Darren Shan's Top Tips for Writing Horror Stories

Darren Shan's books have been gripping young readers for over fifteen years, and his latest series, Zom-B, concludes with the recently released Zom-B: Goddess. We caught up with Darren to ask him about the series and give young writers his tips for writing horror stories. As Darren explains, it's about much more than blood and guts...

Zom-B Goddess book cover
Can you give us a brief introduction to the Zom-B series, and give readers a hint of what they can expect from the latest instalment? 

Well, the world has fallen to a zombie apocalypse... but that’s the least of the main character’s troubles! This is a series that is just as interested in more realistic horrors such as racism, the abuse of power by those in authority, and the need to be wary of fear-mongers who tell us we should hate people who look differently to us or who believe in different things. It was written before Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign in America, but that, sadly, has made it more relevant than ever. So, expect a dash of political commentary with plenty of dollops of brain-emptied skulls! The latest book, Zom-B: Goddess, is also the last in the series, so it features some shock revelations, the mother of all battles, and an ending to end all endings – things get fierce in this one!

Create a story where readers know that bad things are going to happen, and then hit them with the juicy stuff when they’re least expecting it.

Violence and gore are part of most horror books and certainly zombie books. What advice would you give about using violence and gore in an effective way? 

You need to use it sparingly. Now, granted, this is coming from someone who describes a young boy seeing his mother eat his father’s brains in the prologue of the first Zom-B book, but... as bloody as my books get (and they do get very bloody), the violence and gore is always there for a reason. I explore the effects that it has on the characters, the way it changes their lives, the awfulness of it. Some of the grislier moments are dark, disturbing fun, but nothing is throwaway. Readers have to be able to care about the characters and be interested in them. If it’s just wall-to-wall gore, they’ll lose interest very quickly.

What would be your top tip for creating tension when writing a story? 

I love a good cliff-hanger, at the end of a chapter or at the end of a book if it’s part of a series. The important thing for me is to always follow through on a good, juicy cliffhanger. I know some horror books, such as Goosebumps, over-use shock scares. For instance, something will jump out at a character at the end of a chapter, only to be revealed as a dog at the start of the next chapter. If you really want to wind up your readers, don’t rely too heavily on easy laughs. Create a story where they know that bad things are going to happen, and then hit them with the juicy stuff when they’re least expecting it!

If you create characters that readers will be intrigued by, they’ll go with you on any type of journey.

What tips would you have for creating a post-apocalyptic setting?

Easy – just walk through your local village, town or city, and imagine it over-run with zombies, then write about that!

What’s the most important thing to remember when writing a horror book? 

Regardless of what genre you work in, it always has to be about the characters. If you create characters that readers will be intrigued by, they’ll go with you on any type of journey. If the characters fall flat, the story will too, no matter how much gore and action you fill it with.

Darren Shan

Darren Shan is the author of a host of well loved horror and fantasy novels for teenagers, including the Demonata and Zom-B series. He also writes for adults! You can find out more at Darren's website, and follow him on Facebook or Twitter.