150 Heinous Horror Prompts and Ideas to Make your Readers Tremble
Whether you’re looking to scare, horrify, or make your readers jump, we are here with all the inspiration you need! We’ve created a horrific list of 50 horror writing prompts to give your writing that hair-raising, back-of-the-neck eerie touch.
Why Use Horror Prompts?
Horror books (as well as movies and TV shows) exist because human fear exists. And all readers love to feel something with each genre! Classic horror fiction books aim to frighten, and over time authors have found a myriad of ways to do that. Common themes include ghosts, ghouls, monsters, vampires, werewolves, demons, zombies, murderers, serial killers, paranormal forces, witchcraft, apocalypses, psychological fear, and gore.
So if you’re feeling uninspired, you think all the good ideas have already been taken (they haven’t), or you simply want to kick-start your imagination – take a look at our horror prompts list. We have included 50 specific examples of horror story ideas organised under sub-genres. We hope some of them send a tingle down your spine and inspire you to write your own creepy novel!
50 Horror Story Prompts
Word of warning: in keeping with the nature of the genre, most of these prompts contain violent or upsetting themes.
Comedic Horror Prompts
- You survive the apocalypse purely due to a series of happy accidents. It turns out, an alien race orchestrated the doomsday events on Earth to see if humans were ready to ascend. As lone survivor, you’re selected to be the sole representative of humanity in the new world order.
- Unpopular new arrivals in a town that treasures natural beauty, Michaela takes pity on her plastic surgeon father and goes to bed one night wishing that all of her classmates’ worst fears of their physical insecurities would come true.
- You work at a Zombie Rehabilitation Centre in LA. It was your dream job until you realise you’re stuck teaching ‘Bite Inhibition’ classes.
- Flattered to be one of the few freshmen listed on the most popular sorority’s website “Fresh Meat”, you turn up to a party in your honour at the Kappa Kappa house. At the end of the night, you discover a secret book containing a step-by-step plan of ‘How to eat the class of 2022’.
- Former beauty pageant queen transforms into a hungry werewolf on the most important full moon of the year, on the prowl for the ‘next pretty young thing’. This year’s pageant hopefuls are armed to the teethed and willing to fight for the crown.
- You’re a vain, ancient witch adapting to the 21st century by getting a job at the Apple Store so that you can enchant teenagers’ smartphones and sap their youth through their devices.
Demonic Possession Horror Prompts
- Stacey’s perfect family life begins to unravel one day when a malicious spirit moves in and inflicts itselfupon its host, jumping around between her, her husband, and her two daughters.
- You terrify your family when you wake up floating two metres above your bed. An exorcist tells them he’s cured you, but the demon doesn’t actually leave your body. It’s learned to come out only when you are alone.
- Taking part in a prison experiment for extra credit, 11 university students are unable to explain the violence that overcame them, and the brutal death of the 12th student, citing demons over any psychological element.
- You’re trying to put your house on the market. You’ve lived there all your life, and you’re the last surviving member of your family. Every estate agent you bring in to the house dies in a tragic accident days later.
Gore Horror Prompts
- Uni student Jamie was looking for some extra cash when he signed away two weeks of his summer vacation to take part in a simple clinical trial. But when he realisespatients are having their organs harvested against their will, his experience turns into a brutal, bloody nightmare.
- Someone in your neighbourhood has been committing grisly acts of violence on people at night. You set up a camera to investigate and catch an exact replica of yourself in the act.
- A well-intentioned break-in turns nasty for a group of friends who become trapped in a ‘chalet of death’ as the stunning vacation home turns into a gruesome automated killing machine at night.
- You take a summer job at an amusement park. When covering for a coworker on the rollercoaster booth one night, body parts start flying off the ride. You stop the train and find that all the passengers are long-dead corpses.
Monster Horror Prompts
- Night-time brings terror for caring but agoraphobic cat lady as her six beloved pets transform into flesh-hungry demons as soon as it’s dark out.
- You’ve seen The Quiet Place and Birdbox, but what if the monstrous entity who invaded Earth destroyedhumanity throughtouch? Each ‘spore’ is as big as a city, growing bigger each time it absorbs a victim. A pack of survivors must spread out if they want to make it through an ever-narrowing world in order to find, and destroy, the epicentre.
