How To Write Chilling Nostalgic Horror

Bring the horrors of the past to life

5/5/20244 min read

It seems like a longing for the past has taken over every facet of our entertainment in the past decade.

Whether it be massive franchises like Stranger Things or the seemingly endless f blockbuster remakes of movies from our childhood, nostalgic entertainment seems to be the current dominant force in our cultural zeitgeist,

This is also true of the horror sphere. The trend began with niche internet horror, Mainly Creepypasta such as Candle Cove and 1999. Even after the general interest in Creepypasts has long since faded, the nostalgic horror trend lived on through YouTube analog horror series such as Dog Nightmares and The Walten FIles.

This trend has carried over to the literature world as well, with horror novels such as Mister Magic and Grady Hendrix's My Best Friend's Exorcism.

If you are looking to pen your nostalgic horror whether that be a full-length novel, a short story, or an analog horror series, here are a few tips to bring the horrors of the past to life.

Make Use of Sensory Details

As human beings, our memories are all made up of sensory details.

As a writer, use vivid imagery and detailed sensory descriptions to transport your reader to another time.

Describe everything you can to resonate with the feeling of the time you're trying to evoke.

Describe what people are wearing, the types of cars driving down the road, the pop songs playing on the radio, the toys being sold in the stores, and anything that can evoke images of the feel of the period as vividly as possible.

Sensory details are of the utmost importance in writing any kind of fiction, but they can be an especially powerful tool in writing nostalgic fiction and nostalgic horror in particular.

Twist and Distort Well-Known Childhood Motifs

Twisting well-known childhood figures into something horrifying has been a tried and true aspect of nostalgic horror from the beginning. This was one of the biggest trademarks of the creepypasta craze, with hundreds of creepypasta falling under subgenres such as lost episodes and abandoned by Disney.

Although it's become less common to evoke specific childhood favorite characters in nostalgic horror writing, evoking childhood motifs that were previously seen as wholesome and innocent as horror devices is still one of the most essential and iconic elements in the nostalgic horror subgenre.

I would advise staying away from using real-world childhood characters and franchises in your story. This is something that had been overdone during the creepypasta era and readers have long since grown tired of the very concept of it. Plus it can potentially cause you some issues with the copyright law.

What I would strongly encourage you to incorporate in your nostalgic horror story, is an original children's characters or franchise that only exists in the universe of your story but still incorporates familiar and easily recognizable aspects of real-life childhood shows and characters from the distant past.

One example of a piece of nostalgic horror that uses this tactic extremely well is the interactive horror web series Welcome Home.

The main story of Welcome Home revolves around an anonymous group of people who are working to uncover the missing episodes and secrets behind a fictional 1970s Sesame Street-esque children's puppet show called Welcome Home.

The fact that the creator of this series created an original in-universe children's series to center their story around gives them a lot of creative leeway and room to develop the unique horrors of their world with no limits.

Though the in-universe show Welcome Home is heavily inspired by real-life properties such as Semese Street, the creator has the freedom to develop its lore and horror elements as they, please. It's just the right blend of original and familiar.

Utilize Technology from the Era.

Using analog technology such as VHS video cameras to establish an atmosphere since the release of The Blair WItch Project in 1999.

Since then, the rise of the found footage subgenre has become commonplace in both movie and internet horror.

This is a great and effective element to use in nostalgic horror in particular. Using archaic technology of the period you are portraying can be a great way to establish atmosphere and build tension,

For this tactic to work, however, you need to utilize it correctly and effectively.\

First, you have to only incorporate technology accurate to the period. Do some reason on what technological advancement was like in your chosen period. Having the technology used in your story be way more advanced than it was in reality or so outdated that it was incremental then can break immersion for your reader.

Second, you need to incorporate the technology in a way that seems natural to the story.

There are many ways to do this so get creative. One of these ways is using the technology as a catalyst to set your story in motion

You can have your characters discover a mysterious VHS tape at a yard sale or find an unlabeled DVD while cleaning out the basement unit that belonged to a family member who mysteriously passed away recently, just to give a couple of examples.

This is one aspect of the writing process that you can have fun and get creative with.

These are my best tips for writing nostalgic horror as someone who is both a fan and writer of the subgenre.

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