Clichés in Horror

Ciao, SEers!

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.

Staci Troilo Bio

68 thoughts on “Clichés in Horror

    • We adopt them into our zeitgeist and just accept them as a norm. But if we step back and analyze them, we can recognize them as trite and more than a trope of the genre, but a gimmick. If we try, we can do better. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  1. This is such a good post, Staci. Cliches are such a pet peeve of mine, so I wholeheartedly agree with you. The note on the cryptids… yes!! This can be a fun research project for someone looking for the right creature or monster. There really are tons of options, and I’m glad you mentioned it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post, Staci! I don’t watch or read many horror movies/stories anymore, but the ones that always held my interest were the ones who put a spin on things. The twist on the trope was always what I enjoyed. You gave great alternatives. Well done! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As a horror fan, you know I enjoyed this post. I just finished a book by an author known for her haunted house stories, but she spun this one into something I haven’t come across. It was sweet twist that left my mouth hanging open.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What an intriguing and fun topic, Staci. You know I’m a huge fan of cryptids, so I’m always appreciative when I find a book that uses them rather than more common creatures like vampires, zombies and werewolves. There was a time I really enjoyed a good vampire or werewolf story, but as often happens, the market got flooded with them. I’m still a sucker for a haunted house story, but I like when those are filled with unexpected twists that leave me surprised and glad I spent time with the novel.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I used to devour vampire stories. But the market did oversaturate, and I got sick of them. I’d read them again, though, if someone came up with a fresh take on the creature. (I think that’s why Twilight did so well. It wasn’t the writing. It was the sparkles.) I like haunted house stories, too. And always will. But I need twists. The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix was fabulous. The Haunting of Bly Manor wasn’t as good. It wasn’t as surprising. If there’s a third in the Haunting series, I’ll be interested to see what I think of it. (I think the same holds true in visual mediums as in books.)

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The “don’t go in the basement” trope is the one that gets me. You gave us a great list and good ideas on how to flip clichés. I still have a soft spot for traditional monsters. I just like them in nontraditional stories–like the way Patricia Briggs uses werewolves and Fae, etc. I don’t read very much true horror, though, so I don’t know what writers are doing these days.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not much you can do about true horror. That’s the way things happen. And real monsters are always more horrifying than anything a creative can conjure for a book or screenplay.

      The basement or attic trope drives me nuts. Why do people always run up or down, away from ground-floor escape routes? So infuriating! I watch slasher flicks just to yell at them. lol

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I still use some classic monsters, but try to turn them on their heads. Kevin the vampire is one I put a lot of effort into. I agree with trying to change things up. I call this low hanging fruit, but we can still accomplish the isolation for example in different ways.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re a perfect example of the point I’m trying to make. You never use cliché examples of anything in your work. Kevin is BY FAR not your stereotypical vampire. He doesn’t sparkle, he doesn’t seduce, and he’s certainly not an alpha-male by any definition of the word.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I really do try to change things up. Sometimes it works. I have used the standard issue zombies, but only so Lizzie and the hat could torch them. I still laugh when thinking about those false teeth falling at their feet.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. What a fun topic so close to Halloween, Staci. These are great tips to avoid overdone cliches. As someone else said, the ideas are pretty basic horror, but as you said, what you do with them is what makes the difference. For instance, your suggestion about the chase through the forest. Brilliant!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I generally agree with you on these points, Staci. They have been done to death so unless you have something really unique to bring to the party [like a certain Mr Boyack with werewolves and so on], its best to give these a miss. Phantom of the Opera has an excellent mirror scene. Really creepy.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I thoroughly enjoyed this post, Staci. Not only did I learn a lot, but your examples and suggestions left me laughing. You’re brilliant and I love your sense of humor. Thank you! 😊

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Pingback: Clichés in Horror by Stacy Troillo – on Story Empire – DEEZ – News about Art, Books & more

  11. Great list, Staci. A lot of things are overdone in all genres. But I once heard at a writer’s conference there are no new ideas, just different ways to write them. Had to chuckle about the broken-down car and no phone because I had an idea of writing a short story with something like that in mind. Now, I’m rethinking that idea.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I love this topic! (You knew I would.) The jock could be scared right away and high tail it out of there, taking the car and leaving all his friends behind. At the end of the story, the competent cops he sent arrive (after the wimpy people gathered forces and defeated the monster).

    I think traditional monsters can still do well if authors keep pushing the definition. Right now I’m reading a vampire story, but the vampires come from the ocean and must bathe in sea water. (I can’t mention the book because the reader doesn’t know there are vampires running around until well into the story, a spoiler.)

    There’s often a fire at the end of a Gothic horror novel. What if the house is reborn in pristine condition instead?

    This is a fun topic!

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Some excellent suggestions. I don’t write horror, but some of these ideas can be adapted to other genres, I think.
    And I personally hate zombies, and am fed up with vampires (who seem to have morphed from something bad and inherently evil and scary into something trying, at least, to be ‘good’. Well, some of them I’ve read recently. Equally with werewolves. (Although I do have someone who is turned into a shapeshifter by magic gone wrong.)

    Liked by 2 people

    • I was never into zombies, either. (This will shock a lot of people, but I haven’t seen a single second of The Walking Dead.) I’m also tired of vampires. I used to enjoy the vampire creature and its mythos, but it’s been overdone. I’m ready for something new. There are so many creatures out there we haven’t seen a lot of (or seen at all), and writers have such fertile imaginations, we can create infinite other monsters. It’s time to move past the old standards.

      Liked by 2 people

  14. You make a good point of things over done un horror writing. It’s fun if things are more unexpected, I agree. Although I admit to still enjoying a haunted house in the forest with limited communication 🙂 I like Halloween too much not to appreciate that. Good post, Staci. You offer good suggestions to avoid some clichés.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Well, some things are classics. And for a reason, I suppose. The sense of isolation is what raises the stakes. But we need fresh takes on things or they get tired. There have to be ways to set a story in a haunted house in a forest and still make it feel new, or it’s going to be the “same-old, same-old” and no one will want to read or watch it. Find a way to flip that trope on its head, and I’m in!

      Liked by 2 people

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