I haven't written anything horror, but I have had scenes in my past stories that my friends have stated was 'creepy,' so I've decided I wanted to attempt to write something scary. I tend to lean into Fantasy when I write, though, so I feel like I may end up writing some super cliché variation of a ghost story everyone's heard before. Knowing this, I want to try something more realistic, but I'm not sure exactly where to start.
A lot of horror stories don't actually start with scenes of terror and gore - generally, these stories will start with - not exactly a happy scene - but an everyday scene, that will then be subverted by the horror aspects. Then again, I've also read a fair few horror stories that grab the reader's attention with a terrifying extract. For example, a story might start by reflecting back fifty years ago when a family was murdered in their beds. This might act as the prologue, and then chapter one would begin with this everyday scene. Different methods work for different writers, so maybe try each and see which one you prefer!
I might also add that if you want to write horror, one of the most affective ways of doing this is by harnessing Freud's theory of "the uncanny". If you're unfamiliar with this, it's kind of like that feeling when you're walking down the stairs and you think that there's an extra step - it's all about taking something familiar, ie. your home, and changing small details that only you would notice. It plays on humanity's fear of the unknown and is generally very effective.
Anyway, good luck with the writing and I hope that you get the hold on that opening!
Well, asking where to start with a horror story is a pretty broad question. It really comes down to what story you feel you want to tell.
You mentioned writing the ghost story everybody's heard before- this isn't an issue you should worry about. If this is your first attempt at writing a horror story, don't get too caught up with originality. If you like it and continue to write this genre, over time you will develop your niche and write stories like Stephen King.
Also, what do you mean by "more realistic"? I would specify that question a bit more if I were you.
If you mean to say you don't want to take it to a fantasy level and you want to keep it more in tune with our current world, then I would study thrillers and real life situations that were terrifying. Horror stories don't always have to include a ghost.
Where to start? I would begin by reading some horror stories, there are way more to them then just ghost stories. Or, if you don't want to take the time to do that, just watch some movies.
After reading/watching other scary stories, you may find a spark of inspiration. You write a horror story almost just like any other story. If you want it to be really good, read articles on subtlety, elements of horror, etc.
I got into writing horror after watching lots of scary movies that I loved.
Good luck (:
Start with introspection. Your friends said some things you wrote were creepy; so it sounds like you did not even think so until they told you so.
What was creepy about it? Do you write cold-blooded characters well? Do you write scenes of blood and guts well? Do you write emotional devastation well? Are you good at brutal rape scenes? Or is it a feeling of dread? or supernatural presence?
You are writing something that gives them the creeps, and it is always a good thing to be able to write something that evokes a visceral feeling, but you need to focus and figure out a type of scene (or more than one) that you are naturally good it.
You want to build on that foundation; in an escalating manner, and (as Stephen King says) build yourself a kind, sweet, normal kind of character, somebody the reader can identify with, the girl next door, and then put her in the cooker. A small bit to start, a frightening but ultimately forgettable incident (like a car wreck, or being present for a bank robbery, but horror type). Then another, and another.
A horror story is like any other in the sense that the first act moves from normal to a clear problem, the problem escalates and the hero fails to stop it, then a key is found and after more losses the hero finally prevails after giving their all; or gives their all and fails, and the problem laughs and moves on to its next victim.
The villain can be personified, or environmental (e.g. cancer, poverty, mental illness, trapped, etc).
You need to start with generalizing whatever it is you are doing right, and stop doing it by chance or accident and start doing it on purpose.
Stephen King also leaned towards fantasy than horror, in fact, ALMOST ALL OF HIS NOVELS HAPPEN IN THE SAME SHARED UNIVERSE. This leads to incredibly funny moments when you realize that the greatest enemy of the cosmic horror clown (It) is the giant turtle Jesus, Maturin.
More often than not, King writes grimdark novels, not horror ones. In fact, horror novels really don't exist for me (only ones with rather scary implications), as horror is tied to the illusion of control, but you are not the characters in the book, you just read what they are doing, however you are the character in a vidya game, and you are the person who gets jumpscared, because your primitive brain still thinks that this thing will jump out of the screen and eat your face off.
A good "horror" novel wants to ensure, that once you finish it and put it back to the shelf, the world becomes a much scarier place than what it was before, so books about the existential crisis are the best "horror" novels.
A thing to consider: We remember the killers and the monsters better than the victims, this is what kills slasher horrors. Horror is always the first layer, and under it, there's a second one (from good characters to interesting questions, it can be anything as long as executed well), and you can't use horror as the only layer because then it ceases to be good, once the first layer is inevitably washed away. Example:
Under Unfriended, there's an interesting (and possibly unintended) question about whether the revenge of Laura Barns was justified or she represents the stagnation, and the undying anger that perpetuates hatred, and the one who's rotten philosophy is opposed to the equivalently rotten (but potentially necessary) philosophy that serves as a basis for our civilization: "Some things are better left forgotten, for now".
The most terrifying novel I ever read and one of the greatest horror novels (Stephen King's Pet Sematary) started with a happy family moving into a suburban house. The horror element starts many pages later. Such a simple beginning -- an everyday event as mentioned in Emily's answer here -- can be disquieting on its own if the reader knows this is going to be a horror novel. As other answers have stated, horror is not about horrifying scenes alone, but equally about terrifying possibilities as in W.W.Jacobs' all-time classic "The Monkey's Paw." Of course if you are writing a short story like that you might need a more impactful opening.
I am no writer myself but a very experienced 'constant reader' and I have found that great power can be achieved by surreal scenes which some writers describe as 'a few degrees off-angle to reality' or 'just a shade insane' -- somebody even called it 'the mind going off the rails for a few seconds' and that somehow tremendously intensifies the reader's unease. A brilliant example is the 'boys' boarding school scene' in Talisman by King and Straub, as also several scenes related to the magician's craft from Peter Straub's great novel Shadowland -- I write this to make the point that in our over-exposed age when youngsters are thoroughly familiar with slasher genres, a subtle terror that disturbs the subconscious mind can still be extremely effective, paradoxically more sinister than obviously florid horror.
To be fair, writing horror is where I struggle most in writing as well, but I do listen to a lot of very creepy stories online.
One thing I am certain about is with all of the stories, they all have 1. a protagonist, 2. an enemy force or person or thing, 3. and they all have a twist of surprise.
My personal favorite is a story called "The Minimalist" It has the main character, who is roommates with someone who went to Japan, and learned how simplistic their living conditions were and decided to adopt them too. The roommate took the minimalist life too far and got rid of everything in his apartment, while the main character watches this happen.
In the end, the main character ends up just like his roommate, squished inside of a cramped wardrobe, nothing to eat, and nothing to wear.
It's got all of the elements present, and it brings an eerie feel when it's told.
I suggest following those guidelines in order to have at least a good start.