This blog was featured on 11/04/2019
Writing Tips From Top Horror Writers
Written by
She Writes
October 2019
Written by
She Writes
October 2019

For many writers, creating a story that truly haunts and terrifies readers is the ultimate dream. If you're a writer who craves something spooky, something that really scares your audience, you'll find these writing tips from some of the best horror writers extremely useful.

Stephen King

Stephen King is undoubtedly one of the most well-known horror authors of all time. While there are dozens of articles online that list out all of the advice he's ever given, we think these gems of advice will set you up for success when you're writing your own horror story.

Speed Things Up and Take Risks

“Mostly when I think of pacing, I go back to Elmore Leonard, who explained it so perfectly by saying he just left out the boring parts. This suggests cutting to speed the pace, and that’s what most of us end up having to do (kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your ecgocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.)”

Say 'No' to Adverbs

“The adverb is not your friend. Consider the sentence “He closed the door firmly.” It’s by no means a terrible sentence, but ask yourself if ‘firmly’ really has to be there. What about context? What about all the enlightening (not to say emotionally moving) prose which came before ‘He closed the door firmly’? Shouldn’t this tell us how he closed the door? And if the foregoing prose does tell us, then isn’t ‘firmly’ an extra word? Isn’t it redundant?”

For even more advice from Stephen King, Barnes & Noble has rounded up his 20 best tips.

Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson is the genius behind books like The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. With a keen eye for writing fiction that truly scares its reader, many authors look to Jackson for her genius writing advice.

Don't Get Too Wordy

"Use all your seasoning sparingly. Do not worry about making your characters shout, intone, exclaim, remark, shriek, reason, holler, or any such thing, unless they are doing it for a reason. All remarks can be said. Every time you use a fancy word your reader is going to turn his head to look at it going by and sometimes he may not turn his head back again."

For more of Shirley Jackson's best advice, check out the full article on Medium.

Anne Rice

The highly-esteemed author of Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice has a lot of advice for her fellow writers. During a Facebook Q&A, Anne Rice got down to the nitty-gritty about her writing and said, "I don't think there are any rules that apply to all writers." With that in mind, she shared this smart tidbit about her own writing and the moment she has a new idea for a story: 

And then I'll go to the computer and create a Word file for it and give birth to the idea. I believe in saving these things. I'll keep it in my working files in Word and I nurture that idea. I'll take it out and just begin to write about it and begin talking to myself about it where it can go. I find that a very fruitful thing to do and it's very inspiring for me. I don't have problems with finding ideas but it's jotting them down and thinking and making the choices.

Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates, the author of more than 40 novels including The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares, is a pro when it comes to writing both short and long-form fiction. During an interview with BuzzFeed, she talked about the "slowness" she sometimes gets while writing her stories and how to get out from under it:

"Writer’s block doesn’t exist, except it’s a very expensive block in Park Slope where all these writers live and it’s really expensive. Instead, I’d call it frustration or slowness. I think I have a lot of interruptions in my life. That’s the best advice to give a writer or an artist: Be in some place where you’re not interrupted. That could even mean internal interruptions, too. Get to some physical and mental place where you’re not going to be interrupted."

Joe Hill

Like his father Stephen King, Joe Hill knows how to write a story that will make your skin crawl. During an interview with The Verge, he explained more about his writing and where his stories come from:

"That’s kind of my job: to look around at the different facets of modern life, take it, and exaggerate it into the fantastic in a grotesque way. Throughout Strange Weather, a lot of what I've done is simply take metaphor and make it literal. My last novel, The Fireman, was this way as well. It is, in some ways, about the kind of cultural flame wars we have online. By blowing it up by making it bigger than it is, you sometimes see it more clearly."

Dean Koontz

Like Stephen King, Dean Koontz is another huge name when it comes to the horror genre. Having written more books than you can count on both hands, he's become a master of writing stories that haunt readers even after they finish reading. While writing a piece for Belief Net, Koontz let readers in on some of his best advice to date:

Find the Technique That Works for You

"When reading how-to tips from any writer, always remember that what technique or attitude works for him or her might be so alien to your creative nature that to adopt it unthinkingly will do you no good and might hamstring you. While grammar, syntax, and craft can be taught, writing fiction is--or should be--such an intensely personal enterprise that the story and its meaning comes from a place deep inside yourself and involves approaches that are unique to you. Take advice, yes, but think it through thoroughly and be sure it works for you."

Use New and Exciting Language

"Minimalist writing, in the tradition of Hemingway, has been taught for so many decades that much of what is published these days lacks character and color. Metaphor, simile, all kinds of figures of speech have evaporated from much modern fiction, and many new writers have no interest in using the language in vivid and inventive ways. Hemingway was a stylistic genius, and his approach worked for him, in part because there were layers of meaning under the apparently simple words. Geniuses are rare; therefore, most minimalist writers end up with brisk and simple language that is barely a first layer and that has nothing under it. Dare to love the language, if minimum prose feels flat to you. Some readers won't get it; many will not only get it but delight in it."

Mylo Carbia

Bestselling author and screenwriter Mylo Carbia has created a plethora of stories that leave her readers in shock. When asked on Goodreads what her best advice to horror writers was, she released a few helpful tidbits about promoting yourself before the publication of your book: 

"My best advice to horror writers just starting out would be to build your brand months before releasing your first novel. Network with other key individuals in the horror community (writers, agents, publishers, bloggers) and let them know what you're working on. I think Twitter and Goodreads are the two best places for new writers to connect. Also, joining the Horror Writers Association (HWA) at the supporting level for less than $50 a year is a fantastic way to connect with people in the horror community, so check it out at Then once your book is released, your network will help promote your book and you will see the sales. Best of luck and welcome!

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