I was poking around the internet, trying to track the final disposition of a story submission, and I came across this on the web site for the magazine “Strange Horizons”. Finding it to be the most helpful thing I have seen in a coon’s age, 2-3 years in the wild/20 as a pet, I immediately
stole borrowed with proper credit for the illumination of others like myself who spontaneously come up with the exact same story that thousands of other writers have done already.
The following list is an attempt at classifying the kinds of horror-story plots that we receive too frequently. We have a separate page for non-horror stories we’ve seen too often.
Note that we’re not generally interested in horror of any kind; this page simply lists some particular kinds of horror stories that we see especially often.
Main plot types are numbered; subspecies and variants receive letters.
This is not a canonical list of bad stories or story cliches. This is a list of types of stories that we at SH have seen too often; it’s not intended to be a complete list of all types of bad stories, nor are all the items on the list necessarily bad.
We recognize that horror stories are often more about mood or tone than about original plots. Still, these plots and ideas are particularly common in the horror stories submitted to us.
- Serial killer or vampire stalks and slays victim(s).
- The tables are turned at the end. (For example, the intended victim turns out to be a vampire or other powerful supernatural creature.)
- The serial killer is insane.
- The serial killer is under supernatural influence.
- The serial killer was abused as a child.
- Person is insane, and kills a lot of people because of it.
- The insanity is due to supernatural influence.
- The insane person does property damage instead of killing people.
- Protagonist sits around for a while.
- In the end, it turns out protagonist is dead.
- In the end, it turns out protagonist is a serial killer.
- Evil creature kills lots of people.
- In the end the creature escapes to kill again.
- The creature is disguised as something cute.
- Person sees mysterious things that nobody else can see.
- Person has unreasonable dread of a Thing that nobody else can see; in the end the Thing gets the person after all.
- Person has bad dreams; they turn out to be real.
- In the end, it turns out the person is crazy.
- In the end, it turns out someone is drugging the person.
- Warnings are ignored, with unfortunate consequences.
- Person is warned to Always Do something; fails to do it; thereby sets Nameless Evil free.
- Person is warned to Never Do something; does it anyway; thereby sets Nameless Evil free.
- A place is haunted or scary. [No, this isn’t a plot, but we do receive plotless place descriptions in which this is the only point.]
- Child is abused.
- The tables are turned at the end.
- The abuser is under supernatural influence.
- Person is targeted by Evil Thing; in the end, Evil Thing kills person.
- Horrible things happen to person in the end, either as punishment or irony.
- Person is a bad person; in the end, they get their comeuppance when unspeakably horrible things happen to them. [A.k.a. the Twilight Zone plot.]
- Person attempts to kill or dispose of spouse; in the end, the tables are turned.
- Person isn’t such a bad person; but in the end, unspeakably horrible things happen to them anyway.
- Person wants or wishes for something, and they get it without any trouble, but it results in horrible things happening to them.
- Therapist enters into the thoughts of serial killer in prison, via telepathy or VR. [a.k.a. the Cell plot.]
- Initiate into religion discovers that the religion is actually killing/destroying its initiates.
- Alien creature lays eggs under the skin of a human.
- A kid has an imaginary friend, but the adults don’t believe in it. In the end, the imaginary friend turns out to be real and eeeevil.
- There are zombies. [We have published zombie stories in the past, but very rarely, and at this point any story featuring zombies is an extremely hard sell for us.]