Horror writers get their ideas from a number of sources. Whether it be from a seemingly innocent interaction at the grocery store or a terrifying nightmare that just won't go away, there's no shortage of horror story ideas. But sometimes, you just need a little nudge to get the terror flowing. And that's just what you'll get in this article with these horror writing prompts.
- Ingredients for a good horror story.
- Horror story writing prompts.
- Vetting your horror story idea.
Table of contents
How to Write a Good Horror Story
Like most umbrella terms for major genres, “horror” covers a whole range of different styles, tropes, and subject matter. Psychological horror and slasher horror are two examples that lie near opposite ends of the spectrum. That said, there are certain things that horror readers expect from stories, no matter what subgenre.
As you can probably guess, these expectations aren't about feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. Horror readers want to be scared. Some of them want to be grossed out and scared. They want to deal with fear from the safety of their couch or bed. They want to feel the hairs on the back of their neck prickle as the hulking monster stalks the unwitting character or the malevolent spirit stands next to the sleeping woman.
But to do this effectively, the reader has to care about the character. Like all stories, horror tales are about humans. Most often, they’re about good people who find themselves in bad situations. So make sure to include a character arc and a good number of round characters.
Additionally, horror readers like to be surprised. While not every horror story needs a plot twist, you'll find that many of them have one (or more).
Keep these factors in mind as we go through this article and explore the prompts that can help you write a great horror story. And if you're suffering from writer's block, the following prompts can certainly help.
Horror Story Prompts
Horror stories don't necessarily have to fit into a subgenre. Any of the following ideas will make for a scary story.
1. A woman is convinced demonic possession is real, and only she can tell who is possessed. The only way to send the demons back to hell is to kill the person.
2. A little boy shows up at an adult character's house. He knows things about the adult that he's never told anyone. And he wants help killing someone.
3. A woman comes home to find that her house has been ransacked. The only thing that's missing is the positive pregnancy test she just took the day before.
4. As part of his job, a law enforcement officer investigates a dark website about demonic killers. Strange things start to happen as the investigation proceeds.
5. A teenager comes back home to his small mountain town after being away at camp. But he finds that everyone is acting strange and all the birds are gone.
6. A character finds that her social media has been hacked, and all her pictures have been expertly altered to make it look like she's dead.
7. There's a new scary movie out. The main character goes to the special midnight showing, but something terrible happens in the middle of the movie, and many of the audience members now have a taste for human flesh.
8. A small town is tormented by a supernatural force. It turns out that many of the people in the town helped cover up a horrible murder. Someone is seeking revenge from beyond the grave.
9. A man wins the lottery and starts living the high life. He breaks up with his old girlfriend for a new one. But the new one ends up dead, and he's the main suspect.
10. A bully terrorizes a small town, until the people have had enough. What they don't realize is the town bully is well-versed in the dark arts.
11. A girl who loves writing horror stories finds herself dealing with a crazy religious group that thinks what she does is immoral.
12. A couple of burglars break into a house only to find that they've been set up. The house is a mess of traps designed to torture the two burglars.
13. An amusement park worker finds that something sinister is going on behind the scenes.
14. A character attends a party in which an ancient ritual will be performed. He doesn't believe in the ritual, but he's in for a horrible surprise.
15. A new phone app that young people are using gives them powers to do amazing things. But with too much use, the app takes control of them.
Serial Killer Writing Prompts
Slasher horror movies are popular for a reason, and the same goes for books. Sometimes the scariest horror fiction involves something that can happen in real life.
16. Write a story set in the old west, where people are being brutally murdered. It's made to look like Native Americans are doing it, but the local sheriff suspects otherwise.
17. A killer is targeting police officers. The city is on edge, and a detective has a personal stake in catching the killer. But the killer soon targets her loved ones.
18. The main character thinks his neighbor is a serial killer. But we soon find out that the main character is the killer, and he's trying to set up his neighbor to take the fall.
19. A group of young people shows up at a camp three years after several people are murdered there. But these young people have come for revenge against the killer.
20. A man feels compelled to kill people he doesn't know. He soon figures out that someone is manipulating him with the dark arts.
Ghost Story Horror Prompts
Whether we're talking about Stephen King, Peter Straub, or any number of other great horror writers, ghosts and ghouls make for great horror fiction.
21. The staff of a mortuary start dying off through unexplained means. It turns out they've been stealing from their clients, and their dead family members are trying to right the wrongs.
22. A child is convinced his house is haunted. He tries to tell his mother about it but finds that she can no longer hear or see him. It's like he never existed.
23. A story about a haunting convinces people that ghosts are trying to kill them. Anyone who hears the story starts experiencing strange things. People say it's all in their heads, but it might be real.
