How to Write Scary Stories for Middle School

Teaching how to write scary stories is a blast. Kids love scary stories, reading them and writing them.

Our unit is adaptable to both middle and high school. It can be taught in four to six weeks, depending on how much time you have. Or lessons can be pulled hodgepodge as desired.

The unit breaks down into five sections: Ideas, Character, Setting, Fear, and Writing.

Each section includes the full text of a short story that is used to explore the ideas in that section.

Click on the image below to preview the unit. Or click the button below to purchase the unit from Teachers Pay Teachers.

Want even more scary stories? Download the free PDF of the 10 Best Scary Stories for Kids below.

How to Write Scary Stories
The Best Scary Stories for Kids

Coming Up With Ideas for Writing Scary Stories

Coming up with ideas for writing is often one of the most challenging tasks for students. Even good writers often struggle with generating quality ideas for stories.

Rather than strapping kids into their seats and telling them to “come up with something good”, our lessons revolve around teaching kids to find inspiration in both their own lives and in stories from the past.

Just like an athlete watches video of athletes who came before them, writers learn their craft by reading the work of authors from the past. This includes stealing ideas for stories.

Here are some of the lessons on coming up with ideas for scary stories:

  • Starting Stories With Classic First Sentences (Class Exercise)
  • Mapping Your Life to Find Stories (Visual/Illustration Exercise)
  • Retelling Classic Fables, Fairy Tales & Myths (Partner Exercise)
  • Paying Homage: Using Other Stories as a Launchpad (Individual Exercise)

One way to jumpstart student writing is by giving them the first sentence of the story, an exercise we do as a full-class round-robin style. This takes some of the burden off and points to a clear path forward, which can sometimes be enough to inspire entire stories.

Another fun exercise is letting students select a particular fairy tale or myth and rework it in a modern setting. Hollywood has made an entire industry out of this practice, and the imagination is often stimulated by the juxtaposition of something as archaic as Snow White and the modern 21st Century world.

Included throughout this unit is a breakdown of an Example Story that we wrote for specifically for this scary story unit. In this section, we explain how we will use Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado as a jumping-off point to inspire our own story.

Story Included With this Section: The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe

Crafting Characters for Scary Stories

Creating characters is at the heart of writing scary stories. If the reader doesn’t care about the characters, then the story isn’t likely to be scary.

But how do you create compelling characters?

The first step is getting to know your characters. The more you know about your characters, the better you understand them, the easier it is to write about them in ways that engage your readers.

The lesson in this section focus on getting students to better understand their characters and what motivates their characters.

Here are some of the lessons on creating characters for scary stories:

  • What Makes a Memorable Character (Class Discussion)
  • Character Inventory: Getting to Know Your Character (Individual Exercise)
  • Anatomy of a Character (Individual Exercise)
  • My Character’s Bedroom (Individual Exercise)
  • Motivation: What Does Your Character Want Most? (Individual Exercise)
  • Villain Inventory: Getting to Know Your Villain (Individual Exercise)
  • Character Speed Dating (Classroom Exercise)

We’ve included worksheets for both main characters and villains. Students often enjoy creating wicked and wonderful villains. Especially monsters.

What Makes a Monster: RL Stine

Another fun exercise in this unit is Character Speed Dating. Once students have a solid idea of who their characters are, it’s time to take those characters out and introduce them to the world. We do this in a full-class Speed Dating activity in which students move from classmate to classmate introducing their character as they would on a real world date.

Story Included in This Section: The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell

How Setting Works When Writing Scary Stories

Setting is crucial to writing scary stories. In fact, often the right setting is the difference between a truly creepy tale and one that falls flat.

But how do you choose the right setting? Is it better to set your story in a crumbling old castle or a spiffy new apartment building?

And just what makes a setting scary anyway? How do writers like Stephen King make even the most innocent of settings seem terrifying? Those are questions we put to students in this section.

Here are some of the lessons on how to craft setting when writing scary stories:

  • What Are the Scariest Places to Set a Story (Class Discussion)
  • Change of Scenery: How Changing Setting Changes Stories (Individual Exercise)
  • Setting Assumptions: City vs Country (Partner Exercise)
  • Gothic Castle vs Modern Apartment (Class Debate)
  • Liminal Spaces in Horror Stories (Class Discussion)
  • House of Fear: How Our Homes Become Frightening (Individual Exercise)
  • Your Setting (Individual Exercise)

One of the simplest ways to understand the impact of setting is to consider how a story would be different if it were set somewhere else. We do just that in our Change of Scenery exercise. How does the story change if Batman lives at Disneyland instead of in Gotham City?

Setting also greatly impacts what we believe about people, which is why we include a partner exercise on the different assumptions people have about folks who live in the City vs the Country.

We also look at liminal spaces — those spooky transitional places — that crop up again and again in horror fiction.

Story Included in This Section: The Kit-Bag by Algernon Blackwood

Understanding Fear in Scary Stories

And now we come to. How do you create fear in scary stories?

Understanding how to make stories scary begins with understanding what scares you. Every horror writers mines their own fears first and foremost.

But beyond your own fears, there are a wide variety of writing techniques that authors use to increase suspense, tension and fear. We explore a number of those in this unit.

Here are some of the lessons included on creating fear in scary stories:

  • What Scares You? (Class Discussion)
  • My Biggest Fear (Partner Exercise)
  • Fear of the Unknown (Small Group Exercise)
  • What’s Under My Bed? (Partner Exercise)
  • Isolating Characters (Individual Exercise)
  • Time Limits (Individual Exercise)
  • Raising Stakes (Individual Exercise)
  • Foreshadowing (Individual Exercise)

Four of the biggest techniques for increasing suspense and fear are covered in this section: isolating characters (usually in physically cutoff settings), adding time limits (such as when the hero only has so long before the bomb goes off), raising the stakes (such as widening the circle of who is in danger beyond just the hero), and foreshadowing (which creates uncertainty in the reader).

Other Great Tips on Creating Fear & Suspense

Story Included With This Section: The Monkey’s Paw by WW Jacobs

Writing Scary Stories

In this section, we explore how to improve your writing. The exercises and activities in this section can be applied to any kind of writing.

Here are some of the lessons included on how to write scary stories:

  • Spies, Spies Everywhere: Paying Attention to What’s Around You (Individual Exercise)
  • Lighting vs Lightning Bug: Choosing the Right Details (Individual Exercise)
  • Emotional Charades (Group Activity)
  • A Sentence is Full of Choices (Individual Exercise)
  • Cutting & Pasting Paragraphs (Partner Exercise)
  • Read Aloud (Partner Exercise)
  • The 8-Word Sentence (Individual Exercise)

These lessons explore the differences between the almost-right word and the perfect word by asking students to examine the differences between closely related words. What’s the difference between horror and terror anyway?

We also take a dive into how sentences are crafted by asking students to rewrite examples from great writers. The best way to understand that every sentence is made up of choices is to try and pick apart another writer’s sentences. What happens when you rearrange and change the sentence? It no longer means the same thing.

We also address the tendency in students to write long, windy run-on sentences. The 8-Word Sentence asks students to rewrite sentences and make them no longer than 8 words, focusing students on brevity and concision.

Want more advice? Here’s some from the master himself.

Writing Advice From Stephen King


Finally, the unit comes with a short resources section which includes our Example Story: Lady Fortunato’s Revenge, as well as two lists:

  • The 10 Best Horror Stories for Kids (the free PDF of this can be downloaded at the top of this page)
  • 5 Great Horror Novels for Kids

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