1. Edward
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    Edward Active Member

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    Psychological horror

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Edward, Aug 24, 2007.

    What could a writer (read: I) do to give a story a psychologically horrifying feel?

    I've been watching some movies that have the feeling I'm trying to convey (Silent Hill, Session 9, Jacob's Ladder, some Asian Horror, that kind of thing) but most of them rely on visual tricks (The twisting heads in Jacobs Ladder for instance) that don't really go as well in written form. I don't know if anyone saw it (I posted it a month ago and only got a few views, I kinda hope no one did...) I tried having it in second person, but that didn't go over so well...

    So I ask, what makes you cower under the covers and turn on the lights? And are there any books out there that aren't all monster-hiding-in-the-dark-waiting-to-eat-you scary? I mean, in Silent Hill no one of consequence dies until the last fifteen minutes of the movie (though from then it's a bloodbath), The same with Session 9 (again, bloodbath. The gym floor gets painted with the stuff) and if I remember correctly in Jacobs Ladder no one dies at all, except some guy off screen and a guy in an explosion (I'm not counting the massacre in 'Nam). In the Reincarnation, the last Japanese Horror movie I watched, no one died at all (one girl was kidnapped by ghosts though, and there were deaths, but none of them real, and of course, I'm not counting flashbacks) and the main character just went insane.
    Seriously though, I need a book so psychologically horrifying I'd be afraid to stop reading it.
     
  2. Eóin
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    Eóin Member

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    Well, maybe the slow realisation that you are going mad, or something similar. Or a creeping amnesia even. Such as, you start forgetting peoples names, you catch glimpses of yourself from ten years ago in a mirror etc and so forth.

    Reading that, it doesn't seem very helpful at all, but I hope at least it gives you ideas of what not to do, if nothing else.

    EDIT: As for what keeps a lot of people awake at night, I'd guess it's being old. The most psychological horror, in my opinion, is taking something mundane, insigficant even, and turning it into the most horrifying thing ever.

    As for how to do that however...
     
  3. Ivy.Mane
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    Ivy.Mane Member

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    What makes a good horror book/movie to me

    I love a good horror movie that isn't scary because everyone's getting chopped into little bits.

    I think the scariest books are ones when there is alot left to the imagintation. Like where you have a fairly good idea what's going to happen next but the writter kind of doesn't write about it they just leave you knowing and wondering. If that makes sense. Ummm how to put it another way...Like in movies where you know the "monster" is going to do something to the "damsel in distress" and you are pretty sure he's not going to eat her after he kills her but all you hear are noises or everything is cutt off and you go to other characters story but the viewer is still left wondeing and thinking about what's happening to the "damsel in distress".

    I also find thrillers that have a twisted storyline (The storyteller gets you believing one thing and then starts playing with your mind, then repeats that strategy) work well. The best horror stories are ones that get into your head and you know it's not real but there's a voice inside your head loud enough to creep you out.

    Ivy Mane
     
  4. Domoviye
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    Domoviye Contributing Member

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    Read early Stephen King, and some Lovecraft.
    Lovecraft is a little campy now, but he was one of the classic psychological horror writers. And Stephen Kings early short stories and novellas are excellent in terms of psychological stuff.
     
  5. Scavenger
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    Scavenger Senior Member

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    The stuff that scares me the most in both literature and film is when I as a reader don't know what's going on either. Leave your reader as much in the dark as your characters, and it'll really creep them out. I recently read a book that did a fabulous job of scaring me; it's called House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, and is honestly one of the coolest books ever. It's an experiemental novel, and can take a little patience to get started, but once you get into it, it's phenomenal. The best (and applicable) part of it is that as you're reading it, you're thinking, well, this isn't scary at all, and then as soon as you close it you realize you're terrified. It's an excellent look into madness and, especially, how not knowing or understanding can drive you into madness.

    Hope that helps some.
     
  6. ForsytheTragedy
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    ForsytheTragedy New Member

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    Scary? You said the magic word.

