By: Kathryn Clark
I want to start this post by saying that I am completely, unabashedly a literary nerd. Whenever I read a story, part of my mind is always whirling in the background, figuring out how the story works and what techniques the author used to make the pieces fit together. The downside is that after a while, certain stories tend to become predictable. This is especially true of horror. I spend quite a lot of time on reddit/nosleep (a forum dedicated to horror stories), and though most of the posts are good, I rarely find one that actually surprises me. Which is too bad, because I believe that genuine shock is one of the best tools in a horror writer’s arsenal.
There is definitely a technique to writing a good plot twist. You need to keep a careful balance between revealing too much information and not revealing enough. Too much info, and the reader will see the twist coming from a mile off. Yet there’s much less satisfaction in twists that appear out of nowhere. The best plot twists don’t just shock you for a moment – they make you comb through the story a second time, your eyes widening as you realize how many clues were scattered throughout the plot, wondering how you could have missed this the first time.
I love any well-written plot twist, of course. But when horror stories utilize this technique, the shock from the twist mingles with the horror that the story induced, making both reactions even more potent. I believe that there’s something inherently frightening about the unknown. Known enemies are frightening, but they at least offer a sense of certainty. When facing the unknown, anything could happen. You’re frightened without knowing exactly why you should be frightened; haunted by things you could never understand. And while this type of uncertainty is scary enough on its own, the best plot twists will take it a step further. They allow you to believe that you know what’s happening, only to rip away that security without warning. It feels as if the ground has crumbled beneath your feet, and I find these sudden reversals to be terrifying in a way that few other stories are.
Out of the hundreds of stories that I have read online over the years, there have only been a few that have managed to evoke a visceral reaction from me. If any of you are looking for a horror story that will shock you to the core and knock the wind from your lungs, I have a few recommendations. “My Girl” is exceptionally creepy precisely because of the hints it litters throughout the text. It took me a few seconds to understand “The Green Corvette”, but my stomach dropped the moment I made the connection. And “Nothing’s Going to Get You” actually made me gasp out loud.
Not all of these stories will be surprising to everyone. Everyone has a different experience when they read something for the first time, and foreshadowing that I missed by first time through might seem glaringly obvious to someone else. I’d be really interested in hearing how other people react to these stories, and if anyone else has any story recommendations, I’d love to hear them.