Columns > Published on September 9th, 2016

10 Horror Stories Nobody Wants to Read

You read enough slush and you’ll start seeing the same stories over and over. The same plots. The same characters. The same scenes. Beat by miserable beat.

Here is a secret: writing is actually very easy if you just jot down the first idea that comes to your head. But the reason it came to you so quickly is because you’ve already consumed this idea from someone else’s story. You’re just subconsciously ignoring its past existence. Because this idea came to you so easily, that means this same idea will also be falsely conceived by countless other authors. Every writer will believe what they’re writing is unique. Then they’re all going to send them to grumpy, irritated editors who will reject them halfway through reading. The writers will then throw temper tantrums and demand a reason for the rejection.

Well, here’s your reason.


This is by far the most exhausted plot in horror fiction today. It’s very popular in direct-to-DVD (direct-to-streaming?) flicks with uninspired artwork and vague market descriptions. As a result, many writers assume the haunted house genre is the go-to route for delivering chills. Every haunted house story will contain a family moving to a new state. It is mandatory that at least one member of the family declares that this is “a new beginning.” There’s a good chance they will repeat the phrase “new beginning” many times in the first half of the story. Then some spooky things will happen. The same kind of spooky things we’ve all seen in a thousand terrible movies. The great thing about these haunted house stories is writers will often write out scary sound effects, so prepare for a whole lot of “There was a sudden BANG! and a CRRRRRKKKKK!” Oh my god, my greaseball of a heart is racing just thinking about it. Also, there is a very good chance one of the mirrors in this house will be super haunted. Like so goddamn haunted, you guys. The characters’ reflections might even move...independently. Ahhhh!

A house being scary is not a plot. If “spooky things happen in a house” fits the description of your story, then you should probably just destroy your hard drive and give up immediately. Spooky houses are okay as a setting, but you need more of an idea besides “OMG SO RANDOM AND WEIRD, RIGHT? BANG, BOOP, BOP! A GHOST! OH NOOOO!”


Maybe someone is exploring a forest, then a strange bug happens to take a small bite out of them. Or maybe they receive a mysterious package in the mail, and its contents leave a mark on their flesh. It doesn’t matter how it happened, but now your character has a mark that won’t go away, and every day it spreads. The character goes to the doctor, but the doctor just shrugs, because doctors are stupid and know nothing. The mark continues to mutate until the character has completed its transformation into a monster. The reader has known how this story was going to end from the very beginning. Why? Because everybody writes this story. And it’s never surprising. It’s never interesting. Writers like this idea because it gives them a chance to exercise their gross-out techniques. They can get their hands dirty and have fun detailing graphic mutations. And there’s nothing wrong with that! I love gore just as much as the next guy. But what’s important to remember is this: you need more besides disgusting mutations. You need a real, genuine story. What you have right now is an idea. A very boring, overused idea.


Bullies are assholes. Nobody’s arguing that except for other bullies. And even then, those bullies are probably getting bullied by bigger, uglier bullies. It’s the cycle of life. Especially in school. Every tormented child fantasizes about getting revenge against their bullies. Thus, there exists countless stories about this very topic. I will now proceed to sum up every such story: Kid A is bullied by Kid B. Kid A gets REALLY upset. Kid A finds a way to kill Kid B either through supernatural powers or through regular kid-on-kid violence. The end. There is nothing else here. It is not a story. It is nothing. Nobody wants to read this, so please just stop. Give me horror that goes beyond “that kid sure is mean!”


So maybe you write about a guy who kills somebody. Maybe he kills his wife or his best friend or he just accidentally runs over somebody on the side of the road. For a brief spell, this poor sucker honestly believes he’s gotten away with murder. Ha ha! Guess again! Because soon he’s gonna start experiencing a lot of...weird occurrences, like doors slamming shut, milk expiring the day after purchase, cryptic messages on his fridge magnets. Is someone messing with him? Well duh. And not just someone, but the dang person he went and murdered all those months/years ago. And this haunting won’t end until justice is served. Oooh, boy. Now there’s a page-turner!


Here is a story: a man or woman attacks somebody. We go into graphic detail as the attacker slices and dices. Some of these details will be so specific, you’ll wonder how much time the writer spent on the Wikipedia page for the human anatomy. The story will end with the victim either buried or eaten by the attacker or sold as food to ignorant restaurant customers. Why do writers like this story? Well, the answer is obvious. They are expressing their very real desire to murder somebody, but they’re too chickenshit to risk prison. Every terrible horror webzine has published at least twenty of these stories.


Children are a bunch of goddamn idiots. This is a fact. So it makes sense that, in fiction, whenever a kid complains to their parents about a monster in the closet, the parent laughs at how dumb they are and sends them back to bed. (Sidenote: if any of my hypothetical kids ever came to me with a monster problem, I would be so excited, like, you have no idea, it’d be a dream come true.) But in these stories, of course there’s really a monster in the closet, and of course it wants to eat the kid. Or, sometimes, it actually wants to eat the kid’s parents, and it convinces the kid to lure them into the closet. An alternative to this story would be instead of a monster in the closet, one of the kid’s toys is eeeevil. There are enough stories about children scared in their bedroom. Please write literally anything else, you unoriginal scumbag.


It’s true. They really are. What’s a good way to make a character unlikable? Why, by turning him into a raging alcoholic who beats his wife over not cooking dinner, of course. Don’t bother developing this character any further. The point is, this guy’s a total dick, and he deserves to be dealt with. By the end of this story, either the wife will snap and kill her husband, or one of the wife’s coworkers (who obviously has a crush on her) will make her take him to her house so he can “have a talk” with him. The majority of the authors who write these stories are actually coworkers with real abused women, and these stories are the fantasies the writers wish they had the courage to carry out. Instead they ignore their coworkers and go home and jack-off to their own hallucinated bravado.


But wait. What’s an even easier target for utter hatred? If you said “child molesters,” congratulations on having a soul. Making your antagonist a child molester is one of the cheapest character tricks in horror. Obviously the reader is going to cheer when they eventually die in the slowest, most graphic way possible. But you know what? These stories are manipulative bullshit, and fuck you for writing them. Child molester revenge fiction isn’t even in the minor leagues of horror. It’s tee-ball.


Haunted GPS stories are perhaps the strangest trend I’ve encountered while reading slush for Dark Moon Digest, and I’m positive other magazines will know what I’m talking about. The GPS will gain sentience and attempt to murder its driver, sometimes just for the hell of it but usually because it’s grown jealous of the person’s spouse or even another machine. It’s my theory that a long time ago someone held an open call for a GPS-themed horror anthology, and nobody’s been able to sell their rejected subs after all this time, because I keep seeing them and I fear they will never stop.

Oh wait. You know what, wasn’t this a Simpsons episode?

Isn’t everything?


If you’ve ever written a cover letter that contained the sentence “I believe this story is an original take on the zombie genre” please stop reading this article and go smash your face into the nearest brick wall, because that is all the praise you deserve.

Now, with all that said, it's time to admit I've written stories that would fit every entry in the above list. And guess what? They were garbage. Does that mean you shouldn't try to be the exception? Yes. That is exactly what it means.

What are some horror plots you're sick of seeing?

About the author

Max Booth III is the CEO of Ghoulish Books, the host of the GHOULISH and Dog Ears podcasts, the co-founder of the Ghoulish Book Festival, and the author of several spooky books, including Abnormal Statistics, Maggots Screaming!, Touch the Night, and others. He wrote both the novella and film versions of We Need to Do Something, which was released by IFC Midnight in 2021 and can currently be streamed on Hulu. He was raised in Northwest Indiana and now lives in San Antonio.

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