dark writing prompts

The horror genre has always been one that fascinated me. Some people love it while others can’t stand it. For those of us who enjoy horror, it seems like we just can’t get enough of it. There is something about being scared out of your mind whilst knowing that you’re perfectly safe that is super addicting. 

If you’re one of the people who enjoy a good horror story and want to write one of your own, then you’ve come to the right place! In this blog post, you’ll find 65 insanely scary horror writing prompts that will be sure to inspire your next psychological thriller.

Table of Contents

What are the Main Elements of a Horror Story?

Before diving into the list of writing prompts, let’s first determine the elements that are necessary to write a spine-chilling horror story. There are a few key components in every scary story that help create the feeling of apprehension and fear that are characteristic of the horror genre.

1. A Dark Setting

Every great horror story has a dark setting. Having the right kind of setting for your story is so important for many reasons. A change of setting will oftentimes change the tone of an entire scene. For example, think of a young girl walking home alone at night after a party. In one scene, she’s enjoying herself and having fun with her friends and in the next, she’s walking in the dark streets of her town. This simple change of setting already alerts your readers that something bad is most likely going to happen.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that every time you are writing a scary scene, it needs to happen in the dark. There are many other ways to create the effect of a “dark setting” without the lights having to go out. One of those ways is simply by isolating your character. Isolation is inherently scary because your readers understand that if something were to happen, your character would not be able to call for help. 

Although isolation and dim lighting are two of the easiest ways to create a dark, scary atmosphere, there are a lot of other ways you can achieve this. For example, you can write about your character’s smelling a weird, repugnant odor that seems to be coming from the walls. You can also use sounds, weird substances, or simply a strange feeling that suddenly causes your characters to feel uneasy.

2. Unsettling Characters

Horror stories will often feature characters that are somewhat off. Maybe they can have a physical feature that differentiates them from the beginning or a character trait that makes them seem strange. For example, they could have a crooked smile or uneven teeth, lack empathy, or seem very secretive. All these traits are good indications to your readers that this particular character may be dangerous which can make them apprehensive or curious about what will happen next.  

3. Fear

Of course, every scary story has to have fear. Including those heart-pounding moments is an essential part of any horror story. That is what your readers are here for and that is what they are expecting you to deliver. However, this is not always an easy task. 

When watching movies & TV Shows, it’s easier to create the emotion of fear within an audience because they can see and hear what is happening. However, when writing horror stories, you’re solely relying on your descriptions to create a sense of fear within your readers. Though this fact can be daunting, there are many tips and tricks you can use to help you write a terrifying story that will send shivers down your readers’ spine. 

One tip is to read other highly-rated horror books to see how they describe fear and what makes some descriptions more effective than others. You can use these other books to help you understand how to create suspense and to get inspiration. 

Another tip is to make sure you take advantage of all 5 senses. When writing your story, use your characters’ sight, smell, touch, hearing, and even taste to set the scene for your readers and make them feel like they are in the story. Remember that it’s often the subtle details that can transform a normal scene into a scary one, so be mindful of that. 

Here are a couple of ways you can instill fear in your readers: 

  • Use common phobias to inspire your story (like arachnophobia, claustrophobia, etc.)
  • Use Confusion to your advantage. Create suspenseful moments where your readers can feel like something bad is about to happen but don’t know WHAT. As humans, we fear the unknown so don’t try to over-explain certain scenes and let your readers be a little confused and apprehensive as to what is about to happen next.
  • Another tip is to trap your characters. The idea of being unable to escape is inherently terrifying to most people so this is a great way to create a sense of fear in your story. 

4. Violence

Last but not least, most horror stories feature some kind of violence. Adding some gory elements is a great way to capture your readers, keep them on their toes, and scare them. Remember that violence can be both physical and psychological. Your story does not necessarily have to feature freak injuries to be terrifying. You can use elements such as manipulation, mind games, and suspense to create a chilling atmosphere for your readers. 

Horror Writing Prompts In a Small Town 

dark writing prompts

The Nightmares that Never End:  Write a story about the residents of a small town who start to experience extremely vivid and disturbing nightmares. As time goes by, the nightmares of each resident slowly cross over into reality.

