How to Write Horror-Fantasy


Horror-fantasy can be some of the best reading out there. The marriage of horror and fantasy offers a great blend that can captivate and terrify readers at the same time. As you write your horror-fantasy story, you want to evoke genuine fear within a realm of magic and otherworldly creatures. This article will give some writing tips about how to balance delicate dance between enchantment and terror so that you leave a lasting impression on your readers. Let's get into it.

Establish Atmospheric Foundations

The setting, tone, and ambiance lay the groundwork for a journey into the unknown, drawing readers into your world. Maybe you are creating a world where shadows conceal secrets and the walls and floorboards of buildings hide portals into a hellish realm, or the trees feed on the corpses buried beneath them, or maybe the characters are all afflicted with a tenebrous madness borne in the blood. Your setting should be a character with its own personality, shaping the essence of fear in your narrative. The tone sets the mood, guiding readers through suspenseful twists. Whether a slow-burn thriller or a heart-pounding race against time, emotional beats keep readers engaged. Ambiance, subtle details like eerie whispers and unseen creatures, heighten anticipation. Effective horror fantasy writing immerses readers in a world where reality blurs, and the unknown is tangible. By crafting setting, tone, and ambiance, you transport readers to a realm where fear reigns, and the thrill of the unknown awaits.

World Building as a Conduit for Fear

World building is a crucial tool for plunging readers into completely new realms. When crafting horror-fantasy tales, leverage this skill to intensify the sense of unease. Do some research into weirder landscapes, strange traditions, creepy folklore, and the stranger parts of the human psyche. Consider the buildings, meals, music, religions, and various other cultural details that can enhance the horror atmosphere of your world.

For example, you might have a city shrouded in perpetual twilight, where ancient ruins beneath the newer buildings hint at a dark history which no one addresses, or which a church or cult uses for their own nefarious purposes. Maybe there are unknown tunnels beneath the ruins, or places where people go missing, or even an area forbidden by traditional teachings. You could have cults or brotherhoods (or sisterhoods!) or covens or clandestine organisations working in the shadows, or maybe openly but with two-faced motivations. Do people fear any particular social groups or locations or customs? Is there an unnatural merriment and naivety in the general populace? Set up interesting questions through your world building. Such a backdrop not only sparks imagination but also lays the groundwork for supernatural terrors to emerge. Reflect on how magical elements affect the surroundings—like shadows that move on their own, lingering whispers that drive people insane, or mystical creatures hiding in the shadows. Make these unique and steer away from boring old stereotypes for something fresh. These practical world building considerations can deepen the chilling atmosphere and immerse readers into the horror of your world.

Combining Enchantment and Horror

Remember, this is not just horror, but horror-fantasy. You need to add some magic or fantastical elements beyond the standard horror themes and tropes. Achieving the right blend of enchantment and horror in your fantasy world is essential. Magic and terror should work together, neither overpowering the story. Think about the tone: Are you aiming for a subtle unease or blatant horror? Will you be taking the gory-horror route, or more of a spiritual, existential kind of horror? What do you want your readers to feel? Is the magic good or bad by nature, used by heroes or villains? Or is it simply grey? If so, how can you make it more interesting? What are the stakes?

Integrate fantasy elements that fit the vibe you're after. For example, a ghost might appear due to a botched magical spell, or a cursed object could bring about terrifying consequences. Find ways to incorporate each element into another. Magical items, spells, words, books, etc can be used to summon eldritch beasts, fight them, act as gateways, be used by the creatures themselves, etc. Do some research into good horror stories and see how they pull it off. By seamlessly blending magic into your horror, you enhance the fantasy while ramping up the scare factor for your readers.


Characters serve as the conduits through which readers experience the horrors of your fantasy world. Develop characters whose flaws, fears, vulnerabilities, and people or issues to confront. Do some research into common fears as well as the not-so-common ones, and look at the mental health issues that can exacerbate those fears.

