My hot chocolate sits abandoned on my desk. My laptop warns me its battery is low. My head hangs defeated, staring at the blank screen. I need to write a scary story before class tomorrow, and I have no ideas! What would scare a bunch of 7th graders who walk around a dark forest for fun?
I stand up, grab my notebook, and yell to my mom that I’m going outside. Maybe the early evening air will get my brain moving a bit.
By this time of the day, especially on a Sunday, nobody is outside. No cars. No pedestrians. No birds… Huh. That’s weird. It’s too early for the birds to have left for warmer climates.
As I walk to the park, the temperature drops. A fine mist settles over my small town, sparkling in the fading sunlight. I rub my arms, trying to find inspiration for my story. Soon, the grass under my feet turns to sand. The park is empty. The faint creaking of the swing set rocking back and forth in the gentle breeze is my only companion.
I climb to the top of the slide and look around me. In one direction, a neat row of greyish houses lines the street. Their porch lights blur in the thick mist. In the other direction, a field, with tall grasses making hissing noises as the wind rushes through. That field had always scared me.
Screeeech. My head turns towards the noise. The swing set rocks violently back and forth, as though someone had pushed it. But there’s nobody around. I grit my teeth, trying to focus on my scary story. Where should it be set? In a park? Okay, a park at midnight. No, everyone will have picked midnight. What about a park at sundown? A park at sundown with… a field.
I stare at the grass. It’s stopped swaying. Suddenly, I jump. I could’ve sworn I saw a shadow in the field… No. Just my imagination. But that would be a good setting for my story.
I slide down to the sandy ground and notice a doll by the swings. Funny, I hadn’t seen it before. Its hair is matted down and its clothes are frayed. Its eyes are red.
By this time, it’s getting late. The last rays of sunlight are hitting the droplets of mist that still hang in the heavy air. The back of my neck is soaked. Mist? Or sweat? I think the goosebumps on my arms are from more than the cold.
I walk home, looking behind me every few minutes. Nothing. Not even the sound of my footsteps breaks through the thick fog. I yelp when my foot hits something on the road.
It’s her. The doll.
Her red eyes stare up at me, face frozen in a strained smile.
I start to jog, taking care not to touch the doll. Just a few more minutes and I’ll be safe in my house. Three minutes. Two minutes. A few more steps and… No. No, it can’t be. Right on my front porch.
Her smile is wicked now. We stare at each other in this swirling, foggy showdown. Should I run? Will she chase me? Steeling myself, I walk around to the back door and find it unlocked. No doll in sight. Once inside, I rush upstairs to my room, dropping my notebook in the front hall. I slam my door and sigh with relief. Dolls can’t open doors; I know that for sure.
Then, a strange feeling washes over me. I don’t want to turn on the lights. I don’t want this to be real. I don’t want to see.
By the faint light of the moon coming through my window, I can just discern a silhouette on my bed. An unpleasant cracking noise, like joints popping, fills my ears as the figure begins to move. Its head swivels 180 degrees, revealing glowing red eyes and a terrifying grin. I hear a click as my door locks behind me. The doll. She’s here for me.
What makes a good scary story?
Think of the story you just read. There was no violence, no blood, and no death. What about it makes you uneasy? What aspects might cause a young reader fear?
When writing a scary story, the first step is to decide on an audience. What scares a four-year-old will have little effect on a teenager. And you don’t want to give a toddler nightmares for life, either.
Then, pick a scary topic. Think of what scares you. Werewolves? Serial killers? The laundry machine in the basement? Even something innocuous can become a scary story. In fact, the creepiest stories are often centered around otherwise harmless, commonplace items or people, such as dolls or even children. A bloody axe is scary. But a bloody stuffed bear with one eye missing? There’s so much more you can do when you don’t limit yourself to traditional scary objects.
In scary stories, the atmosphere is crucial. Where is the story set? What time of day is it? What is the weather like? What can the character see, hear, and feel in this location? What details transform your setting into a scary setting? In the story you just read, it’s unusually quiet. Tall grassy fields and an abandoned playground give the reader a sense of emptiness that the writer can fill with creepy details, like the doll’s worn clothes and the creaking of the swing set.
Add scary information slowly to build tension. Start with small, unsettling details, such as the absence of birds or a light mist. Then, once the air becomes heavy and the mist turns into a thick fog, you’ve taken your reader from slight suspicion to genuine unease. Use short sentences and paragraph breaks to emphasize certain points, like “It’s her. The doll.”
Finally, avoid overused topics. “On a dark and stormy night, in an abandoned cemetery, was an ancient vampire.” Yes, yes. We know. We choose to read scary stories for the adrenaline. Don’t forget to surprise your readers with new settings, topics, and characters to their hearts racing!
So, take some time to think about fear. Have a seat! It’s time to start writing.
Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the doll.
I hear she likes young authors.