Hey! Welcome back. Let’s wrap up 2021 with ONE THOUSAND FOUR HUNDRED AND FORTY different ideas for a story! Instead of simple writing prompts we’re mixing it up. This post is similar to my 3120 Jaw-Dropping Thriller & Horror Writing Prompts post, but instead of choosing a plot twist, you’re going to set your story during a holiday and create your own twist. 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 holiday that corresponds with the number of the month you were born (e.g. January is one, February is two). 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). Also, I know there are many special holidays that I haven’t included so if there’s a different holiday where you would prefer to set your story, please go with that! Of course you can always select your own combination, but to keep it challenging I would suggest sticking to a criteria.
The books I always recommend as reference material when writing horror are Stephen King’s Danse Macabre and Tim Waggoner’s Writing in the Dark, and while there are many fantastic examples of terrifying short stories, the one I’m going to recommend this time is Stephen King’s The Road Virus Heads North, first published in 1999 and included in King’s Everything’s Eventual short story collection. Before we get to the prompts, let’s take a look at some of the different horror subgenres (for a more comprehensive list, refer to Tim Waggoner’s Writing in the Dark):
- Supernatural Horror: the most widely known and recognized horror sub-genre (other than slasher movies, which don’t work as novels), this sub-genre revolves around a supernatural entity. Waggoner suggests to keep it at only one entity, otherwise it becomes harder for your reader to suspend disbelief and you risk veering into the fantasy genre. Also, if you’re going to use a traditional trope as your entity (e.g. a vampire, zombie or ghost) you need to put a spin on it. Great examples that fall under this category are Stephen King’s IT and Alma Katsu’s The Hunger.
- Psychological Horror: while similar to psychological suspense, psychological horror delves deeper into the monster’s mind and explores what it is to BE evil rather than experience or come face-to-face with evil. Having an unreliable narrator is a great way to nail this sub-genre, but if you’re basing your unhinged character on a mental illness, you need to make it very clear that your character is an exception to the illness, not the norm. Norman Bates, from Alfred Hitchcock’s movie Psycho is an excellent example, as is James McAvoy’s character from M Night Shyamalan’s movie Split.
- Realistic Horror: this is where the focus is on the disturbed character’s actions towards other characters and the subsequent impacts, rather than the reasons behind the actions or the character’s mental state. As there is no supernatural element, readers don’t need to work hard to suspend disbelief, as the events that happen could conceivably happen in real life. Waggoner suggests reading the work of Jack Ketchum to get a feel for this genre, and also gives the example of James Dickey’s novel Deliverance.
- Quiet Horror: similar to psychological horror but more of a prequel, this subgenre provides a slow build of eerie and subtle events that ultimately effect the main character’s mental state. Think a persistent knocking coming from inside the walls at night, leaves blowing when there is no wind, or an out-of-body experience that leaves the character confused and unstable. The series Bates Motel (the prequel to Psycho) is a good example of this as it follows Norman Bates’ unraveling psyche. Quiet Horror will appeal to readers who don’t like graphic elements, but they also need to have the patience for the slower pace.
- Extreme Horror: blood, gore, graphic physical and sexual violence, savagery and cruelty are all found under this sub-genre, which has a smaller audience than the other sub-genres. To make your story memorable within this sub-genre, the violence needs to have a point and your characters need to be explored. Waggoner’s example for this genre is Jack Kecthum’s The Girl Next Door. Waggoner also notes that there is often a nasty streak of misogyny running through this sub-genre, and gratuitous rape scenes typify this misogyny. So, if you are going to include a graphic rape scene, you MUST have a valid reason. I’m a believer that rape shouldn’t be portrayed in fiction (some readers believe this, others feel that any extreme content is fair game, to each their own), and if it is then the book should definitely come with a warning. Earlier this year I read a book (which wasn’t classified as horror) and it contained an unnecessary, extremely graphic rape scene which left me disturbed and furious that there had been no warning. I won’t name the book here, but I would never recommend that author to anyone.
- Dark Fantasy: a blend of fantasy and horror but as the name suggests, the entities are of a darker element (you won’t find witches and wizards here). Waggoner gives Neil Gaiman’s work as an example and Stephen King’s Dark Tower series.
- Apocalyptic Horror: Hello The Walking Dead and World War Z! It’s the end of the world and those that remain not only need to find new ways to survive and fight the apocalyptic horrors, but they also need to fight the dark side of human nature that it has brought on.
‘The reader should find frightening what the characters find frightening. The setting should be realistic to aid willing suspension of disbelief for the monster element. And often, especially for ‘big horror,’ the story should tie into a theme that ideally will unsettle the reader by making then think about an uncomfortable aspect of the world, human nature, or even themselves.’Craig DiLouie, author of One of Us, as found in Tim Waggoner’s Writing in the Dark
For more tips on writing horror and short stories, check out my previous posts 3120 Jaw-Dropping Thriller & Horror Writing Prompts, and 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 holiday (the number of the month you were born)
1: During Christmas
2: On New Year’s Eve
3: During Easter
4: On Saint Patrick’s Day
5: On Valentine’s Day
6: On Thanksgiving
7: On Halloween
8: On April Fool’s Day
9: On Cinco de Mayo
10: On Independence Day
11: On Juneteenth
12: On Groundhog Day
For other writing prompts, you can also 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. Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year! 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,