Five Sources of Inspiration for the Horror Writer


Horror may be one of the toughest genres to write. Perhaps that’s not true, maybe it’s because I’ve never tried writing in any other genre that I think this. If I was to attempt an intergalactic romance story involving family struggles and heart-over-head decisions of love, I’d hold my hands up and admit I’m wronger than Gary Glitter jokes.

What I’m getting at is that most other genres (OK, aside from sci-fi and fantasy) could pretty much happen in the real world. And as most writers are human beings living in said real world, inspiration comes from pretty much everywhere.

Many horror stories have a background of the unbelievable. Ghosts aren’t real, vampires aren’t either, there’s no demonic coven controlling humanity (I’m pretty sure), and a spill of toxic chemicals is not going to turn the unfortunate wildlife into crazed, bloodthirsty massacring machines of doom.

They say real life is scarier than fiction, but how many of ‘they’ have read any HP Lovecraft?

So for the horror writer, real world experiences themselves just aren’t going to cut it. There needs to be some imagined monstrosities involved somewhere to make the ideas terrifying.

Where does this inspiration come from? Do you need help finding it? There’s a chance, hey, you clicked through to this page after all. Or are you just a curious visitor ready to deride this fool for his one-dimensional theories that probably won’t help your quest for ideas very much at all?

Ahem, let’s find out shall we?


1. Places you see every day. Is there a creepy building you often drive past? A strange patch of graffiti that just has something ‘otherworldly’ about it? How about that desolate waste ground that seems to have been forgotten by everyone? Perhaps you live in full-on Texas Chainsaw Massacre country and terror surrounds you constantly. All of a sudden you have the makings of a setting for your story, or at least a scene in your tale.

Could there have been a tragedy there, a cover-up? Are there rumours and hear say of what went on long ago? No? Well make some up then. Knowing the area and the intricacies of the place’s history may well ignite those terrifying ideas bubbling inside your horror-addled mind like a rancid concoction in a psycho doctor’s lab.


2. The internet. Or more specifically, Wikipedia. I’ve spent many hours crawling through articles on here, finding link after link to other pages, wondering what a certain word means or not fully understanding specifics about a certain character from history. You get the picture. Before you know it, you’ve stumbled upon some crazy story about a sick murderer, or a cult who worship the Toad God from the East, or old folklore tales with monsters and strange superstitions, and so on.

Why not take the basics of one of these tales, and inject your own spin on them? That medieval story of the crazed village idiot who feasts on toenails may be ready for a contemporary twist.

And let’s face it, what decent horror story was written before the invention of the internet? Exactly!


3. Stories you hear. Be they idle gossip or factual, bona fide news stories. We’ve all heard creepy tales about a distant family member selling their soul to the devil (haven’t we???). Perhaps you hear a second-hand account of something where many of the details are emitted but the crux of it could be something to work with.

Unfortunately, the news is full of disastrous and morbid stories. A novel based on one of these terrible things would make the horrors in there all the more realistic to the reader, as they actually happened. There’s so much to work with! Just make sure that you don’t take your inspiration from one that is too well known. Josef Fritzl comes to mind (what’s weird is I didn’t have to spell check his name just then!). Although shocking, reading the story as fiction is not going to be as shit-your-pants scary as the news reports.


4. Movies and books. Duhh, obviously. Of course I’m not talking about completely ripping off something here. Don’t think yeah, I could have a struggling alcoholic writer take his family to a deserted hotel for the winter months where he loses his mind. That’ll be great!

I’m talking more of the supporting characters and sub-plots. Maybe flesh out a character who is not even introduced completely in that obscure series you (and only you) watched. That mad cousin, Eddie, you know, the one who ate his teacher, he was weird. How about fleshing out Eddie a little, give him a backstory and motivation to actually eat his teacher. Before you know it, Eddie’s the star, our luckless anti-hero. Maybe his teacher was about to kill him (ooh what a twist!).

How many times have you read a book where one scene really grabs you? It might only be a page or two. The mood and atmosphere it creates from the written page, that could be the whole creepy angle for your story. Here’s one for you; the story in Naked Lunch (the film, not the book – it may be in the book but I couldn’t get past the first couple of pages) about the man who teaches his asshole to speak. Creepy as a really creepy thing!

But always remember, change names, places, dates, etc. I’m not encouraging plagiarising here.


5. Spending time alone with your thoughts. After venturing down one or all of these avenues for developing ideas, sitting in a darkened, padded room with candles fluttering and the wind howling, is where it all comes together. That is the time to plan. Or maybe you could forego the creepy setting and do it all in your lunch break.

This is where the real horrors come from. The horror writer’s mind must think in these despicable ways in order for their stories to actually be horrifying. Without their sick brains concocting shocking scenes and interactions, what has the reader ever got to be scared about? I think the best acknowledgement a horror writer can have from a reader is, man, he’s fucked up!

Above all, make sure you have somewhere to record all this inspiration. A notebook, an app, a living canvas of skin and scalpel; whatever’s best. You never know when that vacant, ghostly voice will whisper in your ear, guiding you to the perfect plot for your most harrowing of stories. You don’t want to forget it the next day and end up writing about puppies.

Unless, of course, all the puppies die!!!!


Photo credit: La Tarte au Citron on CC BY-ND

Photo credit: keeva999 on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA

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