Scary stories are the most thrilling type of tale we can be told. When done well, they can cause our minds to become hyper-aware of all of the potential nightmares that surround us. They can take us from our seats and make us question if the old lady across the street is truly as innocent as she lets off. Those bags she’s been dragging in look awfully heavy. You swear you saw what looked like a hand slip out once. What could she be hiding in there?
As you explore the terrors of each good horror story, you feel your adrenaline spike. Dread consumes you and your mind begins to wonder if the sound you heard was indeed that of the page shifting or if there is something behind the book. It’s exciting and even though sometimes we hate it, we keep coming back. Short scary stories can accomplish that same chilling experience, in the perfect amount of time.
Where did short scary stories come from?
The majority of us growing up had fairy tales told to us. Short scary stories about a woman who you can hear weeping near a lake at night. If children play too close to the water, she will take them and drown them as she did her own children.
You might have also heard of the monster in a stunning woman’s body that roams the streets at night in search of men. It devours them whole, feeding on their sin. Or what about the man with a straw face? The one that waits in the dark part of your room, only its outline visible, and waits for those children that refuse to fall asleep.
Short scary stories have been around for ages.
Scary stories have been shared for generations to teach us about what is expected of us and keep us safe. They warn us about the dangers that are out there and provide us quick ways to avoid ever falling prey to them.
Imagine a child who does not know how to swim. The body of water near the village is a danger to them. A short scary story about a crying woman who will drag them into the abyss is an easy way of keeping that infant from wandering too close.
There are short scary stories dating back over 6,000 years ago about men selling their souls to devils in exchange for favors. It’s safe to assume that nothing good comes from bargaining with evil.
If we have found short scary stories dating back that far, imagine all of the spoken tales lost since before then.
Short scary stories used to be a beautiful way of teaching our people about culture and keep them out of harm’s way. Over time, we converted it into something even better. The fear that filled us became an addiction and we learned to harness it.
We took that dread and made it into an art.
Different Types of Scary Stories
Our fascination with the macabre has led to the creation of some of my favorite subgenres of horror. Authors have taken the original scary stories and reworked their own twist into them. They’ve twisted and mashed them up and come up with some truly great pieces that you can use to inspire your own short scary stories.
Comedy Horror Stories
It’s not possible, I know. Comedy and scary stories just don’t go together.
Comedy horror is some of the best you will find out there. I love this subgenre and hope to perfect my craft enough to feel comfortable pursuing it.
You can check out my own comedy horror story, Butter.
It’s not easy to write as it requires for the author to know the exact moments to allow their readers to breathe. They have to know just how long to keep their readers submerged in the depths of nightmares. Not enough and your story becomes a big joke. Too much and your jokes become the dreadful part of the story.
There’s a fine line you have to walk when writing short scary stories with comedy.
Sci Fi Horror Stories
My personal favorite. I’ve written a sci fi horror story titled Galapagos and am currently working on the first draft of a new novel titled The First of Us.
Sci fi is already scary in its own way. Going out into the an endless universe where we are not even a speck of dust in comparison is daunting. The fact that we don’t even know a fraction of what is out there makes it even more frightening.
Couple that together with intentional fears we hold of loneliness, psychotic breakdowns, and the unknown and you have recipes for truly scary stories.
There’s plenty of short scary stories in this subgenre I’d recommend that you can check out here.
Monster/Supernatural Scary Stories
Who doesn’t love scary stories with a good ‘ol monster in it? I do!
This subgenre explores the realms of those creatures that hide in the dark parts of the world. Vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, zombies, etc.
The great part about these types of scary stories is that you can turn your monsters into anything you want. They could be intelligent and calculated or brainless brutes with immense power. Either one can be terrifying and it will all depend on the internal struggle your characters face.
Slashers and Murderers
If you haven’t watched them, I bet you’ve heard of them. These are the types of short scary stories that have a murderous killer that seems to kill for no reason. It is hard for us to understand why someone would kill. It’s even harder to understand how they could do it without motivation.
These horror stories tend to be full of gore, sex, and truly fucked up ways of people dying.
