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Writing Prompts for Scary Stories

Ah, fall nights. Cold air, a full moon, leaves crunching on the ground. For many of us, the sensory experience of fall stirs up images of trick-or-treating and the ever-exciting thrill of Halloween.

Haunted houses, spooky corn mazes, and scary hay rides are among the traditional bits of fun we like to have at Halloween, but no tradition is more deep-rooted than the scary story. For centuries, people have sat around the fire and told each other tales that send a chill up everyone’s spine.

At this time of year, many writers like to get into the spirit by writing their own scary stories. If you’re hoping to create some specters of your own but you aren’t sure what direction to go, below you’ll find some writing prompts aimed specifically at getting you into the mood for some creepy storytelling.

  1. The staircase always creaks when Bobby runs up it, but today, it doesn’t. What happened? Why is Bobby suddenly weightless, and what does it mean? And what’s scarier — a creaking staircase, or a silent one?
  2. On Tuesday, Anna is sure she saw a little girl run by out the corner of her eye, but when she turned around, there was no one there. On Wednesday, she was sitting by the window when suddenly the same little girl appeared in the yard and was jumping rope. On Thursday, Anna was awoken from a deep sleep by the sound of a child laughing in the kitchen, but when she went in, no one was there. Today’s Friday. What’s next?
  3. The lighthouse has just been decommissioned. So, why is it lighting up at 10 pm on the dot, every night? And why, when the police chief went down to catch whoever was playing at trick by lighting up a decommissioned lighthouse, did he find no one there at all, other than the beaming light calling out into the distance over the dark, churning sea?
  4. Matt will admit that he suggested he and Sarah go on a walk in the wood because he wanted to be alone with her — he was hoping it’d lead to a kiss, maybe more. He got more than he bargained for, though. Now the two are lost in the woods and something is following them, but they can’t tell what.
  5. This isn’t so much a story prompt, but an exercise to get your creative juices flowing — what is the most scared you’ve ever been in your life? What caused you to be scared? Where were you? What did that space sound like? Feel like? Did you run? Where did you run to? When did you stop being scared
  6. Not every haunted house is a big empty castle, and sometimes, the ordinary can be scarier than the extraordinary. Tell a ghost story somewhere very familiar, very mundane, very simple. It should be somewhere familiar to you. Imagine yourself there, and then imagine a ghost is there with you.
  7. In New England, some houses have windows that are at an angle. They’re called witch windows, and legend has it, they’re off kilter to keep witches from flying through them and inside a home. Most policies come from somewhere — so, you tell us: what situation occurred that caused builders to start putting windows at an angle?
  8. Write a story from the perspective of a little kid who is terrified of something that, as adults, we know isn’t actually that scary. Don’t patronize, though. Take your protagonist’s fear seriously — write a true horror tale about something mundane. The substitute teacher; a bumblebee; a glass of spilled milk with the sounds of mom heading down the hall, getting closer and closer to discovering the mess. Really play with the language of horror writing, here — let yourself be over the top in creating thrills with sound, sights, and a raising heartbeat.
  9. Speaking of heartbeats — remember the one in the floor? Write a modern version of Poe’s “The Tell Tale Heart.” Not that hearts aren’t timeless, but, what’s something from today that might haunt someone, follow them around, cause them to lose their minds? How would our modern technologies play into a tale like Poe’s, if it were set in modern day?
  10. This prompt isn’t a beginning, but an end: in the last line of your story, your protagonist comes face to face with a monster, a ghost, a witch, or a goblin he or she has been avoiding throughout the rest of the story. What was the case like? What do we know about this monster before we come face to face with them? What loss, or victory, does the protagonist achieve in the moment he or she comes face to face with this creature?

We hope these prompts help you get in the mindset of playing with the tools of scary story writing — establishing enough fright in your protagonist that it seeps into your reader, causing their heart rate to rise as they read and then maybe, just maybe, giving them a little fright as they make their way down the dark hallway to bed that night. The best scary stories stick with us long after they’re done being read or, in your case, written. Enjoy!

Lauren Harkawik
Author

Lauren Harkawik

Lauren Harkawik is a journalist, essayist, and fiction writer based in Vermont. You can read her writing on her website.

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