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How to Write Psychological Horror?

Were you looking for an article which teaches you “How to write psychological horror“? Well, you clicked on the right one. We will dive deep into the art of creating chilling and unforgettable narrative tips that tap into psychological elements to evoke intense fear and leave readers perfectly creeped out.

Psychological horror stories are like an intersection point of the horror genre and the human psyche which typically focuses on mental illness, a disturbed psyche, and the dark secrets that lurk within. These types of horror stories are different from traditional horror stories and aim to engage readers more profoundly.

In this article, we will be exploring techniques such as the unreliable narrator, plot twists, and avoiding common horror cliches so your story stands out. We will also cover the writing process, offering guidance on developing a plot outline, accepting constructive feedback, and having your story critiques to ensure it effectively disrupts the reader’s sense of reality.

1. Understanding the Psychological Horror Genre

Psychological horror is a subgenre of horror that explores the deepest side of the human mind while captivating our most profound fears and anxiety to create a deeply unsettling and terrifying experience throughout the story. In psychological horror stories, there’s not any emanation from external monsters or gratuitous gore, it originates from the labyrinthine mazes of the human psyche.

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Skitterphoto/Pexels

Talking about writing psychological horror, it is a delicate art that requires a profound understanding of the human condition and a mastery of suspense, tension, and psychological manipulation.

1.1. The Appeal of Psychological Horror Stories

Now, the question arises what is the appeal of a good horror story? Well, it has an uncanny ability to leave readers perfectly creeped out and jump out of their place. Psychological horror writers achieve this by masterfully weaving elements like character development, a narrative that explores the thin line between sanity and madness, embodiment of a person’s fears.

Psychological horror isn’t like other genres which typically focus on familiar descriptions or rely on common horror cliches. Instead, psychological horror focuses on plot twists that go beyond the expectations of the readers, particularly those moments when everything goes wrong. By doing so, they kept readers drawn to the intense moments and unsettling endings that linger in their minds while continuing to haunt them even after they have turned the last page of the novel.

1.2. Differences from Traditional Horror

One of the main differences that set psychological thriller genre apart from traditional horror is its avoidance of cliche scenarios. Rather than that this subgenre focuses on a plot outline that ventures into uncharted and unexpected territory. The world of Psychological horror doesn’t focus on external monsters or supernatural forces, they make the readers question reality by exploring intricacies of the human psyche and the manifestation of distinct personalities. In other words, the horror doesn’t come from any external threats but resides within the characters themselves.

2. Crafting a Strong Foundation

While writing psychological horror, crafting a compelling narrative is key to immersing the readers in a world of fear, uncertainty, and psychological torment. In order to create a truly captivating psychological horror novel, the writer must establish a strong foundation of the story that typically consists of three critical elements. Wondering what are those three critical elements? Let’s find out.

2.1. Building a Compelling Main Character

In any horror story, the main character plays an important role. But while talking about psychological horror, the main character takes on even greater significance. This means it becomes essential for writers to build a main character that leaves an impact on readers’ minds. However, one thing to keep in mind is that it should go beyond superficial traits and delve into the character’s psyche.

The main character should be more than just a passive observer, they should be an active participant in the horrors they face. The transaction from an ordinary individual to the tormented soul of the main character you build should be a gradual process. This metamorphosis often becomes the core and makes a good psychological horror.

2.2. The Importance of Setting and Atmosphere

The setting and atmosphere in psychological horror stories serve as a character in themselves. They play an important role in crafting the unsettling and tense backdrop against which your story unfolds. Writers have to write a description that evokes a sense of reality and sets the stage for horror to come.

In a psychological horror story, a haunted house, or a desolate, isolated location can be used as the perfect description as it will paint an atmosphere laden with dread. Remember, the environment should reflect the main character’s inner turmoil while also creating an unsettling atmosphere that amplifies the psychological elements of the story.

2.3. Establishing Dark Secrets

Read any good psychological horror and you will notice that they have a dark secret at their core. Same thing you have to do with your psychological horror story. This secret will serve as the linchpin that ties together the main character’s journey, the atmosphere, and the psychological elements. It is the revelation that shatters the character’s sense of reality and plunges the readers into a disturbing ending.

Make sure that you carefully integrate this dark secret into the narrative, slowly unraveling as your story progresses. It should be revealed in a way that keeps the readers engaged and shocks them with an unsettling twist or an intense moment that leaves them perfectly creeped out.

3. Crafting a Disturbing Narrative

In the realm of psychological horror, crafting a narrative that leaves readers on the edge of their seats and disturbed and captivated is an art that every aspiring writer should acquire. Wondering how you can do it? Well, you will have to create a compelling psychological horror story by diving into the darkest recesses of the human psyche.

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Alex Levis/Pexels

This includes utilizing the unreliable narrator, incorporating disturbing moments, and skillfully weaving in psychological elements that elicit a sense of intense fear. Let’s discuss all these three factors in more detail.

