Since I’m a writer, I figured it was time to post something about actual writing. Now, I write YA fantasy novels, specifically The Travelers. So, I would never claim to be an expert on writing scary stories. (Honestly, I don’t claim to be an expert in anything except insomnia.) Lucky for me, there are tons of experts out there willing to share insight on the subject.
Since it’s Day #11 of my Halloween-themed blog countdown, here are 11 tips I found that, as a writer, resonated with me. Some even transcend writing just horror and suspense.
11. Your teacher was right – reading is important. Read, read, read! Read scary books. See how other writers build suspense and develop stories.
10. If you’re going to be a jerk, have a good reason. I recently watched a show with my husband. Now, it wasn’t scary, unless you’re terrified of time travel or 1700s Scotland. But, it had one particularly nasty character whose evil motivations didn’t really seem to have any substance. This really bothered my husband and detracted from the show for him. Within this little story is a lesson about creating a story where the antagonist his particularly cruel. There needs to be a reason for the callousness and it needs to be plausible. In the horror or scary book category, there is almost always a malevolent character. Make sure that person has a good reason to be such a huge jerk!
9. That’s so tragic. A great blog by NowNovel explained this principle well: “The horror genre uses the core elements of tragedy so nakedly that some of these have become clichés.” Have your characters make bad choices. Take them into the dark woods. Open that door to a stranger. Take them down that path to tragedy.
8. Watch your tone, mister! The tone of any book is critical. When it comes to scary stories often that means eliciting a dark and ominous feeling for the reader. Most importantly, make sure that tone is kept consistent throughout the story or book.
7. The only thing we have to fear is, fear itself. Everyone has fears, rational or irrational. Whatever the fear – darkness, spiders, heights, clowns (I know they’re having a resurgence lately), monsters – good writing can exploit it to entertain and frighten. Think of the movie Vertigo or Stephen King’s IT, or Stephen King’s Misery or Stephen King’s Pet Cemetery – you get the idea.
6. No, not Glenn! Anyone but Glenn! Make people care about your characters. Make them root for them, like them, want them to survive. Then kill them (or maim them and leave them close to death.) The point is, if people don’t like your characters, they aren’t going to care if someone stalks them, locks them in a basement, or chases them with a chainsaw.
5. Fingernail biting. Keep the suspense up throughout the entire book. Don’t just have one big payoff at the end. You’ll have lost your reader by then. Create situations of suspense. Make the reader keep wondering what will happen next and keep that next just out of their grasp.
4. But keep the pace. Don’t keep the fleeing, running, fighting up through the whole book. Give the reader some downtime. Have the story build suspense. Create a safe environment and then slowly tear away at it. And, at the end, rip it to shreds.
3. Is it safe to go outside? No, it’s not or at least it shouldn’t be in a scary book. Create that safe space at the beginning. But, after that make the reader feel unsafe, like something could go wrong at any minute.
2. Make it feel like it could be real. Even if it’s a book about vampires on Mars, something about the story needs to feel like it could happen to the reader. The ideas and concepts need to resonate. Simon Kurt Unsworth, author of The Devil’s Detective said it best “Monsters aren’t really scary; monsters walking up the street where we’re living and threatening our children? That’s scary.”
1. Keep it subtle. Small, subtle actions often create bigger terror. A person lurking, a twig snapping in the darkness or a shadow heighten the sense of fear more than a rampaging Godzilla-like monster.
Want more tips? Check out these great links (which I borrowed heavily from for my list!)