Horror is a genre that can evoke strong emotions and reactions from readers, such as fear, suspense, dread, and disgust. However, not all horror stories are created equal. Some horror writers rely on clichés and overused tropes that can make their stories predictable, boring, or even offensive.
In this blog post, we will discuss some of the common tropes to avoid when writing horror, and how to create original and effective horror stories instead.
Trope 1: The dumb victim.
This first trope involves a character who makes illogical or irrational decisions that put them in danger, such as going into a dark basement alone, splitting up from the group, or ignoring obvious warning signs. This trope can make the reader lose sympathy for the character, or even root for their demise.
Instead of making your characters dumb, make them smart but flawed. Give them realistic motivations and limitations that explain why they act the way they do. Make them face difficult dilemmas and moral choices that test their courage and intelligence.
Trope 2: The jump scare.
This trope involves a sudden and loud noise or image that startles the reader, such as a door slamming, a phone ringing, or a monster popping out of nowhere. This trope can create a cheap and temporary thrill, but it can also annoy the reader or make them immune to the effect.
Rather than relying on jump scares, build up tension and atmosphere throughout your story. Use foreshadowing, imagery, and sensory details to create a sense of dread and anticipation. Make the reader feel uneasy and uncertain about what will happen next.
Trope 3: The evil minority.
Be wary of creating a character who is evil or dangerous because of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, or disability. This trope can be harmful and offensive to the groups that are portrayed negatively, and it can also reinforce stereotypes and prejudices. Instead of using the evil minority trope, create diverse and complex characters who have their own personalities, backgrounds, and motivations.
Avoid making assumptions or generalizations about any group of people. Make your villains human and relatable, not caricatures or scapegoats.
Trope 4: The final girl.
The ‘old faithful’ trope involving a female character who is the sole survivor of a horror story, usually after enduring physical and psychological torture. This trope can be seen as empowering or feminist, but it can also be problematic or sexist. It can imply that women have to suffer to be strong, that women are only valued for their purity or innocence, or that women are interchangeable and disposable.
Maybe you should create female characters who have agency and autonomy throughout your story. Give them different roles, skills, and personalities that make them stand out. Make them active participants in their own survival, not passive victims.
Trope 5: The twist ending.
A very tempting trope that is easily overused involves a surprising revelation or reversal that changes the meaning or outcome of the story, such as revealing that the protagonist is actually the killer, that the story was all a dream, or that the monster was actually human.
This trope can be effective and memorable if done well, but it can also be frustrating and disappointing if done poorly. Instead of using a twist ending for the sake of shock value, make sure that your twist is logical and consistent with your story.
If using a twist, do so subtly and cleverly, without giving it away too easily. Make your twist enhance your theme and message, not contradict or undermine it.
© Colin Lawson Books