We've been looking at the ten types of stories, and next up is horror—survival stories where a character is facing a fate worse than death. What's worse than death? Fear. We hope today's horror story prompts will inspire some truly terrifying tales.
Ten Types of Stories and The Horror Story
We've been studying the ten types of stories based on what humans value most (full guide here). Today, we're going to practice another type of story where the character must survive other people, beings, or forces. In horror (like its siblings mystery and thriller), the character teeters between their life and a fate worse than death.
The fate worse than death in horror is paralyzing terror, fear, and dread. Horror wants to scare, to shock, to terrify, and sometimes even to repulse readers or audiences. It delves deep into the human psyche to look at what scares us and why, as well as to examine the limits of human depravity (Hannibal Lector, anyone?).
The horror genre spans a host of sub-genres from psychological horror (like the film Psycho or any number of Stephen King's novels) to monster horror (like Dracula) to paranormal (like The Exorcist) or even gothic horror (like the stories by Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft).
All of the prompts below can be adjusted to your particular favorite type of horror, by carefully selecting details in the execution. Love gore horror? Amp up the blood in scenes. Love the more psychological aspects? Include details that keep the characters and audience off-balance. The common denominator is fear. Use it to your advantage.
Horror Story Prompts
Here are some prompt ideas for your own creepy story—try one or all of them—if you dare!
Psychological Horror Prompts
Three college students take a final road trip during spring break of their senior year, not knowing that each of them harbors a dark secret about one of their college professors who was murdered in the fall. As revelations begin to stack up, they each begin to suspect the other.
A quiet golf community is upended after a series of grisly murders begin happening on the greens, and a golf pro's seemingly perfect life begins to unravel with each body they find. She isn't the killer, but she has a terrifying idea of who might be.
A police officer on terminal leave before retirement finds himself in a bar where he suddenly realizes the art on the walls shifts and reveals pictures of serial killers from the last twenty years. And his best friend and former partner, who is still on active duty, is there on the wall too.
A grieving daughter revisits the libraries and locations where her famous horror writer mother penned her most famous works. And finds out her mother's stories weren't quite the fiction everyone believes.
A teacher returns to teach at the school where they attended to find that their entire class is made up of the children of every bully and enemy from their life. But no one claims to remember them.
Monster Horror Prompts
A cursed siren hunts a fishing village looking for the boat and man that killed her true love.
A hoarder dies and the mother-daughter team hired to clean up the mess discover a dead body and the horror of how it all began might connect to a shape-shifting monster from their own family.
A yacht party veers off course during a summer squall and lands on an island. Their relief gives way to terror as they realize they aren’t alone and worse, they’re prey.
Radioactive scorpions escape from a lab and begin to attack a small desert town.
An experimental romance rehab resort goes into lockdown after a therapist and a participant are found dismembered and clawed to shreds on the beach. But the threat is inside the compound.
Paranormal Horror Prompts
A lonely janitor desperate for cash to pay for his mother's long-term care unearths the ghost of a bank robber in the basement of the building he cleans. The ghost offers to help him access a hidden cache of unmarked cash in exchange for a specific kind of revenge.
At summer camp, one cabin is always left empty in memory of a boy who died there twenty years earlier. This summer, he's back—but not quite himself.
A television studio where a popular 70's horror show was filmed for years is reopened unleashing a dark secret and a meddling demon hellbent on tormenting every former cast member to death.
After a hit-and-run accident, a fortune teller begins having dreams full of strange creatures who threaten to spill into her world from a parallel universe.
An alien child hacks into the video security systems of a nationwide childcare chain looking for playmates and begins to lure them into its world.
Gothic Horror Prompts
A young family has just moved into a fixer-upper in a small town, excited for a new start. But when strange symbols begin to appear on the walls along their hallway revealing town secrets, can they decipher the omens and escape or will the house be their undoing?
One fall solstice, a tormented widow who lost her husband to war opens her dilapidated ancestral home for a treasure hunt with a prize no one can refuse.
Two elderly aunts take in their troubled nephew and defend him against accusations of disappearing fiancés until a mutilated sweetheart’s body turns up in their basement.
A winery disgraced by a bad batch of wine that killed dozens years ago, reopens as a haunted house of horrors revealing that far more than the wine was buried under their dark past.
Two children separated from their parents during a hike find shelter in an old miner’s shack until the ghostly inhabitant returns, their dead parents in tow.
It's Your Turn: Terrify Us!
We hope that these prompts have given you some horror ideas for your own story. Which prompt creeps you out most and why? Tell us in the comments.
For today's creative writing prompt, choose one of the scary story ideas above. Set the timer for 15 minutes and write out one scene for the prompt. Think about the moment the character realizes that their worst fear is staring them in the face.
Sue Weems is a writer, teacher, and traveler with an advanced degree in (mostly fictional) revenge. When she’s not rationalizing her love for parentheses (and dramatic asides), she follows a sailor around the globe with their four children, two dogs, and an impossibly tall stack of books to read. You can read more of her writing tips on her website.