How to Use Psychology to Write Better Horror

Tips and tricks for using human psychology to scare your readers

5/13/20243 min read

Do you want to write more effective horror that actually scares your readers? Then you need at least a basic understanding of how the human brain works. You need to understand what invokes fear in people on a psychological level.

This may seem like a daunting task but don't fret. In this article, we will explore some basic psychology-based tips and hacks you can use in your writing to scare your readers and leave them thinking about your story long after they close the last page.

Let's get into it

Exploit Primal Human Fears

Everyone is afraid of something different. Every person has their own specific fears and phobias. However, there are certain things we as humans are evolutionary hardwired to fear. Two of these things are the fear of the unknown and isolation.

As humans, we feel uneasy with uncertainty. We want to know everything that's going on around us, what's watching us from that dark, what's waiting to strike.

You'll want to make sure you leave as much mystery in your story as possible. Don't add too much backstory or explanation about the supernatural happenings in your story. Use the element of the unknown to invoke tension in your story.

Another great evolutionary fear you can use in your horror writing is isolation.

Humans are social animals. We have evolved to find safety in groups. Take away our groups or our contact with society and you make us helpless and vulnerable.

Isolate your main character and give them no one to turn to or seek help from, This should create a deep sense of dread and unease in your reader.

Never Reveal Your Monster

Have you ever wondered why so many horror movies never show too much of their creature or spectator?

It's because, when left to its own devices, the human imagination can come up with something much scarier than anything you could put to paper.

Only reveal the briefest glimpses of your monster, just enough to be enticing for the reader. Then let their imagination fill in the blanks. Let the creations in their head do the scaring.

Avoid Cliches

In a world where almost everything has already been done, it can be difficult to think of a truly original idea for your horror stories.

You should not fret too much about coming up with a completely original story. As I said before everything has been done before so just you should just write whatever your heart desires without worrying too much about being unique or original. However, you should be wary of using cliches.

Try to stay away from overused horror tropes. If you write in a subgenre that has a lot of specific conventions or tropes associated with it, try to put your own spin on it and make it as original as possible.

Readers are not going to be as scared of or invested in your story if they've read the same thing over and over again in other media. Try not to use the same plot points and chilies that everyone is using.

Keep the Tension Throughout the Story

One of the most important parts of crafting a horror story is maintaining a sense of tension. Without tension, your story will fall flat. Your story will only bore readers if it doesn't have anything to keep their attention.

To create tension, write descriptions that focus on specific creepy or unnerving details in your story, Focus on things like suspicious objects, expressions on your character's faces, or atmospheric scenery

Another thing you need to properly invoke tension in your story is to make sure it has good pacing. If the pace is too fast, there would be no time to build adequate tension. If the pace is too slow, the story will drag on and bore the reader. It has to be just right.

Don't Rely on Gore or Shock

Many newbie horror authors make the mistake of thinking that the more gore and violence you can pack into your story the scarier it will be.

This couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, using excessive gore in your stories can actually hurt its scare factor.

Excessive gore in your story can really cheapen it and even make it seem more silly than scary. If you want to use a little blood and guts in your story, make sure you use it sparingly and at the points where it would have the most impact.

These are my best tips for using psychology to craft more effective horror stories.

If you find them helpful be sure to check out my books (for sale on Amazon, Link below), subscribe to my newsletter, and follow me on social media.

I'm proud to announce that I have recently started a Substack where I will be posting short stories, book recommendation lists, writing tips, and opinion pieces.

If you enjoyed this blog post, please consider subscribing to my Substack for more content like it.

All my links are at the bottom of my website.

Happy writing!