Gentle reader, it is my sincerest wish that you, like I, try to scare the stuffing out of yourself in the month of October. Whilst I whittle away the hours watching The Birds and The Shining, my good friend and Roaring Writer Ken Schrader puts together a post about how to scare people with words.
First, I’d like to say a huge “Thank You!” to Lillian for asking me to come over and play in her sandbox today. I’ll try and maintain the level of awesome that she’s achieved here.
On with the post…
As a writer – especially as a writer around this time of year – you may find yourself wanting to add some chills and shivers to your work-in-progress. Fear is a potent spice you can add to the quietly bubbling cauldron that is your story.
But it’s not as easy as it sounds.
Like my fellow Roaring Writer, Alex, brilliantly stated , the page causes a disconnect between the writer and the reader. How can you be sure that what’s lurking in your mind creeps out onto the page to grab your reader?
Come closer. The moon is full, and the wind is in the trees. Let us talk of monsters…here in the dark.
The first thing I would say about bringing the scary is that, at its core, fear is rooted in the mundane. That’s your first tool: Take the ordinary and make it different.
Consider your home – the place where you live. You see it every day. It’s as comfortable as your favorite pair of jeans. It’s someplace you know.
Now consider that place at night, in a howling storm. Oops, there goes the power. The lights flicker, and die.
You think you remember where everything is, but you’re fumbling around in the dark. It’s still the same, old place. That creaky spot in the kitchen floor creaks, just like it always does.
But you’re not in the kitchen…
That brings us to the next tool: Isolate your character.
There is no more fertile ground for you to sow the seeds of fear than that provided by four, simple words:
Alone in the dark.
And you’re not restricted to a single character, nor are you restricted by location. The crew of the Nostromo, in Alien was just as isolated as Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween.
Isolating your character, like changing the ordinary, builds a connection to your reader. Everyone knows what it’s like to be alone, maybe in an unfamiliar place. You can use that to your advantage as you describe your character, lost in the woods, in an unfamiliar town, in a darkened hallway in their own home…alone.
One final tool in your toolbox (next to the oddly stained rope and the knives) are your words. Words have power. Your descriptions and the words you choose set the stage for your reader.
The difference between “Quiet” and “Silent” is a subtle one. As I read them, quiet refers to a natural lack of noise – like when you are outside, in the country, in the deepest part of the night.
Silent refers to an active lack of noise – like the creature stalking you while you’re outside, when you’d be better off indoors…behind locks.
Know your words, hone them to a deadly edge and wait until the time is right…
As always, though, you need to start with solid characters before the bad things start happening. If you do that, you’ll keep people awake long into the night, wondering how much time it will take them to cross the distance between the light switch and the safety of the bed.
And what they might meet along the way…
Thanks, Ken! You can see Ken at themillionwords.net or see his short story in The Weird Wild West anthology.
Until next time!