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Book: Writing Dark Stories - How to Write Horror and Other Disturbing Short Stories (Writer's Craft Book 6) by Rayne Hall

Book: Writing Dark Stories - How to Write Horror and Other Disturbing Short Stories (Writer's Craft Book 6) by Rayne Hall

categories: Book, Horror, Writing Short Stories, Creative Writing, Fiction Editing, Writing Dark Fiction, Fiction Writing


Rayne Hall

Author Rayne Hallabout this book: EXCERPT


Cowards make the best horror writers, because we know what fear feels like, and we never run out of ideas.

What frightens you? Fire, spiders, dentists' drills? Use these fears in your fiction and build your stories around them. Here are some ideas.


Do you know any creepy places? Does the thought of certain dangerous locations make you queasy? Is there an abandoned building that gives you shudders each time you pass? Does a house in your neighbourhood ooze malevolence? Do you have to brace yourself each time you climb into your attic? Are you terrified of walking a certain path? Creepy places make atmospheric fiction settings. Many of my short stories started from descriptions of such locations. You can also use those places in your novels, especially for suspense-rich scenes or the book's climax.

'The Bridge Chamber' - probably the scariest of my stories – started with the uneasy memory of a railway bridge where I used to play as a child. The masonry was pierced with tunnels, just big enough for a child to squeeze through, and we dared one another to explore those dark dank spaces.


Are you frightened of something that other people consider harmless? One of my friends can't bear the sight of long fingernails, and the sound of nails scraping on a surface sends her into a panic. Another fears moths and butterflies, especially when they get near her face. I also know a man who is terrified of clothing zips. He always wears buttoned garments, because he can't breathe when encased in zippered clothes. I also know people who get the creeps when they see a balloon, a clown's face or a peach.

If you have such a fear – whether it's a full-blown terror or just a shuddery feeling – write a short story about it. Since many things give me the creeps – garden slugs, crowded rooms, telephones, the whine of a dentist's drill – I've been able to write many stories about them. Stories inspired by weird fears often get published in anthologies.


Many people have phobias – fears about specific situations, so intense that they have a paralysing, crippling effect. Claustrophobia, the fear of enclosed spaces, is a common example. Often, these fears are based on a sensible, instinctive response to a genuine danger such as heights, caves, fire or snakes, and are irrational only in their strength. Others are less easy to explain. Some people get paralysed when crossing a bridge, others freak out when they hear the hissing noise of a not-quite-closed thermos flask.

If you have a phobia, I encourage you to write a story about it. Your story will have a level of authenticity that other writers can't achieve. However, writing about your phobia can be scary, and if it causes you more distress than you can bear, set it aside for a while until you feel strong enough to continue.

'Burning' - probably my best-known short story – started when I gathered my courage to address my fear of fire, a phobia that had tormented me all my life. Thinking about what fire meant to me and plotting the story was a frightening ordeal, but once I started putting my thoughts on paper and shaping them into fiction, I gained control over my fear. When the piece was complete, two amazing things happened: My phobia all but vanished, and the story won awards.


What terrified you when you were a child? Whether the danger was real or imagined, your emotions were probably intense. What if there really was a cannibal living in your wardrobe or a dragon waiting behind the cellar door? Childhood fears can inspire awesome paranormal horror stories.

As a kid, I lived in a railway station where my father was station master, and I was terrified of the giant black steam engines that stopped outside our home to puff dark smoke and emit shrill whistles. When I had an idea for a ghost story and needed to up the creepiness, I placed the characters in an old railway tunnel with a thundering steam train.


Have you ever had a dream that left you disturbed? Do you have a recurring nightmare? If you dream about the same horror night after night, consider adapting it as a fiction plot.

Some of my most successful short stories stemmed from dreams, including 'The Painted Staircase'.

You may want to keep a notebook on your bedside table so you can write down your dreams immediately after waking, because dreams tend to fade from memory fast.


What human behaviours and attitudes disturb or distress you? Lies? Cruelty? Wife-beating? Greed? Abuse of authority? Bullying? Unbending bureaucracy? People who shut their eyes and ears to the suffering of others? Use dark fiction to explore those issues. The resulting stories will have the disturbing depth and the power to make your readers think.

In many of my stories, you will find racism, religious fanaticism, prejudice, injustice and hypocrisy, either in the main plot or in the subtext.


What's right before your eyes? Look at the ordinary objects on your desk, the landscape outside your window, the pets in your home. What if one of them is not as harmless as it seems, but is really an instrument of an evil power, or takes on a destructive entity? What could the printer, the coffee cup, the rag rug or the kitten develop into?

'Seagulls' - my most reprinted story – started with the seagulls that pecked at my window every morning. Such pretty animals, white-feathered, silver-tipped, with eyes like yellow haloes around death-dark cores. Surely they were harmless... but what if they were not?


Using these suggestion, make a list of everything that frightens you, used to frighten you, or might frighten you. Try to come up with at least twenty. My list has over two hundred items. Can you top that?

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