Tracey Baptiste: Plotting the Horror Novel

jumbiesPlotting a horror novel for kids means tying all of the action pieces to an emotional reaction. It needs to be scary, but not too scary. Horror elements need to be cut with other things: humor, frustration, longing, success.

I’ll use the plot points from my own novel, The Jumbies, to illustrate how to chart the emotional reaction from the reader and make sure you’re striking a balance. All emotional factors will be numbered 0-10, with 1 being only a moderate feeling, to a strong feeling at 10. Please note, these numbers are SUPER SCIENTIFIC.



The action in chapter one is set up to prime readers for the scary bits throughout the story, but it doesn’t do so at top speed. It eases the reader in, gets stronger, and ends on just a slightly scarier note than where it started.

In chapter two, there is nothing scary at all. I needed to set up Corinne’s relationship with her father, and frankly, the readers need a break. But chapter three, which is purposefully short, is a steady hum of scariness that describes the main jumbie and introduces her motives. Chapter four again, has almost nothing scary in it until the very last line, but the next chapter amps up the scare factor again.


The plot points that illicit love/friendship/humor follow each other, but go in the opposite direction of the plot points that illicit feelings of fear. This is the balancing act. Chapter by chapter, the plot allows for a very varied emotional response. It is a very purposeful emotional roller coaster that keeps kids turning the page, not knowing what will happen next.

Rules of thumb:
In opening chapters, you want to see more variation in the fear factor. The chart should be all over the place.
In middle chapters, the fear factor should be amped up, but so should other emotions.
Short chapters without much variation are OK, but should be preceded and followed by chapters that are quite different, emotionally.
In the final chapters, the fear factor should be at their highest levels, with other emotions only added in to increase the reader’s feelings of fear/worry for the main character.
Like all horror novels, it should not end on an emotional fear factor of zero. There should be something left over, that keeps the readers on their toes.

TBaptiste_headshotTracey Baptiste is the author of The Jumbies (a Junior Library Guild Selection, 2015), and Angel’s Grace (one of the 100 best books for reading and sharing, 2005). She has also written several nonfiction books including biographies of some of her favorite authors. Tracey works as a freelance editor with various publishing houses and runs her own editorial company, Fairy Godauthor. You can find out more about Tracey’s books and editing services at her website  Tracey can also be found Twitter: @TraceyBaptiste, on  Facebook:, Tumblr: and on Instagram: TraceyBaptisteWrites.

If you are registered for Kidlit Summer School, you can download a worksheet of Tracey’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area — only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.

If you haven’t registered for #KidlitSummerSchool yet click HERE.



116 comments on “Tracey Baptiste: Plotting the Horror Novel

  1. Charting the stories course, genius!


  2. doriskstone says:

    Love this post! Especially your rules of thumb. Thanks, Tracey.


  3. mona861 says:

    Thank you, Tracey. Great plot chart! You scared me!!!!


  4. Rich post for me. Thank you so much!


  5. great idea to chart emotions and the math isn’t even a bit scary. :0 thanks


  6. Nadine Gamble says:

    terrific chart of emotions! Thanks!


  7. Laura Rackham says:

    I love getting way out of my comfort zone- thanks!


  8. Heather Pierce Stigall says:

    Great chart. Thanks for the post!


  9. SevenAcreSky says:

    Wow. Tracey, you took this graphic-based nerd and really taught him something about suspense and mystery and horror. This post is a definite keeper!


  10. Margaret Greanias says:

    Love this chart and thank you for the rules of thumb!


  11. writersideup says:

    Tracey, I don’t plan on writing “horror,” but DO plan on writing very tense, sometimes frightening scenes and this is a PERfect way to gauge how to implement it. The visual is spot on! Thank you so much 🙂


  12. ptnozell says:

    Great plot graph, Tracey. I can’t wait to download it & try using it on some of my works in progress. And I’m very intrigued by a book involving Jumbies – definitely plan to read it soon!


  13. susanzonca says:

    Great idea to chart the expected reader reaction. I had never thought of that.


  14. colleenrkosinski says:

    Can’t wait to read your book!


  15. Lauri Meyers says:

    I love the scientific approach! I’ve used a humor rating method in the same way.


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