I've been writing a bit on how horror has changed over the years and probably not for the better.
Maybe it's time to lay out a few basics. Here are the top three things I believe a good piece of horror fiction needs.
3. Humorous Characters
This may sound counter-intuitive, but one of the greatest things horror fiction can utilize is a solid, funny man. Now, don't go overboard with one of these characters.
Sometimes a good horror story can become a comedy when a particular character leads the plot with dozens of one-liners. Though technically not a horror movie, here's a movie that could have been ruined (even more so) by a funny scene:
A good humorous character can turn into the most sinister of antagonists - remember that. Primarily, though, having a character that is amusing can lower the guard of a reader or viewer right when you want to throw something terrifying their way.
2. Twist It Until It Cries
Any good work of horror needs some excellent twists. Now, don't confused this for plot.
Plan the plot, work out the plot, and rewrite the plot. Then decide where the twists will work best. The reason for adding twists to horror stories is to keep the horror-lovers on edge.
A straight-forward horror story will a) Bore the consumer and b) Become predictable, and thus "unscary."
Psycho might be a good example of an opening twist. I love the idea of focusing in on one idea, just to realize it was the red herring of the plot. Of course, Psycho completely changes the story without adding a whole lot.
The idea here is to make characters who aren't who the consumer thinks they are. Maybe a good guy who is inherently evil, or vice versa. Perhaps start the story off in one scary direction and completely turn it on its head.
Here's a brief list of good stories with too much of a twist, and thus, were too gimmicky:
5. Stay - It was all a dream ending. This really pisses people off.
4.High Tension - The split personality gimmick is overplayed. Good twist, but not a solid ending.
3.Signs - Surely a decent flick, but the aliens can't stand water? Weak. Wasn't there one out in the rain earlier in the film? Probably one of the worst twists and definitely a writer's cop-out. If it's tough for you to find a way to save the hero, you're on your way to have an amazing story. Besides, the hero doesn't have to win in horror stories.
2. "Secret Window, Secret Garden" - The story and the movie both suck because of the split personality gimmick again. Cool idea, but it can ruin a story if it's part of a weak ending. It's a lot like saying it was all a dream, but it really happened. Or did it?
1.The Number 23 - Movies tend to use weird-ass endings that don't work. Here we are, hooked on this elaborate scheme, only to find out the main character had amnesia, and blah, blah, who cares.
1. Big Bang & Blood
For the love of all things scary, please don't end a horror story with a happy ending, and try not to abuse the abrupt ending scenario.
Horror stories, of course, do not use traditional endings. I've seen stories cut short, and it was amazing. And then I've seen the same idea ruin a beautiful tale.
Make sure your ending is the scariest part of the entire story. Make it unpredictable. And, maybe, have the bad guy win. It's really dependent on what kind of story you write.
No matter what, though, make sure it has a good twist, lots of screams, and something relatable to a nightmare in the sense a) People will recognize it as scary and b) People will never see it coming.
A good twist will lead the mind of a consumer in a different direction, or even the funny guy can be funny right before the doomsday clock hits the 13th hour. Do what works, don't go overboard, and remember it's all about keeping the horror-lover up for days.
Fear, focus, and the future. C.M. Humphries talks about writing, horror, and whatever.