Genre Fiction

5 Horror Writing Prompts

"So where do the ideas—the salable ideas—come from? They come from my nightmares. Not the night-time variety, as a rule, but the ones that hide just beyond the doorway that separates the conscious from the unconscious."

- Stephen King

Horror often gets a bad rap because people assume that it's only purpose is to terrify and shock readers. While that is true, that's not the primary focus. The point of horror is to allow a safe reflection of our own primal fears. We watch a slasher film, become terrified, but we also remember to lock the doors at night. It's important to keep this in mind when crafting your own terrifying tale.

Here's a few horror prompts to start with:

1.

Your character takes a short cut through a nearby cemetery to make it home before dark. On the way they hear a voice calling for help. Upon arriving at the source of the sound, they see that a grave has been dug up part way and a coffin is nailed shut. Someone inside is crying.

2.

After an intense battle with a strange disease, your character accepts the fact that they will die. However, it just so happens that a cure is discovered in the nick of time. What's the cure? Blood. Lots and lots of it.

3.

A group of characters are on a ghost tour in one of the supposedly most haunted places on Earth. In truth, no one in the group actually believes in ghosts - until they start to disappear one by one.

4.

A child psychiatrist has a particularly disturbing patient who won't stop drawing everyone around them in macabre death scenes; from drownings to suicides. While certainly bizarre, the strange hobby isn't exactly harmful - that is until the drawings suddenly play out in reality.

5.

Your character whips out their phone, takes a selfie, and then opens the picture gallery to admire what could be their next profile pic. That's when they see it; dozens and dozens of photos they don't remember taking. Each more disturbing than the last.

Did you know that I have a book of even more horror prompts? 1,001 of them to be exact! There are a host of different categories, from serial killers to cults. They are also completely different than the five prompts above.

Available in print, ebook, and soon to be audio. Check it out here!

5 Science Fiction Writing Prompts

"Individual science fiction stories may seem trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today - but the core of science fiction, its essence, the concept around which it revolves, has become crucial to our salvation if we are to be saved at all."

- Isaac Asimov

Science fiction is a wonderful genre because it not only asks the question of why, but also concerns itself with humanity's future. Will it be positive or negative? When writing science fiction, whether hard or soft consider what technological, political, and social advancements might affect your characters and story.

Here are some prompts to help you get started.

1.

Your character is on an important peace mission. They must meet with the world dictator of a powerful planet whose people are prone to destruction. Linguists from all over the world have spent decades dissecting the language and your character has been taught it for the last three years. It's too bad that that they got some of it wrong. For instance, "peace" might inadvertently be replaced with "war."

2.

In the future, brain mapping can show a person's past, present, but also their future. People are paying top dollar to learn who they fall in love with, how they will die and so forth. After all, the future can be changed. What people don't realize, however, is that every aspect that is changed simply creates a new timeline. Soon it's all going to catch up with them.

3.

It is estimated that 99% of the world is now a cyborg of some sort. An unnamed character is the last of a dying (literally) breed. It comes as quite the shock, then, when they are threatened with deactivation

4.

Your character wakes up, strolls into the kitchen and then walks out the door of a 1700s saloon. Panicking, they run out of the door of the saloon and stumble into their living room. They run back into their kitchen and walk out into the mission control room of the space station. Their whole house has become a series of wormholes!

5.

The future is a dark and desolate place. 3/4 of the world's population has been destroyed along with most species on Earth. However, a small group of survivors remain. Amongst them, your character is foraging for food when they stumble into a deep hole in the ground. Not only do they manage to survive, but they happen across an entire ecosystem that has been protected. Including a new race of people!

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Did you know that I have a book of even more science fiction prompts? 1,001 of them to be exact! There are a host of different categories, from aliens to space exploration. They are also completely different than the five prompts above.

Available in print, ebook, and soon to be audio.

Check it out here!

What is Psychological Horror and Why Are we So Obsessed with It?

In short, psychological horror is highly reliant on the mental and the emotional state of the audience. It relies heavily on the buildup of suspension, creating elements of dread before frightening, disturbing, or simply unsettling the audience as the payoff. For example, a character isn’t just placed in a world in which a serial killer is loose, but a large part of the narrative would be the uncertainty of what would happen next. In addition, psychological horror also deals heavily with the psychology of the “baddies” and the fear itself. Thus, it’s not just the serial killer, but the unpleasantness associated with who is being killed, why they are being killed, and so forth. This makes all the difference between just another slasher and a piece that will make audiences questioning some aspect about humanity, or even themselves. In addition, psychological horror does not have to be true to real life. It can feature supernatural or paranormal themes prominently. The main consideration, however, is the fact that the mind creates what isn’t there. It is the slow reveal and dissection of information that allows audiences to not only get a sense of dread, which begets fear, but it also allows us to later examine it after the threat has passed.

