Last time, I went over the three elements of a horror story as defined by Orson Scott Card—dread, terror, and fear. To read that post, click this link.
Sticking with that theme, today, I thought I’d continue with ways to make our horror fiction stand out by discussing clichés in the horror genre.
Furthermore, we’re going to go over some ways to avoid them.
Below is a list of clichés and their potential solutions.
- Haunted houses (especially with Victorian murder history or Indian burial ground)
- Solution: Set your story someplace not traditionally thought of as haunted. Someplace with no history of burials at all.
- Forest chase
- Solution: Turn the tables and have the would-be victims start chasing the antagonist through the forest. This would require a major shift in power-position, but it does avoid the cliché.
- Dystopian zombies, vampires, werewolves/shifters, clowns
- Do a search for cryptids on Google. There’s a whole world of them in other countries that aren’t nearly so famous and overdone. Pick one. Or even better, pick a few and create your own hybrid.
- Accidental satanic ritual (trying to summon dead family; get something else)
- Solution: Just embrace it. Have your ritual-conductors try to summon a demon.
- Broken down car and no phone working (cutting off transportation and communication)
- Solution: Let the car work, but make where they drive to worse than where they left. Let the phone work, but make the person they call for help be more of a danger than the person they’re afraid of.
- Friends/family/cops don’t believe the story
- Solution: Let them believe the story. Let them believe it, embrace it, commit to helping. Then when they’re fully onboard, have the villain kill them so the hero is all alone.
- Inept cops
- Solution: Just don’t. It’s so overdone.
- Jock/military guy thinks he can beat the villain
- Solution: The alpha male always thinks he can win. Let the little guy or girl do it.
- New person in group conveniently useful
- Solution: Spread out talents among the group and don’t give the new person an abundance of skills, particularly the most convenient one.
- Mirror/reflection evil
- Solution: Don’t. Don’t do the evil twin, either. The duality-thing has been done to death. If you insist on using the mirror, make the entity in the mirror the good one and the person on the “outside” the evil.
- Creepy kid with imaginary friend
- Solution: Let the kid be the hero. If he has an imaginary friend, maybe he’s the hero.
- Un-killable killer (often masked or deformed; often mute)
- Solution: This is pretty much just in slasher films, which you’re not writing. If you are writing this, I encourage you not to.
Maybe you noticed something about these solutions. They’re all about subverting the reader’s expectations. The best way to avoid a cliché is to take what the reader is used to and either turn it on its head or avoid it entirely.
So, how about it? Any horror clichés I missed? Any good ways to avoid these or others? Let’s talk about it.