How to Write a Horror Story: 7 Tips for Writing Horror
Living Ruskin Bond on his horror stories, adaptations of his work and the fear of running out of ideas Ruskin Bond speaks about why he writes empathetically about ghosts, what awards mean to him, and why one needn't believe in ghosts to enjoy horror stories Neerja Deodhar January 18, IST Bond's horror stories are being adapted for a digital series titled Parchayee. His horror writing, as well as much of his other work, draws from the place he stays in — the hills. Why are you running?
The watchman had no eyes, no ears, no features at all — not even an eyebrow! And that's when the wind blew the lamp out. The introduction of Ruskin Bond's book A Face in the Dark and Other Hauntings of which the above excerpt is a part begins with that well-known line from Hamlet addressed to Horatio, about how there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in philosophy.
And fittingly so, if one considers what constitutes the scare in his stories: strange elements and unexplained occurrences. He insists that ghosts are not intent on scaring us with the exception of malevolent ones. He goes on to portray them with empathy, "even affection. People find this strange. Perhaps I am a ghost myself, then? Questions of his haunting aside, what drew Bond to this genre was the fun he had while writing ghost stories.
And speculating on what might be, in some other dimension," is how he puts it. Now, his horror stories are being adapted for a digital series titled Parchayee, which will be streamed on ZEE5. In this conversation, he speaks about the importance of style, what awards mean to him, and the answer to the question: Does one need to believe in ghosts to enjoy a ghost story?
One even left me a Christmas cake once. That one has to be written about. It was a very old Christmas cake, going back a hundred years or so. So, I was hesitant to eat it.
But apparently the one who had made the cake had used a lot of brandy, so it turned out to be quite tasty," he said. We don't quite know if he was joking or serious! The local people residing here have strong belief in spirits he says, even believing that certain places are haunted. Certain rocks are thought to be haunted, and indeed, certain types of individuals are thought capable of turning into leopards. The latter belief is more Indian, he says. Many of them left behind by the British in dak bungalows and colonial cottages.
After some residents of hill stations had died, dramatic stories would emerge about them reappearing. Wikimedia Commons Interestingly, he has never been skeptical about people adapting his works, because he has seen the success that can be achieved. So, I have never been scared of or reluctant about having a story of my own filmed, provided the director is a known director and a good one.
He acknowledges that changes are bound to be made in the process, because film is a different medium from writing. He says that some writing also lends itself better to being recreated visually.
Like Charles Dickens. He says he sees his stories as he sees films. But I have heard things. I often hear things that seem to be voices from the past.
Or in an old house, sounds which may or may not mean anything. Except occasionally, when we see something unusual," he adds. One would imagine that his creative process changes according to the audience the book is meant for, but he says he is never aiming at any age group. If I am enjoying the story, then somebody else would enjoy it too. Whether a story is for a specific age group or of a specific genre comes later. The publisher might feel this story will be good for children and that story will be good for adults and market it in that way.
But when I am writing it, it is just for my own pleasure," he says. He emphasises on the importance of style — about how a writer must have an individual, distinct style in order to stand out among others.
Bond also enjoys — unsurprisingly — literature that is considered classic and Gothic. Bond began writing when he was all of 17, but he continues to churn out titles even today, many of which still win awards. Does he believe that writers need to reinvent themselves from time to time? One should try to be a little different from time to time. To not get into a rut. Read as widely as possible.
See things from a different angle, from a different viewpoint," he explains. On the subject of awards, Bond is not coy at all; he says he is glad to be at the receiving end of appreciation and even a material reward, such as money or a trophy. Previously, he has written that one needn't believe in ghosts to enjoy ghost stories.
But does believing in the supernatural elevate the experience? A believer will start asking questions. A normal person who is not a believer can take it all as an essay in the macabre, enjoy the story for its own sake, without being fussy about it. People who believe a lot in the supernatural, conduct experiments, have seances and it all gets a bit artificial and phony.
Bond is not afraid of running out of ideas, because he has the most unique card up his sleeve — his ghosts. Most of my stories are about living people and they are realistic, about their loves and their joys and sorrows etc. But sometimes you run out of ideas about people, so then I try writing about animals, birds and wildlife.
And then if that runs out, then I know that I can always fall back on a good, old ghost. The ghosts are what have kept me going. Because I can always invent a ghost. You can always rely on a ghost to make a story interesting.
In a way, they are just as helpful as living people. For a writer anyway," he says.
Okiku’s Ghost: The True Scary Story That Inspired ‘The Ring’
Baba Yaga is a famous witch of the East. She has spooked and scared little children across Eastern Europe for many a year.
This is a her most famous story. A wicked Step-Mother sends Vasilisa to visit the witch in her hut in the woods to ask for some lights. Version for Storynory by Bertie. Read by Natasha. Duration 30 min. Somewhere in the eastern part of Europe, where it gets bitterly cold in winter, there is a dark forest. If you are ever brave, foolish or ignorant enough to go wandering through that forest, there is a good chance that you might come across a peculiar house.
This hut is the home of Baba Yaga. They know her, and they fear her, for it has long been rumoured that she likes to eat children. A long time ago, a man lived in this village with his beautiful daughter, who was called Vasilisa.
