Writing scary stories for kids by Q.L. Pearce

Spine Chillers: Hair Raising Tales – Book One, the first installment in a new series from Q.L. Pearce, is a collection of spine-tingling ghost stories for Middle Grade and Young Adult novel readers.

Q.L. is the author of the hit series Scary Stories for Sleep-Overs, Titan AE, The Land Before Time, and over 150 other books for Middle Grade and Young Adult. Her work has won the Carter G. Woodson gold medal, the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award, and many others. Her multi-award winning book, Red Bird Sings received praise from Publisher’s Weekly, the School Library Journal, and the Library Media Connection

Writing scary stories for kids by Q.L. Pearce

Many readers relish a creepy tale and children are no exception. R.L. Stine, the author of the Goosebumps series said, “Kids love to be scared, but not too scared. You can laugh at the fear, walk through the fear, [then] put the book down.”

Some child psychologists say that scary stories can be beneficial for kids. Children of all ages grapple with uncomfortable feelings like anxiety, fear, and insecurity. A scary book gives them a chance to think through a difficult scenario without any real danger. It enables a reader to build confidence and release tension.

There are many reasons why kids like horror, but the mind of an eight year old is very different from that of a fourteen year old. It’s the writer’s job to know what is best for the age range. In general, children under the age of eight may have a little trouble separating fantasy from reality in media so picture books often feature characters that aren’t frightening. They may be sweet or misunderstood: a sad ghost, for example, or a vampire with a toothache. The resolution is generally a happy one.

Q.L. Pearce

Older readers are more likely to enjoy the hair-raising elements of scary tales. Chapter books and early Middle Grade may feature fearsome ghosts or monsters but it’s best not to layer on the gore. Coraline author, Neil Gaiman says, “Fear is a wonderful thing in small doses.” For this age cliff-hanger chapters work well but the hero usually wins. Professor of Children’s Literature, Lawrence Sipe, explains “The stories take place in a moral universe, where evil is punished or at least fought against.”

Tween to Young Adult readers, ages eleven and over, can be skeptical of resolutions that are too positive or that are tied up too neatly. Teens can handle stories that are open-ended or don’t reward good over evil. The victim might not escape or the reader might be left with a sense of foreboding at the end.

No matter what the age range, the young protagonist should be the center of the story. If they succeed it should be because of their own choices or solutions. It’s fine to include parents as characters but the story should be moved forward by the child/teen. Be sure to keep language age-appropriate and current, but not too trendy.

Certain elements are critical to a scary tale. The ghost, monster or creature opposing the main character should have depth and it’s always good to find a new twist for a classic fiend. The sense that something isn’t quite right can be on the first page. Build the suspense from there but structure the pacing so that fear ebbs and flows. Setting a deadline or time limit for the character raises the tension. Putting a character in a situation where they are alone, trapped, confined or abandoned is also a way to quickly raise the stakes.

Scary stories are about the unexpected so develop a strong thread of uncertainty to keep the reader guessing. A twist ending is always fun, but a surprise ending that relies on information that is not included or hinted at in the story isn’t fair. Give the reader all the information they need. When they reach the end they should be able to think back and recognize the clues you left along the way.

Lastly, creepy tales are known for putting characters in frightening situations, but characters should have a convincing reason to go down the basement stairs, to read the words in the creepy book aloud, or to push the strange button on the box. If the motivation isn’t credible the story won’t hold together. Horror for young readers is a balancing act, but if you hit the right elements of fearful fun, your readers will love you for it.

You can visit Q.L. Pearce’s website at: www.qlpearce.com

The town of Saltlick Bluff is famous for an urban legend. Does the spirit of a young girl
wait on a misty cliff-hugging highway for her ride to the prom?
In the house on Beech Street a terrible tragedy occurred. Now neighbors won’t look at
the place as they pass. Those who live nearby draw their blinds and shutter their
windows after dark. What are they afraid of?
Hale Hallow Woods seems sinister and menacing even in the light of day. Does a thirst
for revenge beat near its dark heart?
The answers lie within these pages, just waiting to send a chill up your spine!

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Comments

  1. I’ve always loved scary books. I’m not a kid any longer but still loving read scary stories written for kids!

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