speaking of plots, what are the plot points? What is your character experiencing? Will we see the bad guys' origin story? It's important to establish the key beats your story will hit on the way through the plot.
Before you start trying to create a really exciting original idea, first nail down the basics of Who? What? When? Where? How? Why? So you have something to build your story around.
Establish the Norm
This point is similar to establishing the basics, but it goes a bit more in-depth, specific to your story. Regardless of whether you are writing something that is very much based on the real world or if your story is a complete fantasy, you need to establish what the normal version of the world is.
What this really means is that before anything scary has happened, what does your character's life look like? This is an important part of building a horror story because, in order for something to be out of the ordinary, you need to tell your reader what the ordinary is. It may seem boring, but your reader needs to know why they care about your character.
The first part of your story should establish what a normal day in the life of your character(s) looks like and how they usually go about things. Then, you can introduce the scary element of the story as something that is disrupting this world. You don't have to give absolutely everything away, just the key information that helps your reader picture the world the hero is living in.
Know Your Tropes
There are certain things that just go well with horror stories. Some things are naturally a bit spooky (or straight-up terrifying!), and they fit superbly well into a scary story. You don't have to include every single trope of any genre in every single thing you write in that genre, but it's likely that some of them will fit into your story. You may be thinking, "But I don't want my story to be full of clichés!" and that's fine, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't include some things that often show up in stories of a similar genre.
Really, tropes exist because they help signpost your reader. As a society, there are established signs that something is good or bad, or that something is dangerous. In movies, music is usually used to help establish the tone of a scene. This isn't possible in written works, so it's necessary to use other ways of letting your readers know they are reading a Halloween-themed book.
Here are some examples of tropes for scary Halloween stories that you could consider using:
- Night: Once the sun goes down and it gets dark out, things tend to get a little bit scarier. Our brains still have traits that evolved in order for our primitive ancestors to survive. We have a fight-or-flight reflex that kicks in in scary situations, such as when we're facing the unknown. Setting your story at night, or just generally somewhere dark, creates a natural tension. Is there something lurking in the dark, stalking your hero?
- Monsters: One thing cultures around the world have in common is stories about monsters. All around the world, there is ancient folklore about mysterious, menacing creatures. It could be something tried and tested, like a vampire or werewolf (the classics), or something more abstract, like a supernatural entity. Maybe your monster could even be symbolic; it could just be a seemingly normal person who is a twisted monster on the inside!
- Abandoned Places: There's something scary about a place that used to be full of life and now sits their derelict. It could be as simple as an old house at the end of the block or an abandoned hospital. If your character has to step foot through the door of somewhere that has been abandoned, then it will give your story an eerie feel of something being off.
- The Suspicious Stranger: They may just be a herring, or they could actually turn out to be someone who was a good guy all along, but having a side character who arouses suspicion is a good way of building tension in your story. Maybe they are a creepy old woman who peers out their window at night, or maybe they are a quiet man who just seems a little off. Even if they aren't the main bad guys, having someone in your story who is unusual and freaks out those around him will make sure your reader stays interested. Alternatively, this suspicious stranger could actually be the bad guy all along!
- Evil has Been Summoned: Evil is a great one for Halloween stories. You could have your character uncover an ancient artifact that unleashes vengeful spirits, or maybe a mysterious person casts a spell. Including something wicked in your story will help scare your reader and give your protagonist a real challenge to solve.
Once you understand some common horror habits, you can start putting together a chilling tale that will grab your reader.
A Unique Scare
This point is a bit contradictory to the last one, but it is equally relevant. In Halloween writing, while you should include some well-known horror tropes, it is also important to have something that is a bit different. You want your story to stand out and capture the reader's imagination; you don't want it to just be something they have read a thousand times before. When it comes to Halloween-inspired storytelling, there are some classic ideas you can go along with, but you should try to put your own original spin on them. You don't have to completely reinvent the horror genre or anything like that; far from it. You just need to ensure your story is different and isn't just a copy-and-paste version of another Halloween story.
Building a story involves reviewing your writing. Keep drafting and revising your work to perfect it. It's common for writers to come up with a much better idea after a couple of drafts, whether it's a key characteristic or a way of getting around a plot hole. Always go over what you have written and try to make it better.
If you know other writers that you can trust to give you constructive feedback, you can share your work with them. Remember, when looking for feedback, it's important to take care in choosing who you ask since not everyone is good at giving genuine feedback.
And remember, while it is important to review your work and always try to improve, eventually you have to accept it and leave it as it is. It's natural for creatives to be somewhat perfectionists, but nothing will ever be truly perfect, so eventually, you have to accept that you did your best.
Adding Halloween Flair to Your Writing
So how do you, like, do scary writing then? We know about the general themes and types of things to include, but what does writing with Halloween flair actually look like?
One major part of creating scary stories for Halloween is being very descriptive with your language. You want to engage with your readers' senses to make them feel like they are experiencing your writing because if your readers can put themselves in your story, then they can experience the scares and tension firsthand; it will be like they are running from danger alongside your hero!
Your Halloween writing should grab your listener's attention with its descriptions. This can be done by using provocative language that unsettles your reader. If you have a monster that is finally being revealed, you want to get across their towering figure and menacing dark eyes that stare through you. If you are creating an eerie atmosphere, then describe the disturbing silence and how there is an odd chill in the air.
Try using onomatopoeic words and alliteration in your descriptions for scenes with action so that the words kind of dance off each other. This way, the pace at which the reader is reading will match the pace of the story you are telling.
Remember, too, that when creating scary stories for Halloween, you need to occasionally break up the tension. This can be done through comic relief or just generally having lighter passages in the story.
Follow this advice to get some spooky Halloween writing done in time for the big day. Halloween-inspired storytelling is one of the best parts of this time of year, so get working on your next piece of writing with Halloween flair.