3.1. Utilizing the Unreliable Narrator

An unreliable narrator is powerful for writers to use while writing psychological horror stories. This narrative technique draws readers into the mind of a character who can not be entirely trusted. By doing so, readers start to make a perception of reality in their mind and as the story unfolds the main characters’ grasp on what’s happening becomes increasingly tenuous.

This technique will help you keep your readers engaged and amplify the psychological elements. The revelation of the narrator’s reliability can be one of the most unsettling twists which can leave the readers perfectly creeped out.

3.2. Incorporating Disturbing Moments

Incorporating disturbing moments serves as the lifeblood of psychological horror. They are the scenes that stay with the readers even after a longer time after they’ve put the book down and cause them an intense fear that lingers. Writers should introduce these moments at the right time and they will be able to create a truly disturbing narrative.

Remember, these scenes should be more than just descriptions of bad things happening in your story. They should be an integral part of the story which is entwined with the character’s personal life crisis and psychological horrors. All this combined leads to both engaging and terrifying experiences for the readers.

3.3. Incorporating Psychological Elements

Psychological elements are at the core of a good psychological horror story which taps into the reader’s deepest fears and insecurities. It’s more about the human psyche than any external monsters delves into the characters’ fears, and gradually reveals the disturbing ending that awaits them.

To incorporate psychological elements into their stories, writers will have to do a deep exploration of human nature then they will be able to distinguish the personalities of the characters. In easy words, it’s not just about terrifying atmosphere and plot twists but about creating a sense of reality within the narrative

4. Plot and Storytelling Techniques

The plot twists and storytelling techniques are the two pillars of any successful psychological horror story. Writers should master the art of writing plot twists and unsettling twists, avoid common horror cliches, and maintain an unsettling atmosphere that keeps readers fearful and engaged.

4.1. Plot Twists and Unsettling Twists

Plot twists are the lifeblood of any psychological horror story. These unexpected turns in the narrative of your story will keep the readers engaged, questioning the reality of the story, making assumptions about the future parts, and fearing what may happen next. Also, don’t be mistaken that a successful psychological horror story is only about plot twists, unsettling twists are equally important in it.

The best psychological horror stories provide readers with a sense of dread as they realize that the truth is far more disturbing than they could have imagined at the beginning of the story. To write a good psychological horror story, weave plot twists that leave readers perfectly creeped out and craving for the next part of your novel.

4.2. Avoiding Common Horror Cliches

A hallmark of a good psychological horror story is the ability to avoid the pitfalls of common horror cliches that have been used thousands of times in thousands of stories. In the horror genre, certain tropes and predictable scenarios can disinterest the readers and impact the story on them.

Psychological horror typically focuses on breaking far away from these cliches by crafting narratives that are fresh and unpredictable. Steer clear of familiar descriptions and cliches scenarios, writers can create a narrative that offers something new and terrifying and stays with them for a long time.

4.3. Maintain an Unsettling Atmosphere

The atmosphere of your psychological horror story will decide if readers are going to love it or not. It makes the atmosphere an essential element in psychological horror. It should be as much a part of the story as any character, setting the stage for the unfolding horrors. In order to write a good psychological horror, writers should maintain an unsettling atmosphere from the very beginning of the story.

Remember, this atmosphere should not just be limited to the settings but also seep into every aspect of the narrative, developing readers in a terrifying, almost claustrophobic environment. Make sure that the atmosphere should reflect the main character’s inner turmoil which evokes a sense of intense fear and uncertainty.

5. Character Development

Perfect character development is the cornerstone of crafting a compelling psychological horror story. To create a narrative that resonates with readers, writers will have to invest a good amount of time and effort in developing character backstories, exploring human psych, and detailing the character’s mental and physical traits. Characters should be so compelling that they stay with readers even after they are finished reading the novel.

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freestocks/Pexels

5.1. Developing Character Backstories

Characters’ backstories will serve as the foundation upon which their fears, vulnerabilities, and psychological demons are built. No wonder character development and their backstories are so essential in order to write a good psychological horror story.

Writers should be focusing on crafting detailed character backstories, you must provide the readers with insight into the character’s past experiences, personal life crises, and specific events that have them to the precipice of a psychological horror.

Remember, the more immersive and engaging the character’s backstory, the more readers can relate to and empathize with the character’s struggles and fears which will also keep them engaged throughout the story.

5.2. Exploring the Human Psyche

A deep understanding of the human psyche is crucial when writing a good psychological horror story. Writers must have to delve into the depths of the character’s minds, unraveling their fears and insecurities as the story progresses.

This exploration should go beyond the surface to unearth the character’s fears and the disturbing moments that haunt them. Digging deep into the human psyche will serve as the core of psychological horror which resides waiting to be unleashed by the readers.