Ground your characters in relatable fears. This adds depth to the horror. Think about common anxieties and phobias that go beyond reality and into fantasy. Do some study into basic psychology to get a better understanding of what people truly fear. Whether it's the fear of abandonment, existential dread, horror of the unknown, or losing control, you can integrate these universal fears into your characters' thoughts. 

For example, you might write about a student plagued by visions of a malevolent entity, and how the student might fear losing their grip on their sanity. Or perhaps there is conflict within a character, the tension between familial bonds and the spiritual possession of their sibling or parent. By blending the supernatural with everyday fears, you bridge the fantastical and the familiar, amplifying the emotional impact of the horror.

You want your character arcs to navigate the themes you are setting up. Allow your characters to evolve in the crucible of horror, facing their deepest fears and confronting the supernatural forces that threaten to engulf them. A well-crafted character arc not only enhances the emotional resonance of your narrative but also provides a compelling structure for the progression of horror.

A protagonist could have an initial skepticism toward the supernatural which transforms into paralyzing dread as they unravel the mysteries of a haunted realm. Explore the descent of a seemingly benevolent character into the clutches of dark magic, as they grapple with the seductive allure of forbidden power. Character arcs that mirror the ebb and flow of horror contribute to a narrative that is both immersive and emotionally charged.

Use Narrative Techniques

With the stage set and characters in place, it is time to look at the narrative techniques that will unleash the full force of terror upon your readers. From pacing and suspense to the strategic use of fantastical elements, these techniques will guide you in orchestrating a symphony of fear that resonates long after the final page is turned.

Mastering pacing is crucial in horror-fantasy writing, as it dictates the rhythm and speed at which dread unfolds. You want to be conscious of your pacing choices. Allow suspense to build gradually, teasing readers with glimpses of the supernatural before plunging them into the abyss of terror. Utilize moments of quiet tension, interspersed with bursts of frenetic horror, to keep your audience on the edge of their seats. Sometimes "hiding the monster" leads to the best reveals later on. The first Jurassic Park movie is well-known for its dinosaurs, yet they are only in the movie for 15 minutes. The first half of the movie builds tension and expectation, all while setting up the characters and their arcs. It's a masterpiece in horror writing, because it does the tension and reveals so, so well.

You should set things up to create reveals later. Be subtle about it. Maybe your story has a forbidden incantation that, when uttered, triggers a chain of unsettling events. You could setup the incantation at the start and not have much happen at first. By gradually revealing the consequences of this incantation, you create a sense of anticipation that crescendos into a climax of horror. Keep building on it, while also combining the character arcs and action into it at every step. You can then have a moment where it all seems to have finished, only for the worst part to then begin. The art lies in knowing when to tighten the tension and when to release it. Build, show, release, in ever-increasing intensity until you reach the story's final climax.

Layers of Meaning

Use symbolism and allegory to enrich your horror-fantasy narrative, offering readers multiple layers of interpretation. You might have a story which is about an alien on a spaceship, but it is also an allegory for the male fear of sexual assault and the pain of birth (the movie Alien). Maybe you introduce a cursed box into your story that torments but intrigues the protagonists, bringing to light taboo sexual desires (the movie Hellraiser). Or perhaps an unstoppable monster which continually changes forms representing STIs (the movie It Follows). These literary devices not only deepen the story but also invite readers to engage with it on different levels.

You might have a spectral creature symbolizing the consequences of unchecked greed, preying on the avarice of those who enter its realm. Through this allegorical element, the horror becomes more than just a supernatural encounter; it becomes a cautionary tale with profound implications. Perhaps a twisted, cursed symbol represents the protagonist's inner turmoil or serves as a metaphor for societal injustices. Likewise, the malevolent force may symbolize the destructive power of unchecked authority or the consequences of environmental neglect. The possibilities are endless. By weaving symbolism and allegory into your narrative, you raise it above the humdrum stories into something unique and special.


In fantasy horror writing, blend magic and fear for maximum impact. Create vivid settings, relatable characters with universal fears, and employ narrative techniques to build layers of terror. Use tension and pacing to really engage the reader. You have the power to both enchant and terrify in this realm where nightmares meet fantasy.

Happy writing!

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