With Halloween on the rise, lots of us probably see spooky bones clawing through the ground in front of otherwise normal houses. Maybe you see some scary witches flying (incredibly still) above lawns. Perhaps you’ve glimpsed enormous spiderwebs and creepy, child-sized spiders hanging in doorways.
But if you’ve seen none of that, you’ve probably smelled the subtle change of the wind, maybe seen the leaves start to become golden, or felt the sudden urge to reread Edgar Allan Poe or Stephen King.
What I’m trying to say is it’s October and Spooky Season has begun.
To pay the season its due, we’ll discuss five ways to come up with horror story ideas to help you write your next scary story and make Stephen King smile (like this).
Things That Scare You
The horror genre (and the scary story in general) has proven itself over millennia to form long-lasting impacts on readers and listeners.
But where do people get horror story ideas?
The first place people go to get stories is (and yes, this is super cheesy) in their own hearts.
Horror plays on fear, and wherever that fear comes from, it’s likely to strike a chord with plenty of people. You can go as specific or broad in this category as you’d like.
You can find your own fears in a number of ways.
The first is experiential.
What were you doing when you experienced the most fear?
Maybe you were swimming in the ocean and encountered a kelp forest and felt drenched in an arresting fear. Hey, no worries! I felt the same.
Perhaps you were most afraid walking through a forest in the dead of night and kept hearing scurrying, scratching, or howling. That’s some scary stuff.
The idea here is to remember the moments that filled you with dread, put you on edge, or kept you looking over your shoulder. Oftentimes, these moments and experiences will give you a great setting for your story.
The second way to find your fears is to list out some media that scared you the most.
Is there a movie that scares you more than any other?
If so, what about the movie scared you?
Maybe instead it was a book or a video game. It will be helpful to remember images or scenes that scared you most. When you find those things, let your imagination run wild, preferably at night when you’re most vulnerable to be afraid. Try to scare yourself.
If you’ve conjured an especially terrifying idea, then you’re on your way to writing a scary story!
The third place to go is find out what scares your friends, family, and/or strangers.
This one is simple: ask people around you what scares them most and why. You’re likely to come across something that gets your creative juices flowing and your fingers itching to start writing.
You can also do some internet research. You can look up different phobias, the most common fears, and things of that nature.
Monster stories are fundamental building blocks of cultural history.
These stories have the power to shape societal fears, morality, and produce nightmares for generations.
And because these stories are old, even ancient, you have free reign to use them as inspiration.
You can even combine story types and monsters from various myths and legends.
For example, you can take the story structure of Hansel and Gretel but instead of a witch, you could include some other monster like the Manananggal from the Phillipines, and instead of Hansel and Gretel, it’s a couple expecting a baby soon.
With so many horrific monsters and scary stories, you’re bound to find something that calls out to you and begs to be brought back into modernity.
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While horror writing is meant to be scary, that doesn’t mean it can’t also be fun.
For this example, we’ll take a look at H. P. Lovecraft. While his xenophobia, racism, sexism, and thalassophobia probably stopped him from having much fun at all, H. P. Lovecraft has one piece of horror writing that spawned a this creative writing idea.
As a massive proponent of cosmic horror (also understood as Lovecraftian horror), H. P. Lovecraft lovingly crafted stories that force characters to face an unknowable existential threat. These characters would often come across some wild truth that then made them reckon their powerless humanity against an eldritch monster.
And in one of his stories that cosmic dread comes from an unlikely source: a sentient color.
In “The Colour out of Space“, Lovecraft wrote a horror short story about a color that wreaks havoc on a community.
Where he got that story idea, I have no idea, but it presents us with a fun challenge of our own when writing horror.
Can we take something complete banal and not scary–like a color–and craft some horror fiction with that idea?
Of course we can! For this to work, you should just go about your life as normal, but try to note the things that seem unremarkably scary. Maybe it’s the scent of trees or a public bench.
Once you find your object, feeling, or other pedestrian entity, you can take to writing.
You don’t need to write Lovecraftian horror with this thing, but it does make a great horror story. Otherwise, do what you can to take this simple idea and try to write something to scare your readers.
Fan fiction is a genre that is often looked down upon by literary society.
But if you think about it, most stories are just fan-fics in terms of structure and ideas of the proto-stories.