- Susie is a wedding photographer whose camera starts to reveal monsters unseen to the eye that prey on the love of newlyweds. When Susie’s clients start to disappear from their honeymoons, she is the only person who knows what’s really happening to them.
- You’re a teacher chaperoning swimming lessons at your school.You inspected the pool yourself, but when the kids get in you see an enormous, invisible creature come to life. The first drowning is ruled as accidental, and to your horror, the lessons continue.
Paranormal Horror Prompts
- College student Josh is tapped as a pledge for an ultra-secret society via coded messages, which are unbeknownst to him leftby the ghosts of past members who each met gruesome ends. The final test forces him intoan abandoned storage facility where he must carry out increasingly punishing tasks on other pledges.
- A close relative who died before you were born is standing in the upstairs window of the house across the street. You have no doubt it’s them. When you work up the courage to break in to the neighbour’s house and confront them, you turn to see the person you came to find now visible in the window of your own house.
- The local sheriff’s night turns hellish when the man he locked up uses his telekinesis to lethally booby trap the station.
- A mother of three does all she can to protect her family from imminent doom when she begins having visions of their collective deaths.
- You’re out walking the dog one afternoon when you find yourself caught in a physical endless loop in the woods. You feel yourself losing time but you can’t find a way out.
Post-Apocalyptic Horror Prompts
- Humanity took to the sea to survive the rising sea levels caused by climate change, but now their ocean rigs are massively overcrowded, resource-poor, and steeped in disease. A deadly class struggle breaks out on one of the stations.
- A wayward AI has slowly infected all computers and devices, subtly turning humans against each other. Now living in a culture of suspicion and distrust running on the currency of violence, nomadic young Kit refuses to kill to survive.
- You’ve grown up as the next generation of the most wealthy and successful humans who survived the end of the world. Your world unravels when you realise that those raising you have in fact been the robot overlords who destroyed humanity. They copied the skins of those they found locked in an emergency bunker and started to artificially grow humans as pets and slaves.
- Trapped inside a small cabin by her phobia of the rain, one of the last surviving human women on earth tries to survive the night when a horde of those infected with the plague (that wiped out most of the human race) track her down hungry for blood.
Psychological Horror Prompts
- After a tragic accident on his 21st birthday, Peter gets back in touch with his estranged fathervia email. He flies 6000 milesto stay with him, but when he arrives he’s pulled into a deadly catfishing game carried out by a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
- You wake up in your childhood bed, look down at yourself, and find that you’re 12 again. You can’t see yourself in the mirror, or in photos, but everyone else can see you. You’re convinced you’re going to disappear altogether.
- Suspecting his wife of infidelity, Ben hires a private investigator to catch her in the act. When she disappears without her lover, Ben begins to suspect the man he hired had something to do with it.
- You work the graveyard shift at a 24 hour on-campus library. While snooping around you come across a handwritten book that was started three decades ago. It contains a record of all the accidents and atrocities that have happened at the school since then. A week later, a girl falls off the roof and dies. During your next shift, you see a beloved professor writing in the book. You start to doubt everything when the death is ruled an accident.
Religious/Folk Beliefs Horror Prompts
- Summer is excited to be spending her semester abroad, until she witnesses some locals performing a horrifying ritual on her fellow traveller.
- Your parents reveal a horrid secret to you on your 18th birthday. Your idyllic lifestyle in a small, isolated community will come to an end if you don’t start participating in the cult’s obscene rituals. If you refuse, you’ll be sacrificed against your will for the cause.
- Born into a futuristic fringe community that abhors physical contact, a young woman’s attempts to break free are met with the harshest repercussions.
Slasher Horror Prompts
- Callie is delighted to be driving to college in her graduation gift – a brand new electric Mercedes – when an EMP attack leaves her stranded by the side of the road. There’s nothing but forest around for miles, until a lumberjack with a dark past pulls up beside her.
- Ten years after you said goodbye to your imaginary friend, you see their face on the evening news next to the headline ‘The Redfield Ripper’s Recent Attacks’.
- An insane chef renting a cabin in the woods sharpens up their knife skills on whoever is unlucky enough to disturb them.
Vampire Horror Prompts
- Cal is a postman resigned to a boring new route in a rural valley when he comes across three beautiful sisters living alone in a big house. He finds himself there almost every day hauling curious packages. A bout of bad weather knocks a tree down on the only road in, and a few days later, Cal is greeted with a terrifying scenario at the front door.
