Vocabulary Words for Writing Scary Stories

Necronomicon book with straw doll

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.

1. Utilize 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.

  • Examples include: gloomy, somber, dreary, forbidding and creepy

You can also ascribe ​​scary​ ​characteristics to inanimate objects to heighten the mood.

  • Buildings can appear “intimidating"
  • A forest can look “menacing"

2. Use 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.
  • 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.”

3. Find 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.

4. Include 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.
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