People love stories and some readers love the ones that scare the wits out of them.
Ready to give them a fright?
This article includes a list of scary story ideas and horror story prompts to help craft a frightening story for your readers.
The scary story ideas and horror writing prompts below include themes such as sci-fi, psychological thriller, strange creatures, and more.
So, if you’re looking for spooky inspiration for your next slasher, thriller, or sci-fi horror story, check out the horror prompts we’ve included in this article.
First, let’s explore what makes a great scary story and how you can improve your horror writing skills.
What makes a good horror story?
What is it about those chilling, terrifying scary stories we read and watch that make us feel unsettled? How does a horror story blend plot, characters, themes, and settings to create a terrifying, unforgettable experience for the reader?
It resonates with an existing fear
One of the most critical elements of horror writing is that the story is in some way realistic.
That doesn’t mean you can’t use fictional tropes such as alien creatures, supernatural forces, or science fiction, but it does mean that the scary element of your story is something that plays on the reader’s existing fears.
For example, a story about a missing child plays on the very real and deep fear of losing one’s child.
A story about an alien invasion plays on the reader’s fear of losing their sense of security and finding themselves at the mercy of strange forces.
A story about an evil authoritarian government plays on the reader’s vulnerability to the society in which they live.
Life-like stories are often scarier than their less realistic counterparts.
Sometimes it’s scary to read about a man possessed by a strange evil, a demon, or some other supernatural force. Still, a story about the evil that doesn’t involve the supernatural is much more terrifying.
Because leaving out the supernatural or some other external force puts the evil in the hands of real people. A vengeful neighbor, a bullied child, or a charming killer leaves a strong impact because it can be the person sitting next to you.
The best horror story plays with existing fears and make the reader believe what happened in the story can happen to them.
One of the methods writers use to make a story even scarier is to juxtapose the horrifying, evil, or grotesque elements of their story with ordinary days, family dramas, and regular day-to-day living.
This juxtaposition can be subtle, but it’s often apparent.
Visualize a car full of teenagers on an open road during spring break, then the horror as one group has their freedom cut by a chainsaw-wielding maniac.
The latter offers a sense of familiarity to the reader and helps us relate to the characters.
What makes the story so frightening is how it transitions from day to day into the abnormal, the supernatural, or outright evil.
Suspense is perhaps the most crucial ingredient in a successful scary story.
When transitioning from day to day into the scarier parts of the story, a writer must slowly and carefully draw the reader in.
In doing so, they create a sense of tension and suspense. The reader suspects something is about to happen but doesn’t know exactly what or when.
As tension builds, it’s difficult to stop reading. The reader is hooked.
Some stories focus heavily on suspense and use that as a tool to carry a reader all the way through the story.
Others quell the suspense periodically with jump scares or frightening plot points.
However one chooses to approach suspense, it must be involved.
Horror story ideas and scary story prompts
Here are some scary ideas that can keep your readers on their toes:
A group of students hitchhikes across America. They get lost on a backroad and need to ask a nearby house for help. As they’re about to leave, they realize one of their group is missing.
A luxury cruise goes wrong when all the lights go out. Passengers are frightened, but the lights return after half an hour. All seems well until a guest is found murdered.
A young man finds a listing for a piano on Craigslist. He visits the seller’s house to pick it up, but the seller wants to show the young man around his house. As they get deeper into the house, the young man finds himself in the homeowner’s basement, realizing there may have been something in the water he was offered.
A traveling couple takes a rest in a roadside motel. As they enter the room, they notice the motel is eerily quiet. When they wake up in the morning and try to leave, they notice the doors have been locked from the outside. One of them reaches for the phone to call reception and sees a red spot on the receiver. Blood.
A girl wakes up to find her parents missing. No breakfast on the table, no lunch prepared for school. The young girl is confused as the day passes with no sign of the parents. The sun sets, darkness descends, and the girl is still alone in her big empty house. Her only company is the family dog.
A scientist loses his only child in a motor accident. Desperate to get his son back, he experiments with a controversial, illegal cloning procedure. The procedure works – the scientist has managed to clone his son’s dead body – but not without horrifying consequences. His body is alive and moving, but this is not the mind of the scientist’s son.
A little girl finds a doll in her grandmother’s wardrobe as her family clears out her stuff after her death. The girl puts the doll in her bag without telling her parents and brings it home. That night, the girl has horrifying nightmares that wake her parents up. Unable to figure out the source of their daughter’s distress, the parents go back to sleep. From the following day onwards, the girl and doll are inseparable, but the nightmares worsen.
A group of scientists receives a transmission from outer space. As they begin to crack the code, the message gets scarier. ‘They have arrived. Hide. They have arrived. Hide. They have arrived. Hide.‘ Who can they tell? What can they do?
A family, two parents, and one child, moves into a new home. One night, the new family wakes up to screams from the neighbor’s house. The father visits the next-door neighbors to check if they are ok. After learning everything is fine, the father returns home, and the family goes back to sleep. The next day, the neighbor’s house is empty and looks like it’s been that way for years.