- For months, your dog keeps waking you up at the same time every night. He barks at the window. When you look out onto the street, you see the same stranger watching you. The stranger can’t be recorded, and nobody believes you when you tell them. One night, thinking yourself delirious, you invite him in.
- Told from the POV of the youngest sibling of an ancient coven of vampires, Clara and her familyare ‘monsters’ living their lives in fear of a powerful new hunter who has trapped them in a small town and is threatening to pick them off one by one.
Witchcraft Horror Prompts
- Down on her luck librarian Eliza idolises famous American movie star Marsha Green. When she comes across an ancient tome under some rotten floorboards and begins to meddle with unknown forces, she sets events in motion which alter Marsha’s life forever.
- You win the lottery. But every time you spend some of the money, no matter what you use it for, bad things happen. You go back to where you found the lucky ticket, pinned to a tree, and it’s now covered in unfamiliar symbols.
- A revolutionary new computer game downloads itself onto the laptops of a group of 11-year-olds. After playing all night, they return to school to find their in-game actions inflicted on their classmates. Suspecting their strict teacher to be behind it, the kids must figure out how to undo her spell and reverse the damage they have done.
- You’re an overbearing mother who wishes she could give her daughter the perfect life. You do more harm than good with your cosmetic spells and emotional enchantments, nearly destroying the life of your sixteen year old, who eventually exacts her revenge in equal measure.
- Working late one night, an exec finds himself unable to leave his bewitched office chair as a scorned investor instructs him to perform humiliating acts in front of his webcam as penance.
Zombie Horror Prompts
- A teenage girl goes to an illicit gathering in the woods one night and meets a boy. Their encounter ends badly. She wakes up to find teeth and nail marks, and realises she is a little less alive than she was the day before.
- You dreamt of the zombie pandemic as a child. You dedicated your life to preparing an antidote, waiting for the outbreak so you could develop a cure. You are shunned from the scientific community for your ‘fringe beliefs’. At the first signs of sickness in your loved ones, you kidnap them and take them to an underground research facility where you push yourself to your limits and make dire choices in anticipation of saving the human race.
- Years after her best friend is murdered, detective Alana’s latest case leads her to a mansion overrun by a horde of zombies led by a hauntingly familiar face.
- You’ve never questioned your landlord’s odd behaviour, desperate as you were for cheap rent. But when the fuse blows and no one is around to fix it, you uncover a nasty truth in the basement’s freezer. It’s overflowing with brains!
- You’re a doctor volunteering in the latest wave of deadly outbreaks across Europe. When you’re morally unable to kill patient zero in the early stages of a new unknown strain, you must live with unleashing the zombie virus across the world’s population.
50 Places to Find Inspiration for your Horror Story
The setting of a horror story is everything – but not all scary novels have to take place in a scary place (in fact, sometimes the most mundane of places can be given a horrifying twist by adding a bit of the unknown).
When looking for inspiration, it really helps to physically go to a place, or research old relics, to help kick-start your imagination. Take a look at our 50 places that may inspire your next creepy tale. In fact, see if you can think of a horror book or movie set in some of these places (we certainly can!).
- An empty school
- A graveyard
- Look at old paintings
- Go through old photo albums
- An empty house
- The basement
- The attic
- A toy store after closing time
- Visit an old library
- A museum
- An old lady’s house that hasn’t changed in decades
- A scrapyard
- The dessert
- The ocean (the deeper, the scarier)
- A secluded island
- The forrest on a misty day
- A snowy tundra
- A corn field
- A zoo
- A shopping mall
- An abandoned…well…anything
- A hospital
- A locked room
- A hotel
- A log cabin
- A swelteringly hot day
- Suburbia…but different
- A run-down urban street
- A room full of puppets
- Backstage of the theatre
- Empty corridors leading nowhere
- A morgue
- A rubbish dump
- An empty road in the rain
- The top of a mountain
- Ancient ruins
- The inside of a church
- A fairground after closing hours
- A circus
- A cave
- Beneath the streets of a big city
- A metro station/the tube
- An airport
- The kitchens of a hotel or restaurant
- A factory
- An old stone quarry
- Overgrown railway line
- A bookshop
- A boat
50 Horror Story Characters to Inspire you
Sometimes, the most simplest of storylines with the most mundane of setting, can be utterly horrifying of you add one very complicated character. Of course you can use monsters and fantastical characters you have created, but often the best effect is mixing an everyday character with a setting where they belong; for instance a clown hiding inside a car at an empty scrapyard, or a little old lady, bony and bent double, in the middle of the jungle. And remember – these characters can be the good gifs, the bad guys, or maybe a mix of both!
