Hey! Welcome back. Nope I didn’t make a mistake in the title; below you are going to find THREE THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY different ideas for a story! Instead of simple writing prompts we’re mixing it up. First you’re going to select a character that corresponds to the last digit of your phone number (this can be your home, mobile or work number). Then you’ll select the corresponding plot to the month you were born, and finally you’ll select a twist that corresponds with the first letter of your surname! Some combinations may be a little clunky; if you’re not sold on the mix you get, choose a different criteria when making your decision (select a different phone number, first letter of your first name, the month of a momentous occasion; you get the drift). Of course you can always select your own combination, but to keep it challenging I would suggest sticking to a criteria.
In a few weeks I’ll be delving deeper into writing horror and discussing the classic archetypes, ways you can use them today without your story being a cliché, plus other awesome tips from Stephen King’s Danse Macabre and Tim Waggoner’s Writing in the Dark, so keep an eye out for that post! Until then, here are a few tips for writing effective horror:
- Horror isn’t just a genre, it’s a feeling. Stephen King identified 3 types of emotions to aim for when writing: horror, terror, and ‘gross-out’. Tim Waggoner went one further and identified another two: dread (which spans across all five emotions) and shock. You shouldn’t try to ‘scare’ in the traditional sense; you’re not looking to make your audience jump (movies are much more equipped to do this as they can utilise audio and visual techniques to startle their audience, when in writing this comes across almost comical when attempted). Aim to send a shiver down your reader’s spine, and for your book to leave them with a sick feeling in their stomach long after they’re read the last sentence.
- You need to find the emotional core of your story and everything from character to setting to dialogue should reflect this core. This is what will make your story memorable and set it apart from the ones that are forgotten.
- Characters are what make a horror story and this is where your focus should go; your readers need to empathise with the character otherwise they won’t care about whatever horrors the character is experiencing. They don’t necessarily need to like or relate to your character, but they need to feel some empathy towards them.
- If a character’s only purpose in the story is to be killed, you should still make them a person; let the audience feel that they had a life before they were killed so that their death will impact your reader.
- Your villain needs to be interesting and three-dimensional – if you are using an archetype, mix it up! Your villain will also be more effective if they are off the page for the majority of the story – measure the screen time you give them. People fear the unknown; as soon as your villain appears the fear factor will begin to decrease.
- Your story doesn’t need to be told in a linear fashion; throw in flashbacks at appropriate times and different forms of storytelling such as news articles, journal entries, and interview transcripts (Max Brooks does this incredibly well in his novels World War Zand Devolution). These are examples of a technique called Formalism: telling a story using a different form of writing. This will also freshen up your story.
- If you are writing a short story, only one thing needs to happen and you should only have 2-3 main characters. Also, start your story close to the climax and don’t delve too deeply into world building; you simply don’t have the time!
For tips on writing short stories check out my previous post 5 Helpful Tips For Writing Short Stories. So, let’s create our horror stories! Use the prompts below to kick start your imagination. Aim to write approximately 100-200 words at a minimum. Alternatively, you can set a timer for 15-20 minutes. If inspiration hits and you end up writing more words or for a longer period, awesome! If not, those 100-200 words or 15-20 minutes of writing will help you develop a healthy writing habit. Don’t forget to download your free writer’s planner to keep track of your work!
Choose your character (last digit of your phone number)
- A Final Girl
- An Antihero
- A Detective or FBI Analyst
- A stay-at-home mum
- A retired cop
- A ghost hunter
- A recovering alcoholic
- A teenager
- A petty criminal
- A serial killer
Choose your plot (the month you were born)
Jan: spends the night in an old mental institute
Feb: discovers they’re next on a serial killer’s list
Mar: moves in to a haunted house
Apr: gets snowed in an abandoned cabin with three other people
May: gets lost in the woods and crosses paths with a family of cannibals
June: discovers a vampire has moved into the neighbourhood
July: doesn’t know they have a split personality
Aug: realises their relative is possessed by a malevolent force
Sep: finds themselves in the midst of a zombie apocalypse
Oct: hears noises coming through their walls during the night
Nov: gets kidnapped by a serial killer
Dec: gets kidnapped by a cult who wants to use them as a human sacrifice
Choose your twist (the first letter of your surname)
A: but they’re a cannibal themselves
B: but nobody believes them
C: but they’re in denial
D: but they doubt their own reality
E: but they’re possessed by a malevolent spirit themselves
F: but they’re a vampire themselves
G: but they’re a werewolf
H: but they’re an ex-patient at a mental hospital
I: but they’re on the run from the cops
J: but they’re an unreliable narrator
K: but they think money fixes everything
L: but they always see the good in people/situations
M: but it’s all in their head
N: but they are subjects of a government experiment
O: but they have a dead body in their trunk
P: but they have prisoners in their basement
Q: but they’re a sociopath
R: but they think a higher power will save them
S: but they refuse to kill anyone
T: but they’re actually part of a video game
U: but they’re actually part of a movie
V: but everything is being broadcast on a subscription channel
W: but they’ve been set up
X: but their death has been prophesised
Y: but they have been bitten by a zombie
Z: but they are being controlled telepathically by the government
For other writing prompts, check out my post 15 Unique Writing Prompts To Spark Your Creativity (that can be applied to any genre) and 20 Epic Fairy Tale Writing Prompts. Let me know which combination you come up with and where they lead you to! I would love to know how you apply them.
Until next time,