Dark Fantasy / Horror Fantasy
You won’t find too much of this out there, but when you do, they’re a blast to read. This subgenre of scary stories tends to be heavily weighed in the fantasy realm with hints of horror sprinkled throughout.
Dragons, sorcerers, and swords will keep you entertained. Then the necromancers will raise the dead in a way that will leave you feeling uneasy and unable to shake off the thoughts.
Gothic Horror Stories
The O.G. of the scary stories. These stories paved the way for horror to become its own genre in later years.
It emphasizes creepy settings and tone as well as the emotions of its characters. Ultimately, it’s about our struggle with inner evils, expressed through monsters, ghosts, or demons.
These scary stories are less about taking you through roller coasters of terror and more about maintaining you in a dark and depressing ambience.
Paranormal Scary Stories
I say paranormal because it’s not just about ghost stories. Paranormal scary stories also include demons, curses, and haunted houses. Think Paranormal Activity.
There are things that happen to us throughout our lives which cannot be explained. The cups that fell from the counter but were nowhere near the edge. The woman you watched walk across the hall, but when you checked, wasn’t there. The voices you heard in the middle of the night.
This is what makes these scary stories so terrifying. They are things that have happened to us and we have ignored. But what if there was something more sinister behind them?
Post Apocalyptic Horror Stories
If you’ve read any of my other short stories, you might have seen my short story series in my own post apocalyptic world. Think I like this subgenre?
This is a different type of scary story. The horror in these short stories is all about the fear of everything we know coming to an end. Of being abandoned in a world where those around us are willing to murder us for the things we take for granted now. It’s taking everything that makes us comfortable and showing us the true nature of who we are. Who we would become when society and morals are stripped from us and we are left only with our instincts of survival.
What would you do if you were in this type of situation? Would you keep your morals if it meant your death?
Post apocalyptic horror is great too because it can be easily combined with other subgenres of scary stories.
Ever wonder who the real monster is in your life? The one who fights to be better every day but finds themselves sinking deeper into the darkness of their mind.
Psychological horror stories delve deep into the self-doubt and inner hatred we hold for ourselves. They explore all of the personal fears we hold, the ones that all of us can relate to, and put them out for display. These psychological scary stories torture the reader by showing them something they recognize all too well.
Something they may not always want to admit.
Why Do Short Scary Stories Captivate Us?
We’re some fucked up people for wanting to put ourselves through short scary stories, no?
There’s three big reasons why people are drawn to short scary stories.
The first is the adrenaline spikes we get when our fight, flight, or freeze response is triggered. Our body is instinctual. It can’t tell the difference between a real monster and the one your mind is imagining. It knows that deadly things hide in the shadows and it is ready to protect you.
IWhen you are scared, your body gives you a surge of adrenaline in order to prepare you to save your life. This surge makes you temporarily alert and hypersensitive to your surroundings. It also reduces your nociceptors, which is where your pain signals come from. Best of all, adrenaline rushes feel amazing.
It would be easy to see why people would gravitate toward short scary stories then.
The second reason is that short scary stories give you a means to process deep emotions. We are not always the best at making sense of our feelings, let alone come to terms with them. Watching a character fight through their troubled and intense feelings allows us to learn.
We are able to let go of the fears we hold and overcome them through short scary stories.
Last, it’s the fucked up side of us. That’s right. Sometimes we get the urge to do things we were told not to. We cross through the do not cross sign and consume the fruit we were forbidden to eat. We have fetishes that others see as wrong, but to us they feel perfect.
There is a pull behind the forbidden, the dark, the horrifying. Scary stories allow us to experience some of this in a safe way. They allow us to become the villain for a moment, knowing that it is not truly us.
We get to live a different life and realize that you are not alone for having those dark thoughts. The sweet, church-going girl down the street has them too, and she might be acting on them.
Choosing The Type of Short Scary Story You Will Write
There’s no way for you to be able to know which will be your favorite type of short scary stories without you dabbling in them all. The great thing here is that short scary stories are just that: short.
I highly recommend you think of a prompt for one of each of the ones I listed above. Take that prompt, and write one of each. You could have Think of a prompt for each and write each type of story. Might sound like a lot, but these are short scary stories we are talking about.
