Tick Tock: Building Tension in Horror

One of my favorite things about horror is the building of tension. Everything winds tighter, and tighter until it snaps. The rush at the moment of release is what makes horror for me, not the blood and guts, but the winding clock.

My absolutely favorite kind of horror isn’t the one that just hacks and slashes everyone to bits, and makes you jump with pure shock of the unexpected. No, my favorite type of the horror is the kind that grabs your ankle and than slowly brings a chill up your spine. You know something is going to happen, that something is coming, but you don’t know what or where, and then…BAM the tension snaps.

But how do you build that up in writing? How do you write a scene that builds up tension? Every scene, every story, every author has their own way, but there are a few that work well across the board.

Use short sentences.

Short sentences in a row can create tension for the reader. Rather than winding through a scene, keep it choppy. Now, that’s not saying to throw a ton of simple sentences together (else you may end up looking more like ‘See Spot run.’ than ‘See Spot Zombie.’)but keep the focus tight. Every detail should lend itself to the feeling that something is wrong.

Don’t overdo it on the details.

It’s exciting to finally get to the moment of horror in your work. You’ve spent a lot of time getting here, so why not celebrate with a party of adjectives!

This is what google suggested for ‘adjective party.’

Sometimes, what the reader doesn’t see is worse than anything you can describe.

Trust your reader (and your gut).

Don’t feel like you have to spell everything out in excoriating detail, make your reader have to work a bit to get at what’s going on. Some of my favorite moments in books are when I’m re-reading a book, and suddenly see a clue that tells me what’s coming on… but that I likely wouldn’t have pieced together on my first read. Have fun, and trust in your reader.

Those are some very basic, general rules of writing that could likely be applied to any genre, but that I think apply particularly well to horror. What other suggestions or ideas do you have about horror?


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