Although the zombie genre is probably one of the least scary genres of horror fiction out there, it is a lot of fun to both read and write. So, although I’ve probably looked at this topic before, I thought that I’d list several more ways to make zombie fiction a bit more scary.
1) Distances: Unless your story contains modern-style fast-moving zombies, one of the problems with zombie stories is that the easiest way for a character to save themselves from a slow-moving zombie is just to run away and/or find somewhere that the zombie can’t climb or walk into.
Likewise, although large groups of zombies can add suspense to a zombie story, there isn’t really that much suspense or horror in scenes showing well-armed characters fighting zombies from a safe distance (for a good cinematic example of this, watch “Resident Evil: Apocalypse“).
So, if you want to make your zombies a bit scarier, then focus on close-up scenes involving zombies. Have the zombie suddenly appear out of nowhere or place the main characters in situations where they can’t run away or attack the zombie from a safe distance. If your main character is in imminent danger of being eaten by a zombie, then this instantly adds a lot of suspense and horror to the scene in question.
In short, zombies aren’t that scary if they are a couple of hundred metres away from your characters. They are scary if they are only a few centimetres away from your characters.
2) Comedy: I’ve talked about this topic before, but there’s a good reason why horror stories will often include comedy elements too. In short, it is all about emotional contrast.
Scenes of horror will seem twice as shocking or scary if the audience has been laughing before they happen. The emotional gap between cheerful laughter and shocked horror is much larger than the gap between a more neutral mood and shocked horror.
So, including a fair amount of comedic moments in your zombie story can make the more gruesome and horrific moment seem even more shocking or horrific by comparison. This is especially important in the zombie genre, since your readers will probably already be familiar with the genre and are unlikely to find zombies particularly frightening on their own. So, emotional contrast is even more important than usual.
3) Implied horror: Zombie stories are one of the most gruesome genres of horror fiction out there. They are the closest thing we have to the classic splatterpunk horror novels of the 1980s these days. However, fans of the zombie genre have gotten used to all of this and, as such, are a lot more difficult to shock with hyper-detailed gruesome descriptions.
So, whilst your zombie story should include some grisly moments (since it’s kind of expected), don’t be afraid to leave things to the reader’s imagination sometimes. Scary horror is all about playing with the reader’s expectations and, if your readers are expecting a scene of ultra-gruesome horror, then a more subtle or implication-filled description can really catch them off-guard.
If you’ve already included a few gruesome moments in your story, then suddenly not showing one can also make the story scarier because your audience already knows what you will show. So, if you don’t show something, then your audience are going to imagine that it is considerably more gruesome than this (even if it isn’t).
Likewise, if you include a lot of implied horror in the earlier parts of your story, then a sudden moment of ultra-gruesome horror can also catch your readers off-guard and cause them to be a lot more shocked than they would be if they read a similar scene in a more consistently gruesome zombie novel.
So, a few well-selected moments of implied horror can really add a bit of extra horror and shock value to your zombie story.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