You could write one every week and in a matter of 9 weeks you would have them all done. That’s only about 2 months!
Getting to write one of each of the subgenres of short scary stories will allow you to find the one that works best for you. It will be easy for you to spot which ones you enjoyed writing and which felt like you were in a scary story yourself.
Once you find the ones you are drawn to, keep writing them.
The best part here is that you are not limited to just one or another. You can take multiple subgenres of short scary stories and mix them up. Try sci fi horror stories with comedy sprinkled in. Take the paranormal and have them walk the desolate lands of the world after the apocalypse.
There is no one size fits all. You are not limited by anything. Experiment a bit with your writing and find what works for you.
Tips On Writing Great Short Scary Stories
Establish a Strong Character
Most scary movies we watch end up being flat and pointless. We don’t go into them expecting a masterpiece and watch them only for fun.
This is usually because horror stories on screen are inexpensive to make and tend to be profitable. They waste no time trying to make the characters memorable as it is likely that the character will die anyway.
With short scary stories, this isn’t the case. You can make an airtight character that your readers will love, or love to hate. The more emotionally attached you can get your readers to your characters, the more frightening the experience will be.
Especially when you establish what’s to come.
Use Foreshadowing to Set Up What’s Ahead
There’s something horrifying about knowing that a bad thing is going to happen without knowing at what moment.
Imagine establishing a creaky and rotten plank in the basement in the first page. You know it’ll be bad, just not quite how or what moment. As your horror story hits the climax, one of your characters rushes downstairs. Your adrenaline is pumping and you forget about the plank. It breaks and sends one of your characters through it. They struggle to get themselves out. Above them, the twisted creature slowly steps down from out of the shadows. One stair. Two. Three, until it comes into view.
It’s about setting up suspense. You’re not trying to give your story away, only give your readers something to look forward to.
Keep Your Monsters In The Shadows
Like the above example, you should always let your readers use their own imaginations. What you find scary in your short scary stories may not be what they are frightened by.
Keep your descriptions of monsters to a minimum. This will allow them to explore their own fears and put together pieces that will personalize your horror stories for them.
Less is more!
Fuck With Reality
Most of us have a fear of being unable to process what’s real and what’s not. It’s the reason why most people are terrified of psychodelics.
It can be horrifying to know that the people you’ve been talking to at your home are really just voices that only you can hear. Distorting reality for your short scary stories can prey on that fear of your readers.
Let them be disoriented alongside your characters. Let them wonder if it is them that is the problem within your horror story.
Just be careful not to overdo it.
Slow Things Down to a Crawl
The final tip I have so you can write the best short scary stories is letting your words crawl at the right moments.
You can control the way your readers consume your short scary stories by having long, descriptive sentences that cause dread to build up. When you are on the brink of revealing the nightmare, slow your words. Every step your character makes. Their heart is beating. Have them reach out. Soemthing is wrong. And then, they see it. And you return to longer descriptive sentences that allow your reader to breathe a little.
This is a very powerful way of manipulating your readers experience of that moment. Use it to your advantage so you can write the best short scary stories.
Go Scare Your Readers
Horror stories won’t be going anywhere. They have always been a part of our people and have taught us how to stay safe and be part of societal norms. These scary stories paved the way for society to make different types of art from them.
Scary stories have multiple subgenres that you can play with in order to find the ones you love most. Don’t be scared to experiment with them as this will perfect your niche when writing short scary stories.
Don’t fall prey to the empty character horror stories. Make them memorable so your readers can become emotionally invested. This will allow the foreshadowing you place early on to tear them apart as they watch it unfold. Better yet, fuck with their reality a bit so they feel just as disoriented as your characters.
As you write, control your pacing so you can manipulate the way your readers consume your horror stories and don’t forget to let them use their own imagination when developing your nightmares
As you’re writing, feel free to contact me. If there’s a way I can help, I’m here. I love horror and love reading. Shoot me a message.
Finally, let them use their own imagination when developing your nightmares.
Fear is personal. Help them process your short scary stories through their own terrors.