Before she died, she gave Vasilisa a wonderful gift — It was a little rag doll that did not look so different from any other.
Every night she must feed it a little milk and a little biscuit, and so long as she did so, the doll would always be ready to help her — no matter how much trouble she found herself in.
Vasilisa did just as her mother bid her. Every night the little rag doll sat up and drank a little milk, and ate a little biscuit before smiling at Vasilisa and then going back to sleep. His second wife had two daughters of her own, neither of whom could touch Vasilisa for beauty or sweetness of character.
In fact, they were jealous of Vasilisa and they hated her terribly. Vasilisa begged him to take her with him, but he just laughed and said he was travelling on business, and the girl would find the journey tiresome and dull. Now run along sweetheart. She walked forlornly to the corner of the street and took the little doll out of her coat pocket where it had been sleeping.
Well I have fed and looked after you. I must go to Baba Yaga, and everyone knows that she is a dreadfully wicked witch.
So please tell me — what am I to do? After a while, the young girl heard the sound of galloping hooves coming up behind her, and she stepped off the road to let a horse ridden by a rider in a blazing red cloak shoot past her. Some time later, a third horse shot by.
Its rider wore a cloak that was as black as night. After about an hour of walking, Vasilisa came to a clearing in the forest. Although it was now getting quite dark, she had no trouble seeing — for this neck of the woods was lit by skulls with blazing eyes.
The skulls were mounted on top of a high fence. Beyond the fence, she saw the strange hut that stood on chicken legs. It turned around to face her, and it seemed to Vasilisa that the hut was looking at her. Then the chicken legs began to kneel and the hut lowered to the ground. The door creaked open. A moment or two later the nose was followed by a tall, skinny old woman holding a broom stick.
Vasilissa was so frightened that her legs would not obey her when she told them to run. The old lady came towards her — but she did not walk — her feet flew just a few inches above the ground.
Or are you just badly brought up? Speak Child! Spit out your name and your business here! My stepmother sent me to the forest to borrow a light from Baba Yaga. I will give you some simple tasks to do. If you are not lazy and you complete your work like a good girl, then I will give you the light that you ask for and let you go free. But if you do not manage these simple tasks I shall cook you in my oven and eat you for my dinner! Ha Ha Ha! The hut was surprisingly roomy, but a large part of it was taken up by a huge oven.
Vasilisa had to hold in a scream, because the house started to rise up on its chicken legs and move about. She realised that there would be no escape unless Baba Yaga let her go. The witch sat down at the table and gestured to the larder. When I am away from the hut, you must tidy the yard, clean the hut, and cook pumpkin soup for my supper. Can you manage that? The hut continued to move around and Vasilisa felt queasy.
She certainly had no appetite herself, but before she lay down for the night, she did not forget to feed her doll a few crumbs of bread and some drops of milk. How shall I ever get out of here? Vasilisa looked out of the window and saw the witch flying away above the trees, but this time she was riding what looked like a giant mortar. A mortar, by the way, is like a strong wooden bowl, and you can use it for cooking. You put some herbs or spices in there, and crush and grind them with a stick called a pestle.
This is what the witch was flying in — only it was much bigger than a usual mortar. A giant pestle was what the old lady was holding in her hand, and using as a rudder to guide her flight. Vasilisa gazed at the witch until she was out of site, and then she started to clean and to cook. She managed to get everything spick and span, and get the soup on the cooker by midday, but now she faced an impossible task. How could she possibly pick the black peas out of a sack of white ones?
Why, there must have been thousands, if not millions of peas in the sack. She heard a noise outside the hut. He galloped around the fence of the compound and then was off again into the woods. Vasilisa sighed and wished that he would only come and rescue her, whoever he might be. Then when she turned around from the window she saw that all the peas had been sorted into two piles — one black and one white. Her task was done. That evening, after Baba Yaga flew back home from whatever business she had been on, the old witch could not hide her surprise at all that her guest had managed to achieve the task in one day.
Here, use this bucket. Still that night, when the little rag doll urged her not to feel despair, she knew in her heart that something wonderful might happen to help her — and it did. For as she stood by the stream holding the sieve in her hand, the red horseman rode by, took it from her and swept over to the hut where he hurled it through the open window.
When Vasilisa returned she found that the tank was filled with fresh water. That evening Baba Yaga dipped her bony finger in the tank and tasted a drop of the fresh water. Tonight you can stay up and count the number of stars in the sky. If you tell me the right number in the morning, you can take your light and go free, but if your answer is wrong, even if you tell me one star too many or too few, then I shall have you for my breakfast. It did not help that the hut kept moving around so that the view kept on changing.
Eventually, Vasilisa began to sob quietly. I cannot guess the number of stars in the sky, and in the morning the witch shall surely eat me. Have courage and keep faith, and all will be well. But you had better not be wrong — for if you are, I shall eat you.