So I say, write horror fan fiction!
This strategy to get ideas can also be really fun. All you have to do is pick a story from some medium you like and horrify it.
You will ultimately be writing a different story (if you want to take the fan-fic tag off it), so you should change the names of things. You can take the general idea and tone of a story and include horror elements.
Let’s say for example, you absolutely love Parks and Recreation and want to make a horror story fan-fiction of it.
You can make it a full fan-fiction by using all the names and characters, but to make it your own you can just build your characters off the Parks and Rec character types.
You can have an obsessive leader followed by a normal libertarian, an edgy teen, a hated middle-age man, and you get the idea.
They also don’t need to work at the Parks Department per se. You can have them be janitorial services for a ring of parks or Park Vloggers or whatever you want.
But you would make it so they start encountering strange things in their park visits. Spooky things.
This method can be fun because it’s less work on you to come up with characters, and you can take an established formula and include horror tropes.
Another option is to write in open-source horror worlds. Lovecraft opened his Cthulhu world to allow anyone to write those stories.
That means you have free reign to write a regular Cthulhu cosmic horror story, or you can make a Parks and Recreation Cthulhu spooky story.
Horror Writing Prompts
If all else fails and you have no ideas to go on, find some horror prompts to get you writing!
At the end of the day, the important things is to sit down and write, and a prompt can be just what you need to get started.
The internet is full of writing prompts of all sorts, genres, and formats.
If you don’t love writing from prompts but still need ideas, you can look up “two sentence horror stories” and pretend those are horror prompts and build a longer story off them.
If you do like prompts, we’ll include 15 prompts below:
1. A young child starts hearing voices coming from the duck pond.
2. Two parents see dark shapes in the baby monitor.
3. A new blog forum knows your past perfectly and begins predicting your future.
4. A coffee barista starts seeing demons in her clients.
5. An avid stargazer sees strange stars, but they’re coming from the mountains not the sky.
6. You’re a patient at a hospital and you think your doctor is a monster.
7. Everyday you wake up in a pool of blood, but you have no memory of the. night before.
8. You feel like you’re being followed on all public transportation.
9. On a family vacation to the bayou, the children start noticing footprints in the hotel.
10. A bookstore owner (who lives upstairs) hears voices from downstairs at night–could it be characters come to life?
11. You’re on vacation with friends when you hear news of a zombie apocalypse.
12. Write a horror story that a monster would tell its kids about humans.
13. You’re walking in the woods at night and notice that the moon keeps getting bigger and bigger.
14. At her uncle’s funeral, a teenage girl notices that the coffin looks like a teleportation device.
15. You go to order from a drive-thru but notice you’ve driven into Hell.
16. A man has nightmares of encounters with a monster only to find that they’re starting to occur.
17. A scientist woman finds out the truth about shadows; they’re definitely not natural.
18. The new VR goggles you buy are impressive until you find they don’t come off.
19. Aliens have abducted people for centuries, but for some reason, they’ve restored people’s memories.
20. A painter thinks he’s painting his demons; turns out he’s bringing them to life.
Hopefully at least one of these methods has sparked a story idea that both excites and terrifies you. If it did, what’s next?
Well, you get building! It’s helpful to decide the scope of your story first, but as with all things, you’ll need a setting, plot, and characters.
If you find that you have an excellent idea, but don’t know how to go about writing it, or you’ve written it as a short story but want to finish it as a novel, we’ve developed a brand new Habit Writing course!
If you click this link, you can purchase our course that will help you write a story in 111 days.
Horror is a fascinating genre with infinite possibilities, and writing in it can quickly become addicting.
We urge you to write a scary story and share it with your friends this Halloween. Thanks for reading! Happy Spooky Season.
gavinwrideGavin is a fantasy author, short story enthusiast, and nature lover. When he’s not reading, writing, or exploring the outdoors, he is likely playing games. His board game collection is probably too big for someone living in a small apartment, and he has enough yet-to-be-played video games to fill a lifetime. His favorite book is "The Name of the Wind". His favorite author is Edward Abbey. His favorite game is "Dark Souls III", and he’d be more than happy to spend the day talking about lore, bosses, and game mechanics.
Our 84-page book planner and 111 day writing course.