I think you must have gotten tired of me always talking about how I really want to a thrilling horror novel. I’ll have you know I’m not all talk! I’ve been doing research too. By watching horror game playthroughs. Not the most realistic place to get inspiration from, but I’ve still found plenty and I decided to share them with you today!
The most important and common thing in most horror is the setting. More often than not, the setting of the story will occur in a mental hospital, the deep dark woods, the stinking sewers, the experimental labs and occasionally, there will be a school and how can anyone forget churches. Of course, all, if not most of these locations will have blood splattered everywhere- on the walls, on the floor, on the furniture, on the roof, you name it. There are exceptions, of course, like some plots involve a house, others involve supernatural horror instead of human derived blood, but let’s face it. Have you read any horror novel that involved shopping malls, airports, office buildings or amusement parks (the potential for horror there is quite a lot!)?? Well, looks like I’ve found a setting for my novel!
Every story needs to have some sort of background that is referred to throughout the story. Some common backgrounds of the main character include being a police officer, a journalist, a detective or someone just stumbling into the setting while looking for someone. These characters can be divided into two categories, those that can fight back and those that can’t, which can provide an interesting character background and can serve as character development. Another thing very common in horror games and stories is that if there is science experiments and mental hospitals involved, you will most certainly find references to WWII and the human experiments of that era. Linking the fictional world to the real world can always be effectively introduced through this. Despite being overused, it never fails.
Next up, I’d like to discuss some common plot devices. One of my favorites must be the ‘accidentally killing the only person in this place trying to help you’. Twists like these should be done nice and slow- let the reader familiarize themselves with the victim and begin to appreciate the character before killing them in the first perspective. Of course there’s lots of different ways to do this like “I have no choice, I have to leave them behind/kill them” or some sort of mind game (which should be long running) that causes the main character to kill in self defense or something. Make sure to apply bandages on wounds and rip off as many times as possible before this trope becomes annoying.
A plot like that would work even better in a setting where you can’t tell who’s the enemy and who’s not. Blurring the lines so much that it clouds even the reader’s judgement is a fantastic feat that again, I haven’t seen pulled off in many books (but was definitely done in 1989 by George Orwell, my favorite book of all time). Having two completely separate villains working independently is also interesting although I must reiterate that the villains should be in no way related to each other, although their effect on the story may overlap.
Coming back to horror games, here’s a couple of things that you might come to expect to see
– Doors opening and closing by themselves. Admit it, even hearing doors creak and slam shut when it’s windy outside tends to make us jumpy. It’s no surprise that an ordinary scare like this would be utilized.
-Natural threats and use of medical kits. Sure, a crazy maniac running in the woods looking for you is pretty scary but imagine running into a den of wolves? Or tripping over a snake? How about earthquakes or floods or hurricanes? These natural threats can be pretty terrifying if written well.
-Witchery and black magic. The fact that these things are very real might not be as horrifying as much as knowing what exactly these supernatural powers can do and what better way to induce fear than to exaggerate? Call in demonic stars, black candles, violent cults, each with a life of their own!
-Cameras. There’s always cameras involved- whether to document your own adventures or to keep a watch on the seemingly harmless environments to catch a glimpse of what you’re up against, not to mention the night vision features some cameras have!
Do you like reading or watching horror? What kind of horror tropes have you already come across? Which kinds of horror cliche is your favorite? Let me know in the comments below! Images were taken from “Outlast”, a video game published by Canadian video game developer Red Barrels Studio.