I love horror movies and horror stories, but very little scares me. I seldom get that lovely shot of adrenaline. Even in haunted houses, I mostly just laugh. A few years ago, I went to a haunted house with a friend who doesn’t do “horror.” She told me afterward (after she screamed and bruised my arm with her iron grip) that her brain shuts off and she no longer “thinks” about how it isn’t real. My brain never does that. My brain always knows it isn’t real and probably couldn’t happen.
There are some movies that scared me though: The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, and Rec. I almost liked The Ring until (SPOILER ALERT) the bad guy turned out to be a kid. I mean, seriously??
Books that scare me: The Shining by Stephen King, The Mask by Dean Koontz, and The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris.
So it got me to thinking about what scares me, what would make good elements in a horror story.
First, for me, it’s important that the monster isn’t something that is tangible. If you can see it, touch it, kill it with a gun or knife, then it’s probably not scary to me.
Second, the paranormal scares me more than reality. With something paranormal, it doesn’t play by the same rules that govern you or I, so it’s less predictable. Less predictable is more scary.
Third, psychological horror is WAY scarier than blood and gore, but a good combination of both goes further than either one alone. The suggestion of horror is better than stating it, but if the tension builds and builds with no pay off, it generally feels like a rip off. Essential elements of psychological horror are suspense , anticipation, and dread.
Fourth, characters the reader cares about. If the reader doesn’t care about the characters, their situation won’t affect the reader the way the writer intends.
Happy Halloween, and happy horror writing!