Writing spooky stories: a guide for kids

A child's guide to writing a scary story
Can you scare your friends silly with a spooky story? Are you a master of suspense and a lover of all things supernatural? Learn how to keep readers on the edge of their seat with a terrifying tale with writing tips from Phil Hickes, author of the spine-tingling Aveline Jones series for readers aged 9+.
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So, maybe you’ve read a few scary stories and you’re ready to try and write your own? That’s fantastic! Lots of people love reading spooky stuff so you’ve an audience that’s ready and waiting for the next thrill. Plus, the good news is that everything you need is already inside your imagination. All you have to do is bring is out.

With every story you write, you’ll get better and better, too. Perhaps your biggest challenge will be self-doubt. You know, the voice inside your head that tells you what you’re doing isn’t good enough. Well, don’t listen to it. Stephen King, the famous horror author, once threw a story he’d written into the waste-paper basket because he didn’t think it was good enough. His wife fished it out and eventually it became his debut novel, Carrie, and it sold millions of copies. So be confident. You might not get it right the first time but if you keep practising, you’ll get there.

Here are some writing-spooky-stories suggestions which may help. Good luck!

Choose your setting

Where does your story take place? It’s worth remembering that there are some places that are already pretty spooky. Abandoned houses. Ruined castles. Desolate coastlines. Dark cellars. Underground tunnels. Places with a lot of history, like churches. And, of course, there are graveyards!

So it might be easier for you to make your story frightening if the setting is already a little scary.

But it also could be somewhere you’ve visited or passed by yourself. Did an old tree in a field give you an eerie feeling? Have you ever been on a school trip somewhere and found it a little spooky? Wherever you decide, the more detail you can add, the easier it will be for us, your readers, to imagine ourselves there. Then we’ll be afraid, too, which means you’re off to a good start.

Set the scene and establish a scary atmosphere

A lot of the best spooky stories have an unsettling atmosphere. It creates tension and the fear of what’s going to happen next.

That’s where sensory details can help. It’s not just about describing what the people in your story are seeing. What are they hearing and smelling? Does their hand pass through a cobweb? What does that feel like? Is it bone-chillingly cold or horribly hot? Adding these little descriptions and details can help make a place feel very real and very scary.

Adding dramatic weather may help as well. A lot of ghost stories often happen during heavy rain or storms or in cold, thick fog. When the weather is dark and moody, it makes your story feel dark and moody, too.

Establish pace and tension

Imagine, we’re following someone into an old, abandoned house. They hear a noise upstairs. The house is supposed to empty – who can it be? Slowly, they begin to walk up the staircase to investigate. They hear the creak again. Their heart is thudding. They take another step...then they stop to tie their shoelaces. Hmm. That last bit didn’t really work. Stopping to tie laces broke the tension and wasn’t relevant to what was happening. It’s a bad example, but you get the idea.

If something isn’t adding to your story or keeping it moving forward towards its terrifying conclusion, then it might be a good idea to get rid of it. Keep it tight and controlled. Imagine your reader is on one end of a rope and you’re on the other, slowly pulling them forwards, inch by inch.

What scares YOU?

Often, the scariest stories play upon fears we already have. Maybe we’re afraid of the dark. Or being left alone. Or we don’t like swimming in deep lakes when we can’t see the bottom. Or we don’t like the doll at the end of the bed that always seems to be looking at us. Or sometimes, it’s simply fear of the unknown.

What’s behind that door in the attic that’s always locked? Why can we hear laughter coming from the old railway tunnel? What’s lurking in the cellar? Think about what scares you and see if you can build a story around that.

The End: finish with a flourish

I know from personal experience that endings can be very tricky to get right. An unsatisfying ending can also spoil what came before. Readers won’t remember the brilliant atmosphere and tension you built up. They’ll just remember the bad ending.

A good example of a bad ending is – AND THEN THEY WOKE UP AND IT WAS ALL A DREAM. This means that nothing we read previously actually happened and so we feel cheated.

Try and think of something we won’t expect. Surprise us. Give us chills. Make us think, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming!”

Phil Hickes grew up in a cold, dark house in the north of England that overlooked a graveyard and has always had a fascination for things that go bump in the night. His spooky middle-grade fiction novels The Haunting of Aveline Jones and The Bewitching of Aveline Jones introduce ghost-story lover and supernatural investigator Aveline and are guaranteed to send a shiver down your spine!