I want to write a short horror story. What are the best ways to set a dark tone or mood to the story? Just in a short introduction, if I want to introduce a character or place as a place I would not like or a person I would not like, what is the best way to do so? This story would be based on a slight mix with the supernatural with realistic touches.

Let's say I have a seen where I have to build up tension till a certain character meets a ghost or demon, how would I do so?

3 Answers 3


Remove the notion of 'sight'. Vision is by far the most important way we have of seeing things; fear comes greatly from what you're unable to perceive.

So add some unknown. Remove sight, increase smells, sounds, and any other form of perception. There is nothing so frightening as the anticipation of what's coming to you, so make sure to stretch the phases of unknown to their maximum. Anticipation is your best tool.


To learn writing a specific tone; read books that has the kind of tone you want. You can even retype a chapter or two to get a feel for how that author/tone "feels in your fingers."

Here are a few specific examples of what might work (and they are kind of in priority order as well):

  • A protagonist that follows a negative character arc has the potential to leave your readers with a sense of doom and gloom (short story tip: start with the climax)
  • In general dark stuff that happens and dark things that characters have to do should help get things dark - death and depression; death by sword for adventures; death by cancer for more adult dark stuff...
  • A light contrast to the darkness will make things even darker, e.g. hopelessly hopeful character (that bites it)
  • Descriptions and metaphors that allude to death, decay, destruction, what have you, think morbid thoughts while describing everyday things E.g. chest drawers like toothless life sucking jaws, or a bone white full moon (cliché warning), oh and night, and darkness
  • Listen to depressive, dark music while writing, it might contaminate the pages

Here's an exercise: Your character's father has just hanged himself in the barn. Describe the barn from the character's point of view. Then edit the text and remove all references to the hanging. How have you described the barn?

However, I don't think you have to have so much "dark tone" in there. Just a few well chosen words here and there... or it risks turning into melodrama or exaggeration.

And, you shouldn't start with the tone, if that's what you're doing. Your first step should be to develop the characters and the plot, and write the first draft. Once you have that, see what edits you can do to turn things darker. You could develop the darker things and remove some of the lighter.


This is a very generic question, because a) it depends on many things; b) there is more than one way, and more than one good way

Do you want the story to be supernatural, explained, or ambiguous? "Supernatural" means there are, indeed, demons, ghosts, and goblins. "Explained" means you're just imagining it, or you're being taken for a ride - it's the so-called "Scooby Doo Gothic". Ambiguous is, well, self-explanatory.

Some general tips:

  • try to unsettle your reader. The best way to do this is to opt for ambiguity. Demons are scary, and so is madness, but it's even scarier when you can't differentiate between the two.
  • try to include the reader. Use metatextual strategies, try to make the reader realize that the reality of the text and his/her own reality need not be two separate things. There are many ways to do this, but perhaps the easiest and a quite effective one is defamiliarization
  • Be ambiguous when you describe time or setting. "Some time" is better than "five minutes", and "a field of unknown length" is better than "a field as long as a football stadium".
  • Use "marker words" related to your genre, as well as to the point above. Examples: "endless", "infinite", "vast", "unreal", "hazy", "uncanny", etc.

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