24. A young couple driving cross-country finds a little girl. She tells them her story as they take her to the nearest police station. But when they get there, she's gone.
25. Explore the implications of an old man who goes out of his way to make ghosts so he'll have company after he dies.
Monster Horror Writing Prompts
Hulking monsters that go bump in the night are common staples of the horror genre. These prompts should lend you some monstrous inspiration.
26. An experiment gone wrong releases a virus that turns certain dog breeds into demonic killing machines.
27. A fracking company accidentally releases something huge and horrific from under the surface of the earth.
28. Vampires exist, but they're far more brutal, ugly, and harder to kill than lore suggests. And they've suddenly been released from their containment spell.
29. There's something strange about the neighbors who've just moved into the house. They say they have dogs, but the main character has only ever seen evidence of these huge dogs during full moons.
30. A horror writer is desperate for ideas. She steals a cursed item that is supposed to give her inspiration. But instead, it makes the monsters of her imagination come to life.
Psychological Horror Story Prompts
Not every horror story idea has to do with visible monsters or killers. Psychological horror uses the human psyche to ratchet up the fear factor for ultimate screams.
31. A young reporter's Twitter account is hacked. She keeps getting strange and threatening messages. Soon, she comes home to find her cat dead. Someone is messing with her, and she needs to find out why.
32. A man with a mysterious past has finally found some peace. But someone who he thought was dead shows up from his past.
33. This creepy story takes place over the course of a single night, in which campers are taunted by beings in the forest that pit the campers against each other.
34. Two coworkers are forced to spend the night in a dilapidated hotel. But it's a night that never ends, and they're both convinced there's something seriously wrong with the other.
35. A social media influencer live-streams a crime spree. It turns out the whole thing is faked, but the people who go out to stop him don't know that.
Halloween Writing Prompts
We couldn't mention horror stories without talking about Halloween. These prompts are all Halloween-themed.
36. As Halloween night gets into full swing, the power to the entire city goes out. And there's something in the dark that's powerful and ruthless.
37. A family who loves Halloween decides to take their haunted house a step further by stealing some dead bodies from the local morgue. But they choose the wrong morgue, because these bodies aren't all the way dead.
38. A town that has been haunted by a brutal killer on Halloween for years is on edge. A kid playing a prank dresses up as the killer and gets shot. Chaos ensues as neighbors turn against each other.
39. The main character wakes up on Halloween morning to find herself in a dilapidated version of her town. And all the people are mysteriously gone. But it seems she's not alone.
40. A cult leader convinces his followers to kill themselves on Halloween night. But some of the characters try to escape. The cult leader won't allow that to happen.
Science Fiction Horror Story Prompts
Mixing common science fiction themes with tried-and-true horror themes can make for a great story.
41. A mission to Mars is thrown off track as one of the astronauts becomes sick with a mysterious and deformative virus.
42. Strange ball-shaped objects suddenly appear all over Earth. People who come near them start acting very strange.
43. While testing a new weapon, the US Government accidentally opens a portal to another dimension. And the creatures of that dimension don't like humans.
44. In the not-too-distant future, the Earth is infested with killer plants and deformed beasts that keep getting better at killing humans.
45. A scientist opens a time portal, but he lets the wrong person use it. He must trip through time to right the wrongs done by the antagonist.
Mystery Writing Prompts
Mystery and horror often go hand-in-hand. So if you like intrigue with your terror, pick a horror prompt from below to get the creative juices flowing.
46. There's a killer terrorizing an American colony in the eighteenth century. But as the main characters get closer to the culprit, they suspect there's something inhuman at work.
47. A Sherlock Holmes-like character uses his skills to make criminals pay for their crimes . . . with their lives.
48. A woman decides to take self-defense classes. But someone from the class follows her home and tries to convince her she's in danger.
49. A group of people is locked in a house together. They must figure out why they've each been chosen, or else they'll die by morning.
50. A man takes it upon himself to do what the police can't: find out who is abducting children in his town. But what he finds is a conspiracy involving powerful people in a dark cult.
Test Your Horror Idea
While practicing your craft with these prompts is a worthy time investment, you may have an idea for a full-length novel. If so, it's best to do a bit of research to ensure that the idea is commercially viable. And the easiest way to do this is with Publisher Rocket.
You can think of the information you get from Publisher Rocket as the foundation for your horror writing career. You get insights directly from Amazon on:
- Keywords – Metadata to position your book on Amazon.
- Competition – Allowing you to see what's selling and how stiff the competition is.
- Categories – So you know where people who are looking for books like yours go to find them.
- Amazon Ads – Helps you quickly configure a list of profitable keywords for running ads.
Check out Publisher Rocket here to get started.