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Main Types of Fear

  1. Shock. The purpose of shock is to startle the observer.
    Example: A loud scream or a scary figure suddenly appearing out of a closet.
  2. Paranoia. The purpose of paranoia is to make the observer feel nervous and unsure about their surroundings.
    Example: A story about home invasion makes you feel chills when you hear a floorboard creak.
  3. Dread. The purpose of dread is to create such a suspense that the observer is overcome with a feeling of anxiety from the understanding that something bad will happen. This is perhaps the most powerful form of fear — the stuff of nightmares.
    Example: A horribly grotesque figure is rocking on the ground; you dread that it will look up at you.

Anonymity vs. Specifics: Setting

  1. Anonymous cities and characters are often used to create an air of mystery. Keeping things vague can enhance the horror of a story when done correctly. Hiding the identity, nature, or intentions of a villain keeps them veiled in shadows and mystery, instead of a being a specific, recognisable, identifiable threat, which can usually be figured out and defeated.

  2. Being specific can sometimes be much more realistic and effective than being vague. When people want to be scared, the idea that the story could be true is tantalizing. Even if the place doesn't exist, clarifying where it happened and to whom can often make it far more unnerving.

How It Starts

  1. Throw them in. The first few lines of your story is your chance to grab a reader's attention. Don't screw it! Give them your best shot, so they know how good your story is. Set the tone in the first paragraph to hook them in. Maybe you can show a character in danger, like through an action scene. Starting a story by describing the weather on a sunny day isn't the most interesting of openings and might turn people away.

  2. Lead them in. Start things off normally and slowly interject foreshadowing and stranger moments and details into the story. Give people the sense that "things are not normal, something's not right here..." and so forth. If you can build the suspense high enough, people will feel paranoid, and maybe even get to that point of dread. This isn't a skill that can be developed overnight as an author, of course. Crafting an atmosphere akin to your characters is integral to attaining this sense of dread in a reader. Immerse the reader, but make it scarier by letting them know that you intend to slowly drown them.

What Is Scary?

  1. The Unknown. Tap into something unexplained and seek to give it a terrifying and semi-believable solidarity. Things with no known answer are great places to draw from, rather than something totally explainable in layman's terms. Static, blurry photos, fogged glass, dim lights... things described to the reader, but not in huge detail. This gives people a chance to let their mind wander. If their imagination is in the right state (where you put it - one of paranoia), these unclear things will lead them to their own horrific conclusions, given that you've provided the infrastructure for that to take place. This is what sets good writers apart from the great ones. Since (most times), you're only providing words to a reader, quite often, what you don't tell them can be what's scariest about your story. As an example, think of looking at a painting from a distance. You notice the brighter, broad strokes, but are forced to imagine the finer details, which makes them alluring. Use that analogy when writing horror. It can only work to your benefit.

  2. Familiarity. Taking something familiar to the reader and putting a twist on it can make for terrific stories. Even actions as simple and commonplace as making your bed can be horrifying in the hands of an imaginative writer.

  3. Science. By talking technically, you can fool people into believing in your story's authenticity. Many people attempt this strategy and are unsuccessful, usually due to either a lack of research and/or poor execution. Remember, it's up to you to sound like you know what you're talking about when you need to.

  4. Children. A story about a child is scarier than one about an adult sometimes. This is because children are viewed as strange, innocent, and unpredictable. Be careful not to victimize them ridiculously, though; readers will dismiss it and may even be offended. There's a fine line between creative fiction and outright exploitation here that shouldn't be crossed. Tact and good storytelling go hand in hand.

  5. Mirrors. Mirrors have always been popular subjects of horror, and for a good reason. They allow us to see ourselves literally, but also in an introspective, thematic way, which has inspired many people over the years. There's also the ever-present notion of looking into a mirror (or any reflective surface, really) and seeing something weird behind you, which will probably continue to creep people out for a long time. Still, as fun-house mirrors show us, things aren't always what they seem. Try to avoid mirror-based cliches, which can result in weak, simple stories that don't really go anywhere.

  6. Abandonment. An old abandoned house or place can be wondered about. Who lived there? What were the people like? Does anything remain? The more knowledge you have about a location or type of location, the better. Giving it at least one unique feature that sets it apart is also probably a good idea, as stories about abandoned places aren't particularly new.

  7. Faces. Eyes, teeth, and smiles can all be described in such a way that they unnerve people. Again, be wary of cliches regarding this method.

  8. Pictures. Pictures are a pretty blank slate when it comes to creepypasta. They're inherently linked with the idea of capturing a moment in time, which some people find unsettling. As a narrative device, they can exist in various formats, contexts, and their specific contents can be theoretically anything. Because of this, there's a lot of room for creativity when it comes to implementing them in a story. Also, finding or creating an actual image relevant to your story and including it is a good way to increase its fear factor if the image is well-presented enough (and boost its popularity/recognizability, potentially).

  9. Technology. Technology is an expression of man's control over the known world, but is also often a source of concern. Its existence can be viewed through the medium of horror in several ways, such as regarding its potential for destruction, the crippling accessibility it gives us, or when it acts strangely.

