Ingredients of True Horror

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Within the world of horror, there are two different kinds: true horror and lazy horror. There is well and poorly written horror in either one of these types: though true horror is less likely to be poorly written for reasons I will discuss in a few minutes. First, let’s take a look at what I mean by lazy horror.

Lazy horror takes the story that is being told and never develops it beyond the surface. It is the story of a woman being chased through the forest by a werewolf (or any other creature) and relies solely on that. Blood and guts fly across the the page and the writer/filmmaker expects the reader/viewer to be completely satisfied by this. In other words, lazy horror is created by those who do not understand the genre and are simply looking to make a quick buck.

Unfortunately, due to the horror craze of the 80’s and 90’s, there were several publishers and production companies that put out tons of lazy horror into the market for the same reason. As a result, the genre suffered greatly and never developed past the stereotype of being lowbrow entertainment for sick-minded individuals. Not the worst thing to come as a result of this era (parachute pants anybody?), but it has made the work of horror writers all the more difficult. For true fans of the genre, we need to create true horror.

What is True Horror?

It stands to reason that, if you are not just trying to make a quick buck from an exploited genre, you are writing horror because it is the genre you are passionate about. That’s good. True horror is written by passionate people; but what is it?

If lazy horror is meant to gross you out by splattering gore all over the place; then true horror is the serrated knife being stuck in your gut and twisted up to the pommel as you read/watch and are helpless to do anything about it. True horror is a witch’s brew of elements boiled together that, when drank, provokes primal instincts and emotions within your audience members. There is no one set formula for creating true horror even though the ingredients are always the same.

Once you understand what these ingredients are you can start practicing and putting in some hard work. And yes, you should be aware that these are two of the ingredients. In fact they are probably the two most important and, I plead with you, if you are not willing to put them in, do not create horror. The genre has suffered enough from creators not willing to put practice and hard work into their projects.

That said, let’s take a look at the other ingredients that all true horror has. Future posts will go into them in depth and look at different aspects of them. For now, I just want them identified so you can start working on making sure they’re in your brew.

Strong Characters

Your reader is going to experience the world you are creating through the characters that populate your story. If they can not identify or, at the very least sympathize/empathize with the characters that are going through these horrible events then your story is never going to reach the levels of fear you want it to. You need to make your characters as solid as possible. Strong characters make the reader not want, but need to turn the page.


Setting the proper build of atmosphere are important in horror. Perhaps even more so than in any other genre. Think about the last slasher film you watched. The edgiest scenes aren’t the ones when the killer starts hacking people apart, but those awkward first person scenes when the killer is stalking their victim. It is this build of atmosphere that draws the viewer onto the edge of the seat and preps them for the payoff at the end. Dracula wouldn’t have been nearly as terrifying if had started out being set in a bright and sunny London instead of the strange and superstitious Budapest.

Rule of Three

In screenwriting I have heard people talk about the rule of three. It refers to a method of aiding the viewer in suspending their disbelief. Using this method, you lead the viewer into believing completely that the impossible is completely possible (at least for the span of the film). For instance, the scene where a character hears a shuffling in a cupboard and they approach slowly. As their hand reaches to open the door, a cat shoots out screeching. The second time they hear it and open the cupboard, there is nothing there (okay, was it the cat again or something else). The third time they hear it and approach a decaying hand darts out and clamps around their wrist. The writer has lead the audience into believing their is something frightening about that cupboard.

Human Stories

As I’ve stated before, the best horror stories show us the human stories behind the horrible events that are happening. It’s what people are willing to do in order to survive. It’s what they are willing to do to not suffer or to save a loved one. It’s the way what is happening affects the lives of those involved. In The Shining we can see Jack’s downfall coming the moment it starts; it’s Wendy and Danny going through this ordeal, watching their family fall apart and fearing for each other that is the real heart-wrenching story.

There are, of course other elements you can throw into your stories. However, all true and well written horror has these above elements. I hope you have found this post helpful and please remember to like it and share it with the buttons below. Remember you can follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, and like the Rune Morgan Horror Facebook page too.


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