WIHM: Writing Horror: How Much is TOO Much?

Details are important. I’m not talking about long, drawn out descriptions that readers more often than not just skim through. I’m talking about the tiny bits of information you include that subtly colour your characters and their landscape. But how much is too much?


It’s acknowledged that most horror will have an element of gore, but just as important is the detail that creates the tension and ramps it up. Ask yourself this: what kind of horror are you writing? If you’re going for a Jason meets the gang from Hellraiser and they all play tag on Elm Street kind of story, then yep, entrails for all. There tends to be less of a build-up in these stories, the expectation being that eyeballs will be skewered on page two. Or maybe you’re going for a slower burn, a slow walk down a creepy dark wood path during a cloudy night. With these stories, tension is your best friend.


But readers still expect you to make it as real as possible for them, to make them nervous, too scared to read your story at night. And it’s the tiny details that do this. But be careful not to overdo it!


Typical Horror Scenarios


Killer Chasing his/her Victim Through the Woods



  • smell of pine
  • sound of breathing, footsteps, branches cracking
  • cold, fog, rain, darkness
  • echoes are always fun, especially in a forest



  • smell of pine and squirrels and sweat and mulch and mud and ozone and the far-off lumber factory and strawberry frozen yoghurt from the time your victim had strawberry frozen yoghurt the day before and spilled it on their jacket
  • victim’s thoughts about life, the universe, what went wrong, if only they’d listened to the creepy old man at the gas station a few miles away and the relationship the victim had with their mother while growing up and if they remembered to turn the oven off.
  • one chainsaw is enough


Summer Camp



  • sun, water, canoes
  • scary myth or legend
  • creepy, overprotective mother
  • tastefully splattered blood and/or organs



  • so much splattered blood the mafia clean-up crew would pass on the cleaning contract
  • only 2 serial killers sleeping at the lake at any one time
  • no more than 3 teens at a time can be impaled, after that you’re just abusing your reader’s willing suspension of disbelief
  • one chainsaw is enough


Dead Body Found in Pantry



  • tastefully strewn organs
  • large clean cut through which intestines dangle
  • facial expression of the body – horrified but dignified



  • if Jack the Ripper would be disgusted by the way the organs are scattered or displayed, you may have gone too far
  • blood splattered all over just ruins the food for everyone
  • facial expression that suggests a door to hell just opened and victim was able to see their own after-death experience as well as that of all their family members and friends and it’s Not Good


Alien Invasion



  • language misunderstandings
  • distrust about intent
  • scales, tentacles, sharp teeth are all just fine



  • probing – just say no
  • tread carefully when using local politicians to describe your alien
  • more than 8 tentacles is too much


Giant Sand Worms



  • slime
  • creepy little mouth with rows of sharp teeth
  • entire neighbourhoods destroyed but then brought together by sand worm holes



  • exploded worm guts that blanket an entire town – remember to keep it realistic!
  • talking sand worms, especially those who wants to talk about his great uncle Gary’s bunions and acid reflux
  • your worm’s resemblance to male sexual organs should probably be kept to a minimum
Kelly Evans

Kelly Evans

Kelly Evans was born in Canada of Scottish extraction but moved to the UK after graduation where she worked in the financial sector. She returned after nearly 20 years away and now lives in Toronto with her husband and three rescue cats. Her horror stories have been published in numerous magazines and E-zines. She is also the author of The Northern Queen, an historic fiction taking place in Anglo Saxon England, and The Mortecarni, a medieval horror taking place during the Black Death.  Kelly is currently working on the second book in the Mortecarni series. When not writing she enjoys reading history books, playing oboe or medieval recorder, and watching really just truly incredibly bad horror movies.

You can follow Kelly’s work at http://www.kellyaevans.com



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