The horror genre is often times ignored, or lumped in with other genres. The role playing game I write for is historical fiction and adventure / horror. I actually prefer psychological horror and suspense, but that is not only difficult to convey in a role playing game, but even when it is done correctly the attitudes of the players and judge can quickly defuse any tension.
When I write (and edit) an event or a setting based story, there are two elements that I really focus on. I don't bother with gory details of severed heads hanging from hooks in the walk-in freezer. I don't go into in depth descriptions of cracked tombstones or moonlight shining in slivers through the branches of a long dead tree. I might drop some purple adjectives like "cyclopean architecture" or "blasphemous visage" but that is more because it is expected and less because I think it really adds to the event. No, the two things that I make sure are included are humor and hope.
Without humor I can't create an emotional rollercoaster for the players. I like to have them laughing just before I pull the rug out from under them. The demon enters like a stage magician, is wearing a cardigan sweater in March in New England, and is carrying a six-pack of Coke. Not scary at all. But, then he waves his hand and summons an army of demonic skeletons and sends them into the night to poison the town's food.
Some humor comes from my judging style, and I know that most of the players aren't going to experience it, but I can't let a good pun or allusion slide by. When the character named Jim Southerland demanded that Dr. Kablooie explain whether or not the antidote worked, I had to explain, "The guinea pig might have died from the antidote. It might have died because you interrupted me and I punctured its lung with the syringe. I don't know. Damn it, Jim, I'm a scientist, not a doctor."
But, humor is just a tool to use on the player. The character gets its ride from hope.
The character hopes that once he squeezes through the eighteen to twenty inch diameter tunnel, he will be able to get back out. The character hopes that the demon's minions are easy to track down and stop. The character hopes that the antidote works and they can stop the outbreak before it reaches civilization.
Some say that without hope there is no despair. I disagree. But, without hope, despair isn't as powerful. If you don't have anything to lose, there is little left to fear. But, if you have hope, there is an intangible something to lose. Even people with nothing can have hope. And, that hope can be dangled or dashed by a good writer.
Anyone can kill a character. It takes talent to put the character and the player (or the reader) through the emotional wringer.
With that said, I don't understand how the Saw franchise keeps making money. The movies take random people, put them in hopeless situations, and the audience watches them die. Why? Even the Friday the Thirteenth movies spent time giving us stereotype characters that we could care a little about before killing them. Even the worst 80s horror movie had a trio of possibilities that a viewer could guess at which one would be the one to survive to the end. The characters had hope, and that helped to engage the viewer.
Actually, I think that hope is important in any genre, not just horror. You hope your favourite character survives. You hope that the guy gets the girl. You hope that the Stooges get the house renovated. You might hope that Jeff Hardy hits the Swanton Bomb and becomes the new WWE Champion.
Hope is the emotional investment a viewer, reader, or gamer puts into the movie, book, or game that he or she is playing. It is the gateway to the other emotions that art and entertainment evokes. It is the most important tool that a storyteller and an entertainer like myself has.