Baba Yaga picked up a plate and threw it across the room so that it smashed against the wall. Then she picked up a knife and Vasilisa was sure she meant to kill her. I suppose it was morning and day that helped you with the other tasks I set you? I will do you no harm. Wait here while I go on my business. I have no tasks for you today. Tonight you shall return home with a light. She expected that her stepmother would have found a light by now, but in fact the house was not lit. Instead her relatives were sitting in complete darkness.
She stepped into the house. The skull lit up the inside as bright as day. But she received no reply, for as soon as the light fell on her stepmother and sisters, they turned to dust. Vasilisa went to live with a kindly old lady in the village until her father returned from his business.
When he came back, he thought that his wife and stepdaughters must have run away. He did not miss them much. He lived happily with his beautiful daughter, Vasilisa, until one day a prince came riding by and caught sight of her.
She was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen, and he had no hesitation in asking her to marry him, which she did, and they lived happily ever after.
Baba Yaga – A Scary Story for Halloween
Carefully consider your point of view Your reader should feel a kinship with your main character, such that when the stakes are high, they feel their own heart start to beat faster. This can be achieved through either first person or third person limited point of view. Yes, I have been ill, very ill.
But why do you say that I have lost control of my mind, why do you say that I am mad? Can you not see that I have full control of my mind? Indeed, the illness only made my mind, my feelings, my senses stronger… I could hear sounds I had never heard before.
I heard sounds from heaven; and I heard sounds from hell! First person POV is excellent for hooking your reader at the beginning, and keeping them in suspense throughout your story.
Therefore if you do decide to use first person narration, you should probably keep it in present tense. This kind of narration is often used in longer-form horror, popularized by the likes of Stephen King and Dean Koontz.
Horror Books and Novels | A Collection of the Best Indian Horror Books
She was a chunky girl with pimples on her neck and back and buttocks, her wet hair completely without color… She looked the part of the sacrificial goat, the constant butt, believer in left-handed monkey wrenches, perpetual foul-up, and she was. Sissy Spacek as Carrie in the adaptation of King's book. Many mystery and thriller novels employ unreliable narration in order to work up to a big twist without giving away too much.
To twist or not to twist? Plot twists are exciting, memorable, and help bring previous uncertainty into focus, releasing tension by revealing the truth. So: to twist or not to twist? That is the question. But keep in mind that small, subtle plot twists can be just as if not more effective.
After Emily dies, the villagers discover the corpse of a long-vanished traveler in one of her spare beds — along with a strand of silver hair.
Not to twist The ending of your story doesn't have to come out of left field to shock and horrify readers. The classic horror approach leaves the reader in suspense as to precisely what will happen, then concludes with a violent showdown think slasher films.
In this approach, while the showdown itself might not be a surprise, the scenes leading up to it build tension and anticipation for the climax. That way, when the big moment does arrive, it still packs a dramatic punch. It might help, before you begin, to answer these questions about your characters and plot: What fear or struggle must your protagonist overcome?
What decision do they make to put them in this situation? How will they defeat or escape their adversary, if at all? What are the ultimate consequences of their actions?
Ruskin Bond on his horror stories, adaptations of his work and the fear of running out of ideas
This will help you create a basic outline for your horror story, which you can embellish to create atmosphere and suspense. In plot-driven genre stories, a thorough outline and emotionally resonant elements are vital for keeping your reader invested. A great horror story balances drama with realism and suspense with relief, even with the occasional stroke of humor.
Maybe Susan and I would become friends. You just have to put a spin on it and make it your own! You can also pay homage to well-known horror tropes, like the Duffer brothers of Stranger Things did for Stephen King and Steven Spielberg — and which savvy audiences are sure to appreciate.
Pride and prejudice and zombies, oh my! Image: Lionsgate It certainly feels sometimes like all the good horror stories have already been written, making your own ideas seem trite.
Have you ever tried writing horror? Did you manage to scare yourself? Tell us in the comments! I am currently writing a short horror story. Sometimes when I write a horror scene, I get really terrified, but after some days it all feels shitty.
NEVER judge your own work. You write it -- finish it off -- then have some friends that enjoy horror and reading read your work and give you honest critique. Record their critique or take accurate notes. A Christmas Carol may have been more influential in helping to establish the tradition of the Christmas Eve ghost story, but this later tale retains its ability to chill the blood of modern readers. A signalman who works on the railways observes that the mysterious appearance of a ghost always precedes a terrible tragedy on the railway line.
You can watch the entire film here. Amelia B. Is he dreaming or hallucinating, or being haunted by ghosts? This story shares much with the sensation novel, that bestselling genre of Victorian fiction that had enjoyed huge popularity during the s and s.
Is it a ghost that keeps opening it? When the man investigating the strange case learns the dark truth that lies behind that door, it begins to look likely.
What exactly went on behind that open door? An American family move into Canterville Chase and soon become acquainted with Sir Simon, ghost of the old owner of the manor centuries ago.
These 2-Sentence Horror Stories Will Send Shivers Down Your Spine
But this is a ghost story with the Oscar Wilde treatment, so the family completely fail to be terrified by the presence of the ghost. Indeed, in a curious twist it is the ghostly Sir Simon who ends up terrified, when the twin sons of the American owners produce a mock-up fake ghost! But are they mere hallucinations? One of just two stories M.