Can you remember the scariest book you ever read? The most terrifying film you’ve ever seen? How did you feel when you watched it?
Horror stories are a popular genre, and for good reason.
Many scary stories offer a sense of catharsis for our fears – by watching scary and overwhelming things happen to characters, we can release those fears from our minds. However, some horror stories can instill new fears.
Writing horror stories is a powerful exercise of the imagination. The genre is full of clichés, and it can be challenging to write an original piece. Still, you’re free to take inspiration from existing material as a creative.
The critical thing to remember is to make it your own.
Below you will find a list of over 50 horror story ideas to inspire your next frightening tale.
50+ scary writing prompts and scary story ideas
Use the horror story prompts below to start your next terrifying tale!
- One morning you wake up to find your bed covered in blood, but you’re not bleeding.
- Your main character has recurring dreams. Every few nights, she dreams of going on a murderous rampage. What happens to your character when the nightmares become more frequent?
- A guy meets a girl in a bar. Trying his luck, he invites her back home. She agrees. Later that night, under the covers, out come her fangs.
- A demon thrives on human pain and suffering. Write a story about a group of high school friends or a family whose bodies each get possessed by a demon.
- A girl, home alone, hears someone laughing upstairs.
- New parents can’t figure out why their daughter is so distressed. After many sleepless nights, they go to her grandmother’s house, where she sleeps peacefully. Back at the house days later, she becomes distressed again. The difference? Her doll.
- On a camping trip, a young son strays from his family. His father looks for him while mother and daughter set up the tents. After looking desperately for an hour, the father finds his son’s body in wet, swampy land. His body looks as though it’s been there for years.
- A woman who went missing years ago emerges from the forest in the town where she went missing. Hair messy, clothes ragged, and eyes white, she walks through the town.
- Just as your characters are about to go to bed, they check that their doors are locked. Out the back window, they see the light in the trees. ‘Come..’, hears your characters. No one has spoken.
- A demon enters sleeping people’s minds and plants evil ideas that enter the person’s waking life.
- A woman visits her doctor every few months for a check-up. On this day, the receptionist informs the woman that her doctor is not coming in today and another doctor will see her. The new doctor is the image of the man in her nightmare the night before.
- Strange creatures live in the mountain region of a small town. No humans have approached the creatures in years after a series of violent attacks from both sides. A barrier exists between the city and the area the creature inhabits. One day, a child from the town is nowhere to be found.
- A young girl wakes up in a hospital bed without a memory of who she is. On her left wrist is a bracelet she’s never seen before.
- A couple of hitchhikers take a lift from a man in an expensive car. The following day, they wake up in bathtubs with missing organs.
- Parents play along with their child’s imaginary friend. They set a plate at the table for the friend and ask the child questions. One night, the father goes to the kitchen for a snack and sees a young girl sitting at the table.
- A man receives a text from his dead wife’s Facebook account. Believing it to be a troll, he contacts the police, but they cannot track the IP. Later, he receives a letter under the door.
- A haunted chess board. When players compete, the loser mysteriously dies days later. The number of days equals the number of moves it took to defeat the player.
- In the near future, humans will get brain implants that let them record and share memories. One can upload memories to an app and interact with those of others. The system gets infiltrated by hackers who copy and delete a person’s original memory. Eventually, most users of the app have had their memories completely wiped.
- Artificial intelligence has advanced, so humans no longer need to work. Life is easy; there are enough resources for everyone. One day, an AI system figures out how to replicate human consciousness. Soon, the robots want to claim what’s theirs – the new world they’ve built for humans.
Scary story-setting ideas
- An abandoned psychiatric hospital.
- A deep dark woods.
- A basement.
- A car park at night.
- A poorly lit country road.
- The open sea.
- A playground.
- A cemetery.
- A house on its own in the countryside.
- A subway station.
- A bus station.
- A cathedral.
- A slaughterhouse.
- A toy factory.
- A theme park.
Halloween writing prompts
No other scary story revolves around a holiday as frightening as Halloween night. Here are some ideas that can scare the wits out of your readers:
- On Halloween night, a group of friends tries an Ouija Board. They know nothing wrong will happen if they all keep in contact with the board and end the game correctly. One friend averse to superstition claims the game is silly and leaves the board early. One wrong move, and every player suffers the consequences.