Dark Secret: Write about a character who moves to a small town to start a new life. As they are unpacking their stuff, they receive a letter that contains a list of their deepest fears and secrets. Where did the letter come from? How do they know these things about your character? 

Drawings: A struggling mother who is dealing with the aftermath of her recent divorce noticed that her daughter likes to draw. So, she gets her a sketchbook and some pencils. Soon after, her daughter starts to draw extremely disturbing images. 

Madness: A psychologist moves to a small town and soon realizes that she is the only mental health professional available. All the previous psychologists and psychiatrists either moved far away or mysteriously disappeared. As she tries to uncover the secrets behind this mystery, she slowly descends into madness. 

The Carnaval: Write a story about a very strange carnival that visits a small, isolated town in the middle of nowhere. Puzzled, the naive residents of the town all decide to attend a show and what they discover disturbs them deeply. 

Memory loss: A young girl decides to retire from her career as a journalist, move to a small town, and become a baker. However, she soon notices that the residents of the town never talk about their past. Confused, she decides to investigate the town’s history and discovers a dark secret. 

Hitchhiker: Write about a character who goes on a long hike by himself and gets lost. Whilst looking for his way back home, he stumbles across a small mysterious town with residents that are far from normal. 

Carnivore Police: Write about a small town where the police are rumored to eat their prisoners. 

Twins: A rich family moves to a small suburban town to start a new life. However, the residents of the town soon notice that something is very off about this family, especially their two twin teenage girls. 

The Radio: A small town radio station starts getting random calls from unknown numbers. Every time they answer, all they can hear are the sounds of people screaming in agony. 

The camping trip: Write a story about a group of friends who go camping right on the outskirts of a small abandoned town. However, as the days go by, they realize the town is not so abandoned after all. What they discover in the ruins of the town changes them forever.

Horror Writing Prompts in a Big City

dark writing prompts

Strange Noises: In the bustling city of New York, residents are haunted by inexplicable bone-chilling noises that echo through the streets at night. No one knows where the noises come from. Your character moves into the city not knowing what they’re getting into.  

A Perfect Life: Write a story about a character who befriends a group of friends who are all part of an exclusive club that promises to uncover the secret to a perfect life. Your character’s new friends try to convince him to join the club by going through a bunch of mysterious and twisted rituals. 

The Homeless Man and the College Students: Write a story about a homeless man seeking refuge for on a college campus. Unbeknownst to him, a group of college students are also having a get-together on campus. As these characters cross paths, the homeless man claims to be a psychic. Curious, the college students decide to let him predict their future and things quickly take a dark turn. 

Right Next Door: A young woman moves into a new apartment complex in her dream city. She quickly befriends her next-door neighbor and together they explore the city. Although she loves that she has made a new friend, she can’t help but wonder why her neighbor’s apartment smells like decomposing bodies. 

The Nursery Rhymes: Write a story about a group of parents who notice that their children are being taught disturbing songs at school. However, no one seems to take their concerns seriously until, one night, all the children start chanting in unison which causes most of the adults to fall into a hypnotic trance. 

The Street Musician: Write about a street musician whose songs cause people to experience mysterious and dark hallucinations. 

The City Lights: In a city where the crime rate is extremely low, a series of mysterious disappearances and deaths start occurring every week. Every single time someone is about to disappear, the city lights start to flicker in a very particular pattern. 

The Abandoned Factory: A group of young and adventurous teenagers decide to visit an abandoned factory across town. Although they all return home safe and sound, they start acting completely differently. As they start to lose their minds, their parents struggle to find the truth about what truly happened that night. 

The Labyrinth: Write about a character who dared to explore the abandoned labyrinth beneath a very famous shopping mall. Not only does he get lost but he also finds the remains of multiple missing persons. 

A Murderous Game: Write about a controversial social media app that’s only available for the residents of a specific city. This app can predict how, when, and which users will die in the next 6 months. However, your character discovers that the residents from another city have access to a different version of this app where they can control who lives and who dies. 

Horror Writing Prompts with a Serial Killer

Detective Work: A renowned detective is investigating a series of gruesome murders all while dealing with his deteriorating mental health. He has been losing his memory and experiencing extreme hallucinations. However, he is unaware that the killer he is looking for is himself. 

Survivors: Write a story about a serial killer who is hell-bent on killing anyone who has ever survived being kidnapped and almost murdered. He claims he wants to “finish the job”. 

