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How to Come Up With Horror Story Ideas Producers Want to Read.

An easy 3-step guide to coming up with horror story ideas with a twist.

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by Script Reader Pro in Screenwriting Genres
March 28, 2024 0 comments
horror story ideas

How to come up with horror story ideas producers want to read.

Struggling to come up with an idea for a horror script? Or maybe you have a horror script, but it’s not quite resonating with readers?

Whichever camp you find yourself in, below you’ll discover how to come up with spine-tingling horror story ideas with a twist that’ll help sell your next horror script.

But first, here’s why if you want to become a screenwriter, writing a horror script is a great place to start.

Horror scripts are easier to sell because they’re cheaper to make.

Granted, not all horror movies are low budget, but many are. This because they generally require:

  • Minimal special effects
  • Minimal/cheap locations
  • B- or even C-list actors
  • Simple storylines
    etc.

This makes horror a very attractive genre for producers as it potentially offers the greatest bang for their buck. If your logline is as good as ones for the Blair Witch Project, Saw, Paranormal Activity, etc. they’ll likely want to read the script.

Which in turn gives aspiring screenwriters like yourself a much better chance of seeing their low budget horror movie up on the screen than, say, a big budget action flick.

Genre takes the spotlight.

Did you ever go see a horror movie because of the actors in it? No, you went because you probably saw the trailer or read the logline. In other words, people go to see horror movies simply because of the genre.

People want to be scared. And that’s it.

So you don’t need to worry about intricate plotting, dazzling locations, or deep characters to make the cut. All you need to do is write a screenplay that scares the reader out of their wits.

Sounds simple, right? But how do you do it? Follow us into the deep, dark woods to discover how…

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3 easy yet beautiful ways to come up with horror story ideas.

While there’s no cut and paste magic formula we can give you—and much of the creative process is, of course, ephemeral—here are some ideas on how to come up with horror story ideas.

Method #1. Rework loglines from other genres.

This involves simply looking at the loglines to some successful non-horror movies and flipping them into horror.

Let’s start with an obvious example: The Hangover:

Original logline:

When three buddies wake up from a bachelor party in Las Vegas, with no memory of the previous night and no sign of the bachelor, they must make their way around the city in order to find their friend before his wedding.

Sounds like a comedy, right? But what if we gave it a horror twist? Here’s an example:

Horror logline:

Three buddies wake up from a festival in Mexico with no memory, only to discover a mysterious video recording of their wild night. As they piece together the events, they realize that during a drunken ritual they each made a pact with a demonic entity.

This is just a quick example, and we’re sure you can come up with better ones, but the point is it’s pretty easy to come up with good horror story ideas just by reimagining existing ideas.

Here’s another twist on a non-horror logline, this time from the drama, Nomadland:

Original logline:

A woman in her sixties, after losing everything in the Great Recession, embarks on a journey through the American West, living as a van-dwelling modern-day nomad.

Horror logline:

A middle-aged woman traveling the country alone in a van, picks up a young female hitchhiker who draws her into a mysterious community living deep in the woods from which there is seemingly no escape.

Again, we’re simply taking the basis of an existing idea—in this case a non-eventful, plot-free drama—and reworking it into a plot-driven genre movie.

The technique can, of course, be applied to create any kind of horror film—from slasher, to gothic, to psychological, etc. All you need to do is brainstorm a logline from an opposing genre and flip it into horror.

Method #2. Become a horror aficionado.

It’s surprising how many aspiring horror writers have little knowledge of the genre they’re writing in. However, if you’re serious about trying to sell a horror screenplay/pilot you absolutely must understand the form, themes and conventionalities of horror as a genre:

  • Horror is the most binary of genres: life/death, us/them, me/you etc.
  • It’s the genre with the highest stakes—literal life or death
  • Its main theme concerns how mankind can’t comprehend the finality of death
  • The protagonist’s flaw is almost always connected to a crime in the past
  • The evil is almost always contrasted with innocence (via a child character)
    And on and on.

Here are some tips and ideas on how to achieve Hitchcock-level depth of knowledge of horror:

  • Watch dozens of horror movies/TV shows. Classic horrors, B-movie horrors, arthouse horrors, psychological horrors, etc. And always watch with a notepad and pen.
  • Watch dozens of non-horror movies and shows. Comedies for witty dialogue and light relief, action films for fight scenes, romances for a love B-story, etc.
  • Outline and break down horror movies. Write an outline of what’s happening on screen—scene by scene—of your favorite horror movies. (Read this post on how to outline a movie.)
  • Read and talk about horror. Buy books like John Truby’s masterful The Anatomy of Genres, sign up to dedicated horror websites, join online discussion groups, go to horror conventions, etc.
  • Check out horror writing prompts. Some writers like to use writing prompts to get their creative juices flowing. You can find two great lists here and here.
  • Break down and study movies, outlines, books. Basically, there’s no more time for passive movie/TV watching. From now on you should be dissecting every horror that you watch—figuring out the why behind the horror. Usually, horror comes up from a mixture of tension in the atmosphere, a relatable human experience and a shocking, unexpected twist. It’s your job to figure out how to make these moments stick with the reader long after they read “fade out”.

Method #3. Figure out what scares you.

Another great way to come up with ideas for horror stories is to simply think about what scares you personally.

You can do this by thinking about what horror situations scare you the most in movies/shows, as well as what (real or imagined) situations scare you in real life.

For example, if you have an underlying fear of home invasions, you may try channeling that to come up with a twist on a movie like The Strangers. Or if you get creeped out by amusement parks, you may use that fear to write a story set in one—like Haunt. Or if flying makes you sweat, write the next Final Destination. You get the picture.

Writing horror can be a challenge for writers because you can’t really cut it with a bunch of scary scenes, or some blood and guts, and that’s it. You need to make sure that underlying your horror story idea is a personal fear based deep in your own psyche.

Movies like Sinister, Midsommar, or Hereditary, are scary not so much because of the gore, but because they force the audience to confront their own worst, raw fears.

Figure out what you’re scared of—whether it’s getting lost in the woods, falling from a TV tower, clowns, or whatever it is—find it, and make it the star of your horror idea.

How to come up with horror story ideas: Conclusion.

Nailing a horror script that’s going to sell is all about coming up with horror ideas with a twist. Never go for the obvious choice at any point in the writing process—from coming up with the initial idea, to creating the characters, to crafting the plot and beyond.

Keep the reader on their toes, guessing what’s coming to come next and getting it wrong and you’ll be well on your way to creating a solid horror script.

And don’t forget to tap into your own worst fears. Your nightmares will also be someone else’s nightmares if you’re able to translate them well into a story.

Once you have that story or idea at hand, Script Reader Pro can help connect you with a professional screenwriter to turn it into a complete, sellable script. Get in touch with us any time for more info on our services.

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Enjoyed this post? Read more on how to come up with ideas for script…

How to Write a Logline: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide

20 Best Horror Scripts to Read and Download for Free

Script Ideas: 5 Proven Ways to Unlock Original Movie Ideas

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