Selene Castrovilla is an award winning local author and she is contributing to the Momee Friends site each month with creative writing tips. You can find this Creative Writing tab under our Teen Scene section but we welcome ALL ages to participate and write for the theme presented each month.
October is a month-long spook fest, with more and more “haunted” attractions each year. We love to be scared – and that holds true in stories, too. But effective horror is more than just being scared. It also has heart, using human qualities we recognize and carry. The best horror stories spring from situations that could actually happen, and they are built on psychology and emotion.
Stephen King, horror master, says:
“The three types of terror: The Gross-out: the sight of a severed head tumbling down a flight of stairs, it’s when the lights go out and something green and slimy splatters against your arm. The Horror: the unnatural, spiders the size of bears, the dead waking up and walking around, it’s when the lights go out and something with claws grabs you by the arm. And the last and worse one: Terror, when you come home and notice everything you own had been taken away and replaced by an exact substitute. It’s when the lights go out and you feel something behind you, you hear it, you feel its breath against your ear, but when you turn around, there’s nothing there …”
Terror takes hold, and we question our belief system — and our sanity. Nothing is what it seems, and our trust is gone. Can we even trust ourselves?
This is the only kind of horror story which interests me, because it’s rooted with real psychological events. And we’re confronted with issues we recognize and perhaps even deal with on our own (but even if not it will strike a chord of empathy) if it shines a light on a weakness inside us, the story cannot help but strike a chord in our hearts. We care.
Edgar Allan Poe created the psychological horror story, writing utterly creepy and terrifying tales which often center on the fragility of the mind, making us question the reliability of the narrator. The Tell-Tale Heart is a great example. A man commits a murder, and his guilt drives him mad — or does it? This story remains compelling because it’s relatable. We feel it. What’s in our hearts and minds never changes.
Stephen King is a modern Edgar Allan Poe. His books also tend to have that “realistic” quality. “This could happen” is the message we get, and it draws us in. My favorite example of this is Misery, about an obsessed, insane fan holding a writer prisoner and forcing him to bring back a beloved character he’d killed off. I could totally see this happening! I get letters from fans about what I’ve “done” to characters. What is one went further? This premise feeds off my fears, and that makes it instantly effective.
Misery doesn’t rely on supernatural elements at all, which also appeals to me. The Shining does have supernatural elements (as most of King’s books do), but it is presented in a very real manner, and it raises many psychological questions. Pet Sematary is another example of a superb psychological/supernatural story, drawing on our love for our pets. What lengths would we go to to resurrect them? Would we ignore consequence and reason? What the stakes were raised?
Why not write your own psychological horror story? Remember to cloud reality and make us question everything. Also remember to use as many sensory details as possible. Read The Tell-Tale Heart as an example.
Here are some prompts to inspire you:
1. A family is drawn to an island to enter a bizarre reality-TV contest.
2. A teenager will go to any lengths to win a college science scholarship.
3. The neighborhood cats are all gathering at a certain spot each night.
4. You feel the pain of plants, including cut grass.
5. Your friends are suddenly overly studious and monotoned.
6. A town has a black cloud over it that won’t go away.
7. What would you do if you suspected your parent of killing someone?
Or come up with your own prompt — if you dare.
I’m so excited to be writing this section! I write for teens because I still am a teen in my heart. So many things happened to me, and around me, and I had no one to help me figure them out. I actually think it’s better experiencing life from a teen perspective, because teens are open to diverse opinions and they are honest. Combined with my life experience, I think I have the best of both worlds.
Written by: Selene Castrovilla
Buy her books and Read our author spotlight on Selene—> click here