I've loved the horror genre ever since I picked up a Goosebumps book back in third grade, and as I moved on to more advanced Stephen King novels, my love for all things macabre only intensified.
There is a thrill to writing the genre just as much as there is to reading it or watching it. In all my reading and watching of all things horror-related, I've discovered there is a scale to writing horror: I call it the 'real scale.' How real are the events that are happening? If the events are in the monster variety, they may score a ten on my real scale, whereas if the events are of a serial killer variety, they may score a one or two, depending on the situation.
Here is a breakdown to better demonstrate:
Deals with things that either really happen or Deals with things that may be unseen, could happen in daily life. For Ex: difficult to explain, or unrealistic For Ex:
murder, kidnapping, missing persons, abuse, The supernatural, aliens, monsters, etc. PTSD, trauma, etc.
How you want to go about writing horror is up to you, but what I find is that all horror, even if rated in the six-ten category is based in truth. We all have fears of some kind, and the world is a scary place. I read It to get over my fear of clowns, and I just finished Stephen King's The Outsider, which includes a part with several worms slithering around - another one of my fears.
The idea of a shapeshifting supernatural clown like we see in It is not realistic, but it does prey on our very realistic fear of clowns and the unknown. This is probably why so many people were frightened by Jaws. It is not likely that you will be killed by a shark. In fact, you are more likely to be killed by bees, but the idea of being killed by a Great white shark in the ocean frightened me so much I didn't want to swim in the ocean for years after seeing that movie.
On the other end of the spectrum, books like Stephen King's Misery is something that could actually happen. The idea that a crazed fan kidnaps an author is actually plausible. Alfred Hitchcock was famous for movies with scripts that scared us because of how real they seemed. Psycho played on the thought of mental illness, a very real problem that turned into a great horror flick. The movie Scream is another example of something we fear could happen in our homes.
There is a balance in the world between good and evil. We live in a sinful world, and thus it is easy to draw horror from that. You only need to read the news to deduce how horrific society can become. And yet, there is a lot of good in the world as well. This balance between good and evil is often seen in the horror books we read and the movies we watch. We need redeeming characters and themes or else the world would scare us too much. For every demon, there must be an angel.
In my first novel, Life and Death, one of the major themes was the ugly sins of society. While the main antagonist was the Angel of Death, readers are supposed to see that society can be just as evil at times. And yet, the Angel of Life in that book shows society's goodness.
If you write horror, you probably already know these things, but if you want to write it, pay attention to the world around you, and what you are reading. If you like the horror genre, perhaps this will open your mind to how characters are developed and themes are laid out. Some books and movies are as simple as a monster attacking from a black lagoon, while others dive into issues of playing God, like in Frankenstein or Stephen King's Revival.
We must realize that as we read and watch horror, that it is only fiction. Even if it is based on true stories, there is still good out there. It is meant to scare us, but we shouldn't be frightened to read or watch it. You would be missing out on wonderful works from great authors and directors that are portraying life.