5.3. Character’s Mental and Physical Traits

The character’s mental and physical traits are the tools that you have to use to make an image in the reader’s mind. You will have to reveal the story’s psychological elements of the characters as time passes. It is important for all writers to consider how mental illness, personal crisis, or a character’s distinct personality will shape the perception of the world and their reactions to the horror that unfolds.

Characters’ mental traits can lead to a psychic break while revealing an unsettling twist in the narrative and providing the readers with an experience like no other. Talking about their physical traits, they are equally important and can manifest in intense images to play on the reader’s fears, such as a young girl with a physical ailment. Writers should carefully weave these traits into the character’s development and enhance the psychological horror elements.

6. The Importance of Other Characters

Although the main character takes center stage in a psychological horror story, it doesn’t mean the importance of other characters should be ignored. Secondary characters play an important role in shaping the whole narrative, providing Interaction with the main character, and creating a distinct personality for the story. It is important for writers to contain some secondary characters in their stories to make them more interesting and engaging.

6.1. The Role of Secondary Characters

Secondary characters are essential to the plot’s development of the psychological horror story. These characters can serve as foils to the main character while highlighting their strengths and weaknesses. Writers can also use secondary characters as vehicles for the revelation of critical information and helping to unravel the story’s dark secrets.

Make sure you craft secondary characters with depth and purpose and you will enhance the complexity of the narrative. Readers need to relate, empathize with, or fear these characters only then they will be able to further immerse themselves in the horror of the story.

6.2. Interaction with the Main Character

Interaction between secondary characters and the main character is the key element writers can use to make the story more engaging. These interactions can range from supportive relationships to adversarial ones, depending on the story’s needs. Tensions and conflicts within these relationships can serve as a good narrative as it can intensify the story.

For example, a secondary character’s erratic behavior or gradual descent into madness can mirror the main characters’ experiences which will typically heighten the sense of unreality and terror. Creating meaningful and eerie interactions with secondary characters will help readers to be engaged throughout the story.

6.3. Creating a Distinct Personality

Whether it is primary or secondary, each should have a distinct personality and contribute to the psychological horror overall atmosphere. Writers have to craft each character in a way that complements the story’s themes and amplifies its disturbing elements.

By putting some unique traits, quirks, and psychological idiosyncrasies in each character, the writer can create a cast that is not only memorable but also integral to the psychological horror’s success.

7. Narrative Structure and Writing Process

In your quest to learn how to write psychological horror, you will have to craft an effective narrative structure and master the writing process. This section will cover the art of creating a chilling and unforgettable psychological horror story.

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Rachel Claire/Pexels

7.1. Creating a Plot Outline

Before you go ahead with the writing process of your psychological horror story, it is crucial to create a well-structured plot outline. This will serve as the backbone of your narrative and allow you to organize your thoughts and create a road map for the story’s progression.

These plot outlines should include key plot points, character arcs, and the gradual revelation of the story’s psychological elements. By establishing a solid foundation through your plot outline you will be able to ensure that your story goes in the right direction.

7.2. Writing from the First Disturbing Moment

The success of psychological horror is decided by whether the story contains suspense and dread or not. Writers can captivate their readers by starting their narrative from the very first disturbing moment. This introduction should set the tone and create an immediate sense of unease.

These moments could be anything from a sinister discovery, an unsettling interaction, or a mysterious event. By starting with such moments, you instantly immerse your audience in the story’s psychological depths.

7.3. Unveiling the Disturbing Ending

An unexpected climax is the key that will leave your audience craving for the next part of your novel. Readers invest their precious time in a story with the expectations of a deeply unsettling ending and writers should have kept this in their mind.

Make sure that the final reveal is psychologically impactful, whether it involves an unexpected twist, an intense moment, or a shocking discovery. The ending should be so unexpected that it leaves readers to jump from their couch and ponder the story’s psychological elements long after the final page.

Take Away

In conclusion, crafting a compelling psychological horror story that stays with the readers even after a long time is an art. Writing horror goes beyond cliches and delves into the complexities of the human psyche.

Writers can write a good psychological thriller story by creating a compelling main character, focusing on disturbing moments, and maintaining an unsettling atmosphere throughout the story. Experimenting with plot twists and unexpected elements is the key to success. Make sure you build compelling secondary characters too and also craft an interaction with the main character.

Character development through intricate backstories and exploration of the human psyche is vital. While keeping the focus on psychological elements and understanding the horror genre, writers can truly achieve an unsettling ending.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. Why is horror so addictive?

Horror is addictive because of the adrenaline rush, the thrill of the unknown, and the brain’s fascination with confronting fear. All this combined makes us curious about what’s going to happen next.

Q2. Is psychological horror bad for you?

There’s no official proof that psychological horror is bad for anyone, but extensive watching of such movies can impact your emotional state and sensitivity to disturbing content.

Q3. Is psychological horror the scariest genre?

Psychological horror is often considered the scariest genre because it preys on our deepest fears, invoking dread and lingering psychological unease.

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