I’m a sucker for all things scary. Except for zombies. Those freak me out a bit too much. As one of the YA Scream Queens, I’m privvy to a variety of YA horror novels and I find it fascinating that out stories are so different and yet all have the same intention: to unnerve our readers in some way.
Horror is so subjective, and that makes it–like comedy–a very hard genre to write. What terrifies one reader gets a “Meh” reaction from another. When my agent has had my work on submission, I had one editor say they just didn’t find the story that frightening and another editor said she had to sleep with the lights on and still had nightmares.
Because of the subjectivity of scariness, I approach writing horror in this way: write what scares you. If you the author are legitimately unnerved and ready to jump out of your skin when writing a horror scene, that energy will translate into the story. I remember writing one scene in a project that had me so disturbed that I had to turn on more lights and walk away from the computer to check the windows several times when writing it–and every single one of my crit partners and my agent pointed to that scene as being scarier than all get out. I wrote something that frightened me, the author. Even though it was my creation, it scared me, and my unease bled into the page.
And when you go back to revise those scene, don’t wince. Don’t soften the scare. Timing is everything, and tone is important, too. But if you are unsettled, your readers will be, and that is the ultimate goal of any horror novel.