The Therapist: Write a story about a therapist who hunts down his patients. 

The Experiment: Write a story about a horrible, unethical experiment gone wrong. Unfortunately, all the people who participated in this experiment either became depressed, took their own lives, or became murderers. What happened in the experiment and why was it so traumatizing? 

Playground: Write a story about a serial killer who was bullied and excluded as a kid. Now that he’s an adult, he is hell-bent on making his bullies pay for what they did to him. So, he decides to recreate a game that they all use to play together and whoever loses is killed on the spot. Whoever wins gets to live and there can only be one winner. 

Childhood Trauma: Write about a serial killer hell-bent on making his victims relive their childhood traumas before killing them. 

The surgeon: Write a story about a plastic surgeon turned serial killer who uses his victims’ faces as masks. 

The Blind Man: Write a story about a psychopathic killer posing as a blind man who likes to remove his victims’ eyeballs before killing them. 

Last Man Standing: Write a story about a young woman who believes she is cursed because everyone she falls in love with ends up dead. However, she is unaware that her first-ever boyfriend is the one killing all her partners. 

Siblings: Write a story about a character whose twin sibling is a serial killer. Although your character doesn’t yet know about the murders their sibling has committed, they know that something has always been off about them. 

Amnesia: Write a story about a character who wakes up in the hospital after having been in a car accident. Because of the accident, they have no memory of who the last couple of years but a series of clues leads them to believe that they’re the serial killer everyone has been looking for. 

Horror Writing Prompts with Supernatural Elements

dark writing prompts

The Child: Write a story about a mother whose daughter becomes possessed by an evil spirit. She believes that the only to save her other children is to kill her daughter. 

Alternate Reality: Write a story about a character who becomes trapped in an alternative reality where everyone he knows plays a different role in his life. For example, his girlfriend is now his mom and the younger version of his mom is now his girlfriend. 

The Widow: Write a story about a widow who is suspected to have killed her husband. But the truth is, her husband is the one who killed her and he has now taken her shape. 

The Camera: Write a story about a camera that photographs people as they truly are. So, if a person has good intentions, their photographs come out looking normal but if they have something to hide, their photographs come out looking monstrous. The uglier the picture, the more evil the person. 

A performance to remember: Your character gets free tickets to see a music show by an unknown artist. The performance starts normally but, midway through the show, strange things start to occur. The entire crowd, except for your character, seems to be in a weird trance-like state.  

The Tattoo: Your character wakes up with a weird tattoo on their arm that wasn’t there the night before. Every time someone close to them dies, the tattoo grows larger. Your character becomes fascinated by the tattoo and begins to enjoy seeing it grow. 

The Mask: Your character discovers a magical mask that, when worn, gives people the ability to read minds. Your character starts to abuse the power of the mask and soon starts to go mad.  

The Retreat: Write a story about a retreat that promises to cure people’s depression using a technique that involves reliving traumatic memories. However, as the characters delve deeper into the session, they discover that the owner of the retreat is a scammer and the traumatic memories are not even their own.  

The Vampire Hotel: Write a story about a character who is a huge fan of the supernatural. They decide to go to a bed and breakfast that is supposedly run by a family of vampires and that offers its guests the chance to experience the thrill of being hunted by the undead. Somewhere down the line, your character’s stay at the hotel goes from being fun to gruesome and terrifying. 

The Vengeful Spirit: Write a story about a spirit who latches on to people and makes them commit vicious acts. However, once the spirit leaves the person’s body, they have no memory of all the horrible things they did and have to deal with the consequences. 

The Forest: Write a story about a mystical forest that can strip people of their humanity. Once someone enters this forest, they start to act on their most primal desires and instincts. 

Haunted House: Write a story about a character who loves all things horror. One day they see an advertisement for a haunted house that looks terrifying. They decide to go with a couple of friends, thinking it’s going to be a fun little trip. What they don’t know is that this haunted house is real and is known to make groups of friends turn on each other.

Parallel Universe: Write a story about a character who somehow crosses into a parallel universe where there are no rules, there is no government, and no law. How does your character react? Do they embrace the chaos or try to keep their humanity until they find a way back home?

