October is here. Are you ready?
One of the best things about October (besides the candy, of course) is the influx of scary stuff it brings with it. It’s a big month for scary movies, the obligatory scary episodes of Halloween shows, and horror novels. Why not, right?
In honor of this most spook-tacular holiday, I’d like to talk about some of the things you can do to punch up the scary scenes in your writing, whether it’s for a horror novel or just a one-off inspired by the season.
Fully engage your character’s senses. An important part of fear is sound—in some cases an unfamiliar sound (stairs creaking when no one else is home), or the absence of sound entirely (the forest goes utterly silent). When he’s alone in the dark, hiding under a bed, his hearing may be the only thing he can use to detect danger.
Pay attention to the lighting, to what your character sees and smells. What is lurking out there just out of his range of vision? His heart is pounding, but is that because he senses something out there, or because he’s scaring himself silly?
Everyone knows everything about zombies and vampires—they’ve been extremely popular for the better part of the decade. Explore the things that scare your character, whether it’s the smiling man staring at him on the subway, or the small child he keeps seeing out of the corner of his eye. When your character is frightened, your readers will be frightened.
Don’t disregard a character’s own neuroses in building fear. The most insignificant thing can be utterly creepy when framed in the right context. Your character might be working late when he suddenly realizes the office is completely empty—he’s the last one there. An empty office might be mundane to some, but to others it’s row after row of empty cubicles, blank computer screens, and the whisper of the air conditioning…or is that laughter?
Try turning some tropes on their heads. Yes, the dark can be frightening because you can’t see what’s in it. Your imagination makes things much worse. Try writing a scary scene in full daylight—the character can see everything coming at him. Instead of sneaking around, the killer makes a clamber, letting the protagonist know his death is approaching.
I’m not one to suggest digging through the thesaurus just to find new words—readers can usually tell when you aren’t used to using a particular adjective—but selecting certain adjectives can lend atmosphere to your scenes. For example, I looked up “creep,” and found “skulk,” “slither,” and “writhe,” all three of which would be appropriate for a good scary scene. It describes an entirely different sort of motion than just walking, striding, or running; it almost sounds inhuman.
What Scares You?
Your character isn’t you, but you can tap into the things that frighten you to make his fear more palpable. Think about things that go bump in the night, that hide in caves or on your roof, that are evil or supernatural or just plain inhuman. Your challenge for this month is to write a scene about something that scares you…let me know how it goes!