Spooky Story Contest: Advice from Winners on Writing Spooky Stories

by Tatum Mueller


November 13, 2019

Congratulations to our LitMag Spooky Story Contest winners: Dorothy Brown, Julia Dickinson, Kaeleen Chen, and Caden Krauter! For anyone who wanted to submit a story but was having trouble making it scary, read below for advice from the winners.

Dorothy Brown ’22 (first place)

Most of my ideas for scary stories come from just one image or stray sentence that I had while walking home from the train station or trying to go to sleep. If I’m struck by a particular image or sentence, and I think it has potential, then I try to elaborate on it, and oftentimes a story will form itself around it. I often find that once I examine that one detail, I realize that it was just a glimpse of a larger idea that I was having. Of course, many such thoughts I either abandon or save in case they can be used in some other story, but at least two of them have been good enough to make a story that Dr. Proll liked.

I would say that the main challenge in writing scary stories is the establishment of mood and suspense without falling into meaningless clichés. For example, the setting needs to match the feeling of the tale and make your reader feel the cold tension that accompanies an effective ghost story, but placing your characters in an ancient mansion on a dark and stormy night will instantly throw an emotional distance between you and the reader. It shoves the fact that this is just a scary story down their throats, and removes their interest in your characters and the events going on around them.

Julia Dickinson ’22 (second place)

I’d say that my biggest tip for writing scary stories is to really target humanity’s insecurities. When you get people feeling uncomfortable, it is easier to scare them because they are off their guard. Going into writing the story, I didn’t really have any big ideas. I often find that when writing creatively, it’s best to have no set plans.

Kaeleen Chen ’23 (honorable mention)

I came up with my story from walking home in the dark one day. In the dark, everything is always scarier and I thought I could write about what might be hiding when I was walking home. The story was mostly based on the scary feeling of being followed, one that most people have experienced at some point. 

Some tips and tricks for writing scary stories are to build up suspense by not giving things away too quickly and to focus on the details of what the character senses. The classic horror tropes, such as lights going out and mysterious sounds, are also good to use. 

Caden Krauter ’23 (honorable mention)

I came up with the idea for the story by brainstorming many types of spooky ideas and selecting the most appealing one. For the contest, I selected a cultist story centered around a demonic god of mirrors. It’s hard to give tips for writing, but something that I find helps is coming up with major plot points before putting anything down on paper, and then filling in the rest while writing.

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