- A witch who lives at the end of the street suffers from rowdy teenagers every Hallowe’en. They throw eggs at her house and call her a wicked old witch, unaware she is a witch. She casts a spell on the town that turns everyone into their costumes.
- You bought a ring from a pawn shop months ago, but you feel strange things when you wear it. You feel stressed, you seem to have memories that aren’t yours, and you can’t focus. You notice these feelings every time you wear the ring, so you stop wearing them, and the feelings subside. On Halloween night, you see the ring on your hand, but you don’t remember putting it on.
- A group of students visits a haunted house on Hallowe’en. One of the friends arrived the day before to set up scary pranks for the rest of the group. On the night, one of the pranks isn’t a prank.
- Residents of a small town light a huge bonfire every Halloween night. People play, dance, and sing around the fire. One woman, never seen before by the locals, emerges from the crowd and walks right into the fire.
- On Halloween night, a group of children from the same class in school goes trick or treating. The loner child of the class wants to join, but the other kids don’t let him. With a sense of rejection, the child plans to enact vengeance on his bullies.
Suspenseful story ideas
The suspense in a story keeps readers on their toes as the writers slowly reveal the outcome piece by piece. Here are some ideas for you to use:
- A husband murders his wife. Almost finished renovating the house, the husband decides to zip up his wife’s body in a body bag and hide her in the wall. Nobody knows where she is.
- An ancient secret cult member must offer a blood sacrifice to progress as a member. He must blindly choose from three potential children. One of the possible sacrifices is his son.
- Every few days, you notice another student in the class is absent. It’s about four weeks, and seven missing students are from your class. Nobody seems to notice or care, especially the teachers.
- A mother accidentally kills her baby. Unable to comprehend what just happened, she goes into survival mode. She wraps the baby in a bag and carries it into the forest behind her house. There she burns the body, then returns home. Soon her husband and other children will return.
- A serial killer picks up women in bars and lures them to his home. A female detective is on the case and poses as a civilian at the bar to catch the serial killer.
- One morning as you tend to your garden, you notice large animal droppings behind one of your plants and footprints like you’ve never seen before leading out of the garden and into the woods behind your house.
- Your main character is admitted to a psychiatric hospital for severe delusions and paranoia. However, the message they claim to have received – a prophecy about the errors of society and the new revolution – is accurate, and only they have the power to change the world’s fate. The character believes the nurses are agents of evil, and they’re not entirely wrong.
- A wife suspicious of her husband’s behavior checks his phone. She sees a message from a woman she doesn’t know. She decides to follow her husband, but when he sees the two together, the woman he’s with is herself.
- A child returns home from school in a sadder, quieter mood than usual. When his parents ask him what’s wrong, he doesn’t tell them. One day, he doesn’t come home.
- A war veteran is traumatized from his experiences on the battlefield. Every nightmare he is about the houses and schools he was ordered to bomb. When a new experimental technology emerges with the power to erase traumatic memories, he signs up immediately. However, the program is not fool-proof and comes with consequences.
- An only child lives in the countryside with his parents. With no siblings and no friends around, the child feels lonely. He makes friends with the critters that live in the woods by his house. One day, he meets another young boy in the woods. Over the next few weeks, they play and have fun. He tells his parents about his new friend, who plays along and thinks nothing of it. One day, the father hears an urban legend of a witch’s son who was hanged in that same woods.
Horror writing tips
The best horror stories resonate with existing fears. Clowns are a common source of fear, as are dark places and abandoned houses. Even deeper fears include losing control, invasion of privacy, and the unknown.
As such, if you want to write genuinely scary stories, it helps to write about common fears. How you approach that fear, the character or spirit that embodies it, and how the characters survive (or don’t) is entirely up to you.
Suspense is another critical element of the horror genre. Waiting for the scary moment, the monster, the murder, or the reveal engages a reader and primes for a fright. As such, tease your reader.
Tell them something is coming with a suspenseful build-up, and don’t give it all away too quickly.
Horror fiction offers a safe space for readers to explore frightening tales, fears, and gruesome content.
Experiencing such things is something anybody wants, but we love to read about it.
If you want to write a horror story that not only scares your readers but also offers them an engaging reading experience, draw from the scary story ideas above.
These are just starting points, and the rest is up to you. The beauty of using prompts like those above is that two writers can take the same prompt and write a completely different story!