- Little old lady
- Troubled teenager
- A person with no eyes
- Police officer
- Woman with dramatically applied make-up
- Sex worker or pimp
- Someone with blades for fingers
- Baby in a crib
- Toddler that doesn’t speak
- Girl in bedclothes with hair that covers her face
- A character that belongs in another time
- Animal that can talk
- Person with wings for arms
- A very normal looking mother. A bit too normal.
- Someone who is meant to be dead
- Zoo keeper
- A goody-two-shoes child
- Airline pilot
- Captain of a ship
- Scientist (everyone loves a mad scientist)
- A single dad
- A mother with more kids than she can handle
- Sewage worker
- Lion tamer
- Builder working on an new house
- Security guard
- Traffic warden/meter maid
- Someone with wheels for feet
- Prison warden
- Door to door salesperson
- Shy secretary
- Nun or priest
Writing Horror Doesn’t Have To Be Hard
We hope our list of writing prompts for horror, along with settings and characters, has sparked your imagination! If not, here’s how to take our horror ideas to the next level:
Found a horror story prompt you like but unsure of where to take it next? Let’s take #8 from the top list, for example, and add a few interesting characters from our list and choose a setting or two. Then start to build an information bank on your protagonist from there. At this point focus on the character, not the plot – because often one thing can lead to another.
The Prompt: You’re a troubled teen who terrifies your family when you wake up floating two metres above your bed. You just moved into an old house in a quiet, creepy suburban street. An exorcist tells your family he has cured you, but the demon doesn’t actually leave your body, and learns to come out only when you are alone.
You’re still a teenager, living at home. Your name is Jackson, but you go by Jax. You’re a second generation immigrant and you speak Greek at home with your family. Your father named you after his favourite American baseball player. You have dark hair, dark eyes, and when you would steal your grandmother’s baklavas off the kitchen counter she would say she could see the devil in your face. You spend the weekends riding the coastal roads on motorbikes with your friends, doing your best to stay out the way of your spoiled little sister and your overworked father. You’re closest to your YaYa but too afraid to tell her where you spend most of your time. Moving house unsettled you and took away everything you ever loved.
Or, why not map out a rough plot first? The inciting incident for this prompt could be:
You’ve snuck back into your room after a long night out with your friends. You left the window open. Four hours after you collapsed onto your bed in your clothes, you wake with a start to find yourself hovering inexplicably in the air. Your body is locked into position. You spend a panicked hour trying to wriggle free of its grip, but you can feel another presence inside your own body, forcing you down. You’re going to be late for your new school, your sister is turning the doorknob and your father is yelling for you. Your feet frame the pure terror in the three faces at the door as your eyes strain to see them. Your grandmother recovers the quickest, stuffing her komboskini into your frozen fist and running out of the room to phone her priest.
Whether you start your horror story with just a vibe, a small seed of an idea, a great setting, character, or a full plot – it doesn’t matter. A great story can start anywhere, you just have to make sure that (like any scary monster) you keep feeding it and watch it grow bigger and more horrifying every day!
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By Thea Pelletier
About the author
Thea is part of the Writer Support Team here at Jericho Writers. She has a degree in German and English Literaturefrom The University of Edinburgh and enjoys spending time with her dogs andworking on her first novel in her spare time.
- An empty school.
- A graveyard.
- Look at old paintings.
- Go through old photo albums.
- An empty house.
- The basement.
- The attic.
- A toy store after closing time.
- A scary doll comes to life.
- A scene from a nightmare comes true the next day.
- Days go by, and your parents don't come home.
- You feel yourself slowly becoming a monster.
- Your friends start to disappear, and no one else notices.
- You're lost in the woods, and you don't know how you got there.
- Read more horror. ...
- Remember that horror can transcend genre boundaries. ...
- Focus on your own fears. ...
- Create three-dimensional characters. ...
- Recognize that the real can be scarier than the surreal.