Why do we like it?

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Although we have a high degree of enjoyment for all types of horror, we do have a special place for psychological tales. In many ways, they resemble our nightmares, which is a reflection of our waking fears. Thus, they allow us a way to explore these fears from the comfort of our homes, movie theatres, etc. We know that the serial killer or crazed madman on screen isn’t actually going to kill us. At the same time, we know that it is not outside of the realm of possibility for something like this to occur. That’s where the fear comes from. It’s the what if of what might happen in the real world. A world we know is horrible. Serial killers really do exist, mass murderers still happen almost every week, and sometimes it seems like we are living in our own Final Destination movie, where one wrong step could mean the difference between life and death. Even when the psychological horror we consume also has a supernatural bent, (take the Babadook for instance) the emphasis is either placed on the realistic elements or there is a general uncertainty about whether or not the supernatural elements are actually happening; sometimes both.

Keep in mind that by their nature, psychological horrors are designed to catch us off guard. Through atmosphere and use of setting, the audience is thrust into a very specific environment. Of course, this happens in other horror genres as well, but also consider the fact that is often subverted. Think of the “jump scares” that sometimes take us off guard. For example, in the Sixth Sense we know the huge twister (spoiler alert) is that it is actually Dr. Malcom Crow, a psychologist helping a child who sees ghosts, who is dead. Even when we see these twists coming, the reveal of information throughout keeps our wits sharpened and our eyes fresh in spotting any clues. So, psychological horrors not only gives us a platform to explore very real fears in a controlled environment, but it also helps us sharpen the tools we might need to draw from; should anything actually happen like these examples in our waking life.

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Recommendations

Now that we know what psychological horror is and why we are so compelled to seek it out, here’s a list of some of my personal favorite psychological horror books and movies and why I recommend them. Feel free to share some of your own!

Movies ·

The Babadook (2014): A mother and her son try to fall into a sense of normalcy the year after her husband dies. This movie is an incredible example of how psychological horror gives us a lens to explore inner fears and turmoil. Specifically, the “monster” in the movie is the physical embodiment of grief.·

The Sixth Sense (1991): After a child reveals to Dr. Crow that he sees dead people, the therapist undergoes a great deal of self-discovery. This is not only considered M. Night Shyamalan’s best piece, but is often hailed as one of the best examples of a solid twist ending. It’s also interesting to go back and look at how Shyamalan threads out bits and pieces of the future reveal.·

Get Out (2018): The film opens with Chris Washington being introduced to his girlfriend's family; in which race plays a huge part in the film and family dynamic. Once there, Chris slowly begins to realize that something is amiss. Director Jordan Peele creates a masterpiece that tackles race relations in an interesting, and of course, psychologically stimulating way.·

Psycho (1960): A woman goes on the lam after stealing $40,000. She checks into the inconspicuous Bates Motel, where things get very, very unsettling. Regarded as one of the first serial killer yarns, Hitchcock’s piece delves straight into the strange psychology behind why some may kill. This film was also inspired in-part by real life serial killer, Ed Gein.

Books ·

The Shining by Stephen King: Writer, Jack Torrance, is a recovering alcoholic that is looking to put the past behind him for his wife and son. He becomes the caretaker for the Overlook Hotel. Once settled in, he and his family get anything but rest and relaxation. The movie is also worth watching. It’s a good example of the complexity of psychological horror and how it often models our own inner demons.·

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis: Patrick Bateman is a very successful business man living in New York City during the premiere Wall Street peak of the 1980's. He also has a penchant for cocaine and killing. Not only are Bateman’s nefarious deeds an interesting look into the psyche of the murderer, but the interiority of his character also allows us to explore our own depravity. ·

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay: When a young girl has a psychotic breakdown, a family is thrown into disarray. After trying out medication, the family contacts an exorcist and a television crew. The book takes place years after the girl has grown up while having an interview with a writer. It’s a good window into the psychology behind exorcism, as well as when “help” becomes downright exploitation. ·

The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Stories by Edgar Allan Poe: Featuring such classics as “The Raven”, “The Pit and the Pendulum”, “The Tell-Tale Heart”, and the title piece, Poe is one of the masters of psychological horror. In addition, Poe also heavily relies on the idea of an unreliable narrator, in which the audience questions their own sanity.