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On Writing Children’s Horror


By Trista Herring Baughman

Hello, Dear Readers!

Autumn has arrived, and once again, I’m cranking up the spooky tunes, baking my favorite Fall treats with the kids, and watching my favorite Spooky-season movies. Of course, all of this leads to telling scary stories.

We read them (The Scariest Stories You’ve Ever Heard is at the top of the list!), we tell them from memory, we make them up. We create them with Rory’s Story Cubes and my vintage 1990s Goosebumps Storytelling Card Game. (You should try that sometime if you’re stuck on your WIP.)

Children’s Horror is my favorite genre to write. Here are a few tips for writing children’s horror.

Tips for Writing Horror for Kids (8-12)

1. Your MC (main character) should be a child, typically around 12 years old. If the MC isn’t human, they still need childlike attributes. Your MC should act and think like a kid.

2. Don’t kill anyone (even bad guys). If anyone dies, it should happen “off-screen” at some other time and not be in the story in too much detail. If there’s violence, don’t make it too horrific (no firearms, gory scenes, intense fighting, etc.)

3. Don’t get too real. You don’t want your readers to feel like this is something that could happen in real life. Vampires, ghosts, werewolves, Bigfoot, and mummies chasing after them is fine. Steer clear of domestic violence, alcoholism, abuse, and the like.

4. Your villain should be some kind of fictional monster, not human.

5. Add a bit of humor. Yes, you want to scare the taters out of them, but you also want to make them giggle.

6. Keeping your paragraphs and chapters short— along with not using big, fancy words—will ensure the appropriate readability for your story’s audience.

7. Adult themes such as sex and drugs don’t belong here.

8. Your ending should be happy. It’s ok to throw in a twist. Maybe your MC turns into a monster, but he discovers his family members are secretly monsters, too. Or perhaps she defeated the mad mummy, but what are those glowing eyes in the bushes as she walks away?

There’s much to say about this genre, but these suggestions will set you off to a good start. I hope you have a fantastic Spooky Season. Happy writing!

Trista Herring Baughman is a blogger, the Managing Editor of Writing from the Peak (PPW’s blog,)  and the Managing Editor of Mississippi Folklore, a collaborative collection of Mississippi folklore and legends in a bi-monthly blog. Her books, The Magic TelescopeHalloween Night and Other Poemsand Zombiesaurs (which she co-illustrated with her sons), can be found at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Visit Trista on her website for more info.

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