Horror is about fear, and fear is about waiting. Once something bad happens, you’re not afraid anymore; you’re too busy being eaten. The story’s over!

So a key technique in horror is introducing something creepy into an otherwise ordinary scene, and then not rushing to show it fully, but holding back and drawing out the reveal. 

Here’s Neil Gaiman doing this in Coraline. Notice how understated the writing is. Small actions. Simple words. 

Also notice how he uses short, one-sentence paragraphs to draw out the sense of mystery.

Coraline was just wondering whether or not she ought to turn on the lights when she saw the black shape edge slowly out from beneath the sofa. It paused, and then dashed silently across the carpet toward the farthest corner of the room.

There was no furniture in that corner of the room.

Coraline turned on the light.

There was nothing in the corner. Nothing but the old door that opened onto the brick wall.

She was sure that her mother had shut the door, but now it was ever so slightly open. Just a crack.


Here’s an example, using the same understated style as the snippet, but using this image as a starting point. 

Annabel was wondering whether she would get through the forest before nightfall when she heard a branch snap suddenly to her left, off the path. A pause, then another smaller snap from the same point.

No animal could be seen.

Annabel walked silently to the source of the sound.

There was nothing she could find. Nothing but a freshly broken branch.

She was sure there was a boot print on the ground where the branch was broken, but it was too late to tell. The light was gone, she was off the path, and home seemed far away. 

Now it’s your turn.

Start with an ordinary scene that turns creepy and finishes creepier. Have the action happen just out of sight. Something that makes your character uneasy. Then stretch that mystery.

Write an understated horror scene, with small actions, simple words, and single sentence paragraphs to draw out the action. Use the picture as a starting point.