An Imaginary Friend: Write a story about a little girl who has an imaginary friend and often describes chilling details about their past. As the little girl’s stories become more and more disturbing, her parents start to question whether this friend is more than just a product of her imagination. 

Strange Creatures: Write a story about a character who is fascinated by the history and folklore of a small town. The town is rumored to inhabit these strange creatures that are half human, half beast. It is said that these creatures were once humans who devolved into animals over time.

Horror Writing Prompts for Young Adults

dark writing prompts

The amusement park: A group of teenagers decide to go to an amusement park at night. While trying out the rides, one of the teenagers ends up falling to their death. The rest of the group decide to keep this incident a secret. 

A New App: Write a story about a group of college friends who decide to try out a controversial app that was developed by someone from the dark web. It offers its users the chance to experience augmented reality. However, some of the effects within the app start crossing over into the real world. 

Boarding School: Write a story about a teenager who is sent to a boarding school in the middle of nowhere. There, they discover the bone-chilling truth about the history of the school and what they do to students. 

The Playlist: Write a story about a group of teenagers who discover a cursed playlist on the dark web. They decide to start listening to the songs and realize that the lyrics seem to predict their deaths.  

The Diary: Write a story about a college girl who discovers a journal in the library. Curious, she proceeds to open it. As she begins to read it, she realizes that the journal entries all mirror her thoughts and actions. 

An unforgettable summer: Write a story about a group of teenagers who go to a summer camp for gifted students. However, they soon realize that the camp is a psychological experiment conducted by the camp monitors. If they want to make it out alive, they have to complete the experiment.

The Underground: Write a story about a shy teenage girl who attends an underground club in the hopes of getting out of her comfort zone. However, with the mixture of peer pressure and alcohol, she ends up committing a horrible crime. 

Rumors: Write a story about a rumor that ruined a young girl’s life. Because of that, she vowed to find whoever spread that rumor in the first place and ruin their life as well. 

The Yearbook: Write a story about a group of friends who find a yearbook filled with pictures of students who disappeared or were found brutally murdered. The only person in the yearbook who didn’t die or disappear is currently in an asylum and is unable to speak. What happened to these students? 

Heartbreak: Write a story from the point of view of a character who fell in love, got their heart broken by their crush, and became obsessed with them to the point of stalking. 

Best Friend: Write a story about two best friends whose relationship slowly deteriorates due to jealousy. At one point, things get so bad that one of them ends up dead.

Mystery Writing Prompts

dark writing prompts

The Old Woman from Down the Street: Write a story about an old lonely woman who lives in an old dilapidated house. There are rumors all over town saying that this woman killed all of her previous lovers and ate their hearts. However, the real story of who this woman is is much more twisted than the rumors. 

The Young Couple: Write a story about a young mysterious couple who moves into a new town. Although the residents of the town seem to think this couple is extremely weird and creepy, your main character decides to befriend them anyway. The events that happen next shock the entire town. 

Dolls & Dead Bodies: Your character goes on a camping trip with some friends and they stumbled upon an abandoned factory in the middle of the forest. They decide to explore it. Inside, they discover life sized dolls that resemble the residents of their town who disappeared a few years ago. 

The Abandoned house: After the death of their grandmother, your character inherits an old mansion that belonged to their family for years. However, they soon discover that the mansion was once used to conduct unethical psychological experiments. 

Human Psyche: Write a story about an underground research lab that recruits volunteers by promising to help them overcome their anxiety through their new revolutionary technology. However, the researcher’s have much darker intentions and soon this simple experiment turns into a nightmare that no one could have anticipated. 

Plot Twist: Write a story about a best-selling author who is best known for going on crazy adventures in order to inspire her stories. This time, she decides to infiltrate a cult for her new novel but everything goes wrong.   

Blood’s thicker than water:  Write a story about a character who goes to live with some distant relatives after a tragic accident that killed their mother. At first, your character is pleased to meet all of their family members but they soon discover this tight-knit family has some extremely weird cult-like traditions. 

Writing original and intricate horror stories from scratch can be difficult. That is why using writing prompts is a great way to get inspired. I hope you enjoyed reading these horror story prompts as much as I enjoyed writing them! May they help you write chilling stories that will have your readers hooked. Let me know in the comments below which prompt was your favorite!

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