3 Terrifying Tips on Scaring Your Readers

Hello Writer Bugs!

In any kind of fictional story, a little bit of terror can go a long way. But how do you strike fear in the hearts of your readers? Have no fear, I’m here to help! Here are three tips on how to scare your audience senseless.

Setting the Mood

A spooky setting can be a total game changer in a horror story. With this literary element, details are key. Paint a horrifying picture for the audience. No, that does not mean you need copious amounts of blood and guts spilled everywhere. Even the most ordinary places can be transformed into a scary environment. Build an atmosphere that unsettles readers, that only enhances the fear factor of the antagonist. Consider what the weather would be like, or how a room is furnished, or the architecture of a building. Once you provided them with vivid descriptions, let the audience’s imagination handle the rest. Not sure where to start in descriptions? When it doubt, the “it was a dark and stormy night” trick never fails in fiction.

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Solid Characters

In horror – or in any genre, really- you can’t skimp on the characters. The audience isn’t going to care about a damsel-in-distress, Mary Sue who happens to tumble into a haunted basement. And if readers don’t care, they won’t keep reading. And they won’t be afraid when that character is put in danger. Simple as that. However, they might care more about a child running around a creepy hotel. Create complex characters and give them real struggles, flaws and life problems that the audience can identify with. The goal is to make readers care and want to protect the main character. To make them feel like they could be standing in that character’s shoes, facing the same horrors. To have them biting their nails until the very end, just to make sure the character survives the ordeal.

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Pacing Makes Perfect

Specific phrasing or wording can enhance the scary factor in horror fiction. When you have longer sentences, it slows down the action, thereby torturing readers with the suspense. On the other hand, quick and short sentences can keep readers on their toes and get their hearts racing. Those fast, up-tempo phrasing works best when a character is running away from the monster or is internally spiraling into panic and confusion. If the scene doesn’t feel quite right, try switching up the pacing. This one element can change the entire vibe of a scene.

Last week, I experimented in writing horror. I noticed that using short sentences added to the claustrophobic feeling. I almost made myself panic as I was writing the story. And if it scares the writer, it will most definitely scare the reader.

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To my fellow writers out there, how do you go about scaring your audience? Also, with Halloween around the corner, what are you dressing up as for Halloween? Talk to me in the comments.

Stay safe and stay creative.

Write with Heart,

Lady Jabberwocky

7 thoughts on “3 Terrifying Tips on Scaring Your Readers

  1. How do I scare my audience… Good question. I’ve never made any serious attempt to write horror. But I like your ideas.

    A while back, I got some t-shirt decorating paint and write “COSTUME” on a plain t-shirt. This will be the 12th Halloween I’ve worn that same thing.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I have been thinking about this – what I think makes it scary is to prolong suspense as long as possible especially once you have made connection with the lead character, so you care about what is going to happen – and of course the odd sudden crash / nose is always is a winner

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  3. One of my go to scary tropes is the SUDDEN REVEAL. *gasp!*
    This particular gut punch works best in a period of respite when the character(s) have found a safe space from the monster/threat. Then, I pull the rug out from under them when they realize the kindly protector had been dead since the scene started! Or the starship commander was partially assimilated into the goo alien! Or the nurse was a disciple of the Pain Saint the whole time! Sudden revelation. Works like a charm.

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  4. Awww, oops! The last really frightening scene I wrote, I killed the character. It was the end of the story, but still. It lead to my best beta reader getting so angry that to this day she refuses to read anything else… and that was over 20 yrs ago. I like to put reader into my characters shoes so well that when the scare comes, they literally scream or cry. I don’t often write horror, but I did learn from the best (Mr. S. King) in Young Authors more decades ago than I can count.


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