Vocabulary Words for Writing Scary Stories
Description is one of the four main forms of discourse, according to David Grambs’ “The Describer’s Dictionary.” When writing scary stories, use a thesaurus or other vocabulary reference book to enhance your description of events, places and characters. The more interesting your vocabulary, the better your readers will be able to imagine themselves in the story.
Words That Set the Mood
A truly horrifying story establishes an eerie atmosphere right from the beginning. An effective writer will send signals to the reader that the story will be scary and depressing using such vocabulary as “gloomy,” “somber,” “dreary,” “forbidding” and “creepy.” You can also ascribe scary characteristics to inanimate objects to heighten the mood. Buildings can appear “intimidating,” and a forest can look “menacing.”
Words That Evoke the Five Senses
A tale is even scarier when readers can see, hear, touch, taste and smell things in the story. A place can exude an “acrid,” “pungent” or “choking” stench. The protagonist can hear strange “clanking” sounds, or a scary character can speak in a “dark,” “steely,” “sepulchral,” “sibilant” or “guttural” voice. Use hues such as “pitch black” and “ebony” to describe things that are dark. A drink or item of food can taste “sour,” “fetid,” “foul” or “rancid.” Objects can feel “slimy” or “grimy.”
Words That Heighten Suspense
H. P. Lovecraft, a famous American horror novelist, wrote that “the strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” A writer can increase fear in a reader by not giving away every detail of a monster, ghost or place. Establishing something as mysterious builds suspense, as the reader fills in the blanks with his own imagination and desires to continue reading to find out more. Ambiguous descriptions, such “an amorphous creature,” “hazy air,” “opaque waters,” “tenebrous valley” or “unintelligible sound” create a disturbingly unfamiliar atmosphere for the reader.
Words That Show Fear
A scary story needs a protagonist frightened out of her wits. Words like “horrified,” “horror-struck,” “petrified,” “panic-stricken,” “appalled,” “witless” and “aghast” will do; however, representing the signs of a protagonist's fears are even better. Perhaps she has “droplets of sweat” on her forehead, her knees are “knocking,” or she is “trembling,” “quivering,” “shuddering,” “quailing” or “quaking.” You can describe her as “transfixed” or “paralyzed” in place.
- Preface: “The Describer’s Dictionary”; David Grambs, 1993
- Supernatural Horror in Literature; H. P. Lovecraft
Nadine Smith has been writing since 2010. She teaches college writing and ESL courses and has several years experience tutoring all ages in English, ESL and literature. Nadine holds a Master of Arts in English language and literature from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, where she led seminars as a teaching assistant.