Time for this year’s October round of Writers Reveal! This month’s prompt was sent to us by Ashley Howland, who suggested we write about something “scary”.

It’s almost Halloween. Do you like scary stories? What characters scare you the most? How do you create a villain?

Based on that idea, here’s my take on writing scary stories and characters. Thanks for the topic, Ashley!

Dare to Scare

The Nightmare Before Christmas Poster

Poster for Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

To be perfectly honest, I have minimal experience with scary stories. Horror is definitely not my favorite genre; in fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s one of the themes I like the least. Maybe it’s because I was kind of a fraidy cat growing up, so I made a point of avoiding anything that I thought might scare the pants off me, including horror stories.

In order to discuss what makes a story scary, I guess I’d have to think about the reasons I avoid them. What is it about horror and certain thrillers that repels me but likely attracts others?

  • They bring out that innate fear instinct I don’t usually experience.
  • They touch on certain emotions that I’m not used to feeling.
  • They make me more aware of the terrifying things in the world.
  • They sometimes give me nightmares.

Plenty of people seek out horror because they like to get back in touch with those primal emotions that humankind has been gradually leaving behind since the days of prehistory. I suppose it’s the same reason people ride roller coasters or go skydiving: they enjoy the thrill of fear contained within safe conditions. Many people like to be scared. But I’m not one of them.

I admit it: I don’t care very much for scary stories in general. But what about their characters?

What Makes a Good Villain?

Though most of the thought I put into character development is for protagonists and secondary figures, antagonists are just as important. After all, what’s a hero without a villain to balance them out? My protagonists drive my stories forward; my antagonists give them something to drive toward.

So what does it take to create a good villain? I guess it mostly depends on the story, but the way I see it, there are a few criteria by which every antagonist can be measured. Good villains fulfill their role as the “bad guy” in their stories, great villains evoke the strongest negative emotions in us, and the best villains are those infamous evildoers who are simply impossible to hate.

Vader-Loki-Voldemort-Joker

Some of cinema’s most beloved villains. From left to right: Darth Vader (Star Wars), Loki (Marvel Cinematic Universe), Voldemort (Harry Potter), The Joker (The Dark Knight)

My favorite villains are the ones I remember long after the story is over, which ironically is also what makes them the scariest characters in my eyes. They’re evil and creepy with just the right amount of lovable madness to make them really stand out, sometimes even more than their respective heroes. I hear the words Star Wars and immediately think of Darth Vader before I think of Luke Skywalker. I watch The Dark Knight and silently cheer every time the Joker appears on screen. I play Portal and the passive-aggressive psychopathic A.I. GLaDOS captivates me with her witty sarcasm before I can even remember Chell’s name. Even Inglourious Basterds makes me question my standards of evil, thanks to Christoph Waltz’s brilliant performance as the charismatic yet ruthless Nazi Colonel Hans Landa.

Antagonists are a common necessity in good fiction, but they don’t have to take a back seat to the protagonists. The creepiest characters are the ones who leave their mark, who are believable enough to make us feel the most powerful emotions and who fascinate us into wondering what they’ll do next. Keep that in mind, and you can create some truly scary stories with awesome characters that leave your readers wanting more! Good luck!

Do you enjoy scary stories? What sorts or stories or characters scare you the most? How do you create your villains?


This has been a special topic post for Writers Reveal, a monthly blog swap among several talented writers. Be sure to check out the other blogs participating in the event. Thanks for reading!

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Other bloggers in Writers Reveal
Melissa Khalinsky: Melissa Writes
Becky Fyfe: Imagine! Create! Write!
Ashley Howland: Ghostnapped
Emily Hawker: You Learn Something New Every Day
Lee-Anne Walker: Is it just me?

We’re looking for more bloggers to join our circle! If you’re interested in participating in this monthly roundup, be sure to contact Emily Hawker so she can include you in our email list. Thank you!

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