Death Is Overrated

  1. Endings. "He died because the thing killed him". If you feel betrayed because you just spent half an hour of your life building up to an ending like that? You're not alone. There's a reason. Dying isn't scary in and of itself. It's so overplayed that people are immune to it. Oftentimes, someone going missing is better than "they found him two weeks later".

  2. Subjects. "People mysteriously kept dying" isn't scary, either.

  3. Murders. Murderers and serial killers have been done to death. It's best to avoid the subject altogether, unless you are a confident, experienced writer with an interesting twist or idea in store.
  4. Essentially, the key with death is not to have it as the main pillar of your story. It should be used as a tool to enhance the plot, not be the main point of it, or you risk your pasta falling flat.

Should We Fight "It"?

  1. Yes. Some characters try to fight against "it", and always fail. In a way, it has become a cliche. It is also slightly unreal – most people, when confronted with something scary, would be too afraid to fight back, lest they anger "it" or die in the process. Also, the "thing" the characters fight is commonly a lot more powerful than them, making this scenario unbelievable most of the time.

  2. No. Most characters try to ignore and circumvent "it". This is usually better, as it lets it become harder and harder to hide from.

  3. They don't know about "it". This has epic potential. You know in movies when the view changes to behind the character, and there's a bush that moves a little? We know something else is watching, but the character doesn't. This is known as dramatic irony. When done right, it's horror at its best; when executed poorly, it's terrible. So be careful.

Narrators

  1. First Person.
    • You are the hero. "Hero" in that you are the person shit is happening to. When people are scared (like the narrator), they have heightened senses. They can suddenly hear the quietest winds and the lowest whispers. Rely on the details to set the mood; when the activity is happening, try to only reveal what the narrator knows. Don't use "later I found that", "little did I know", "but it turned out that", or anything like that. Only what is experienced first-hand should be used. Don't tell your reader that "this is the good/scary/fucked up part", either. It always feels pointless at best and desperate at first. Let the reader decide which was the good/scary/fucked up part.
  2. Second Person. "You", the reader, are being led along. This perspective can also be used to refer to a character that the narrator is addressing who is not you, the reader. The most common way these stories fail is when their protagonists take actions that are unrealistic or conflate with what the majority of people would do in that scenario. This alienates the audience and breaks their immersion. A lot of second person stories also think that threatening the reader in a variety of creepy, obsessive ways is original or worthwhile. It isn't. In the end, second person can be hard to get the hang of fully, but its unique format makes it open to storytelling experimentation.

  3. Third Person. The most common and versatile kind of narrator. Also the most vulnerable to showing and not telling. Observe the difference: "John was scared," vs. "John closed his eyes and started humming a cheerful song to himself, but he had to keep stopping to swallow his own spit. Each time he stopped, he closed his eyes even tighter." For a more in-depth look on perspectives, you can give this advice blog a read.

Language and Grammar

  1. Proper usage. Always use correct grammar. Technical mistakes are distracting. If you don't get the basics right, your readers won't be able to enjoy the plot, no matter how good it may be. Pay extra attention to make sure your stories have proper grammar, punctuation, capitalization, spelling, etc.

  2. Repetition. Repetition has always been scary, but redundancy can sink a story. Try to be careful not to use the same language too much, or your readers will be bored off.

  3. Word Choice. Wording is vital in storytelling. As a writer, you need to portray the idea in your head. Choosing the right words is very important to convey what you're imagining.

Movement

  1. Regular movement. "It started to run at me."

  2. Irregular movement. "It started moving slowly towards me; it was writhing, twitching..."

  3. Non-movement. "It sat there, unmoving, unblinking..."

Ending Your Story

  1. Leaving it resolved. Some stories take on a mysterious or supernatural front, but turn out to be completely logical. This approach can work when pulled off correctly, but can also leave readers disappointed and unsatisfied, especially if the ending is contrived or doesn't make sense.

  2. Leaving it unexplained. You can choose to end on a mysterious note – one that hopefully provides the right amount of closure while still missing pieces of the puzzle. Even though you know all the details yourself, you should have at least some awareness of how much knowledge the reader has at the end of the story, so use that to your advantage.

Building the Story

  1. Start from the end, not the beginning. Get the scary idea in your head and go backwards from there. If you value scariness the most, make sure that is the main focus and developed before anything else. Try something that scares YOU. That way, you know more about it and the feelings and nuances said thing creates, so you can develop it correctly. Then, put that thing into a non-scary setting and develop the surroundings. After that, then you can worry about characters.

  2. Don't drag it on. REALLY long stories either need to be very well-written or not written at all. The story needs to progress, building on the terror the entire time. Not spending ten paragraphs reflecting on this one time you went to the store and saw a missing person's poster, and how you saw that poster at three other stores, but the name changed each time. That can be explained in a few sentences. Again, if you feel you can pull off a really long story, go for it. Know, though, that you have a serious challenge ahead. If you want to read more on writing longer pastas, read this page.

  3. Proofread. Read it over as if you were a critic seeing it for the first time, perhaps aloud so you can see if any of your sentences sound weird on the spoken tongue. Do you get what's going on if you pretend you have no prior knowledge of the story? Would you laugh at yourself or criticize major elements in it? This is a great method for finding flaws in your work and improving them before submitting it to a wider audience.

See Also

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