A young girl runs home from the forest near her house. She tells her parents that the people in the forest told her to come back at night. Her father, frightened and suspicious, goes into the woods that night. Through the trees, he sees a flickering light. As he gets closer, he feels lightheaded, and his vision blurs. He loses consciousness. He wakes up in his house, and his daughter runs home and tells her parents that the people in the forest asked her to come back at night. Will he return?
Residents of an old, small town keep to themselves. When travelers pass through, they don’t engage much and wait for them to leave. One group of students decides to stay for a week, to the dismay of the locals. One night, as one of the students, can’t sleep, she looks out the window and sees a group of strange creatures running down from the mountains in the distance. As she squints to see further, one of the creatures appears in front of her with a curious stare.
A man receives several calls from an unknown number. He ignores the calls, but they become more frequent as time passes. When he eventually picks up, the caller doesn’t speak. That night as he receives another call, the caller informs him that he must commit a series of crimes and that his life depends on it.
An established scary story writer meets a fan in a bar. The fan seems familiar, but he can’t put his finger on where or how they met before. They hang out, drink, and go home together. The following day, the fan leaves, and the writer realizes the fan is eerily similar to a character he created, a serial killer.
Two young men travel to South East Asia to teach English. They receive a sponsor letter from a teaching company granting them a visa and accommodation for the school year. As they arrive and contact their company for support, a beautiful woman shows up on behalf of the school and brings the men to a hotel room for the night. The following day, both men wake up on operating tables with large stitches on their sides.
A young boy gets bullied at school. His parents are unhelpful and emotionally absent. At both school and home, the boy feels isolated. One day, a new student arrives at the school. She’s strange and unsettling, but she’s kind to the boy, so they become friends. Soon, the boy learns that the girl is involved in dark magic. She offers to help him with the bully, with horrifying consequences.
In the near future, brain chips can record memories. When hackers infiltrate the system, they manage to implant false memories in the brains of chipped citizens. With this immense power, the hackers create an army of radicalized, violent citizens and wreak havoc on society.
In a dystopian future, anyone who shows any sign of sickness or weakness must report to the government, after which they are never seen again. When a man’s wife falls ill, he does all he can to protect her and help her recover without going to the hospital. As her condition worsens, he must find someone who can and will help without informing the government. Time is running out, and loyal citizens become suspicious.
A fake fortune teller practices dark magic to help her read fortunes for real. She doesn’t know the immensity of the power she has summoned and becomes so in tune with her customer’s futures that she begins to foresee their death. When she looks into one customer’s future, she learns he will be murdered.. by her.
A family moves to a new home in the countryside. The family’s child feels lonely with no neighbors and vast country around. Soon after moving in, he makes an imaginary friend with whom he talks and plays games. His parents play along and allow the child’s imaginary friend to be a part of the family. One night, the mother hears her child arguing with his imaginary friend, telling him that he loves his parents and wouldn’t do anything to hurt them.
A woman wakes up to the news that her best friend has gone missing. The night before, she dreamed of talking to her friend in an abandoned warehouse. Eager to find her friend and inspired by her dream, the woman scopes out several abandoned warehouses on the city’s outskirts. She notices a broken gate and decides to investigate. She gets in, but getting out is a different story.
On Halloween night, trick-or-treaters visit houses on their street. There is no answer at one house in particular. Most of the group leaves but one. Now separated from his group, the boy becomes curious and peeks in the window of the unanswered house. He sees the old woman who lives there lying on the floor with a pool of blood around her. He runs to find his parents, who follow him to investigate. When they return to the house, the old woman answers with a big smile and candy at the ready.
These are suggested horror prompts, so feel free to play and change the ideas as you see fit for the scary stories you have in mind.
While a basic story idea exists, two writers can take the same prompt and tell entirely different stories.
Want some more advice? Write two rough outlines for your story (you need only spend a few minutes on each).
Follow one storyline first, the story that you first thought about when you read the prompt. Second, consider the same prompt but change something significant from your first thought.
If you want to start writing horror stories, try exploring your fears. Play out a story in which a fear of yours affects a character.
Monsters, aliens, and supernatural forces can be frightening, but the scariest stories are those that play on realistic possibilities.
What are you afraid of? What frightened you as a child? How would a character, setting, or circumstance represent that object of your fear?
As mentioned earlier, suspense is one of the essential elements of horror fiction.
No matter what story you write, make sure to draw the reader into the world with suspense so that the reader is already paying close attention when the frightening events happen.
Hopefully, the horror prompts and scary story ideas above have inspired you to create your own terrifying tale.
If you’re still stuck for inspiration, examine your own fears or talk to your friends and ask them what they find the most terrifying in a story.
Though fear is a powerful emotion, there is catharsis in exploring it writing story in the horror genre.