    All my life I've been a HUGE fan of anything and everything horror. I'm not scared by anything except spiders, but I know that's not what you're going for. =) So, from my experience, let me tell you what I think is the most frightening of things for a person to read.

    Imagine your reader curled up alone on a sofa or chair somewhere in their house, most likely alone. They are immersed in your story, paying attention to little else. What, after they lay down the book, will still have them spooked? Something real. To me, the scariest thing in life is the possibility that what you're reading or seeing in a movie could ACTUALLY happen to YOU. I think Dean said it best in the show "Supernatural". The usual baddies (ghosts, vampires, demons, etc) all have rules, laws they have to follow (they're easier to understand). But people? People are just plain crazy.

    Reading about somebody that is so mentally corrupt as to kidnap, rape, murder, torture, etc. is just downright scary. That's the kind of thing that causes my heart to race if I hear a noise in my kitchen or something that sounds like my doorknob jiggling. I never fear that some warped, disgusting creature lurks outside waiting for me to come out and explore the noise. No, in my mind, there could ACTUALLY be some demented, sick in the head guy outside trying to get IN. That kind of stuff actually happens, and I think it's that same material that sticks with people, as it plays on our fears of reality.

    I don't know if this is any help to you, but I thought I'd throw in my two cents. Hope you take something away from it!
     
  7. Edward
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    Edward Active Member

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    House of Leaves is on of if not the greatest books I've ever read. I'll admit I never finished it after the Navidson Record (book was overdue), but it was great. The scariest part though was when Johnny was refilling the purple ink and started feeling like something was about to kill him and then had a panic attack. Also, what the scars next to Zampano and the cats being ripped apart.



    Actually, one monster in an early draft of my story was little more than a cockroach as big as a Volkswagen. Those things freak me the hell out.

    Now most of the creatures in the story are the ghosts of the town's people who ruined the creepy little psychic girl's life, if Japanese movies have taught me anything, little girls are creepy. Look at Samara (Cop, High Schooler, Priest, Rapist, Serial Killer, Doctor, (They're all based on a sin. I have nothing for Gluttony.))

    EDIT: Also, Forsyth, what's your avatar? It creeps me out quite a bit...
     
  8. niko1234
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    niko1234 New Member

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    Try giving Ring by Koji Suzuki a read, I know the film kind of sucks but the book builds up intensity really well. Characters only die at the beginning to set the scene, then there is very little death until the end. The story kind of slow burns like a thriller but uses psychological horror really well, there was genuinely times when I had to put the book down because I was scared. That should give you a good idea of how to do it!
     
  9. Edward
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    Edward Active Member

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    it's been translated?

    I'll check it out next time I go to the library
     
  10. LionofPerth
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    LionofPerth Senior Member

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    Ah well, I tend to think the whole psychological thing is by showing things that don't make sense. As a fundamentally logic driven person(which is all of us, really) goes, there is stuff that doesn't make sense, the more of it we are exposed to the more the grip on sanity is weakened.

    Admitable, I am more of a visual person, yet I hate gorefests(really gorey movies).

    Best example of what gets me is one element of a game of mine. Eternal Darkness Sanity's Requiem. During the early stages of the game the stone busts through the hosue follow you, that's right, you run by it, the head turns to follow you, solid stone bust, moving head, spooky, creepy, and disconcerting when you notice it.

    Other elements of the game I like are the way you percieve things, like the way rooms seem to change size when the sanity metre is rather low, you get visions, flies on the inside of the screen (I sat there for five minutes trying to shoo them off), the character experiencing their own death, yet it not being real, the visions of things, like seeing your own body in a bath of blood.
     
  11. Funny Bunny
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    I dont really write horror, but I do write a kind of modern Noir psychological thriller. There is a lot of mood/atmosphere used in that sort of writing. How to convey horror without monster-waiting-in the dark? I just finished a scene yesterday (first draft only) which was the first real "murder" in my book. it happens very late in the book. I used many "film" conventions to make it seem scarier. I used low lighting (a stable interior). A single light bulb. Hidden doves cooing in the rafters. The cold scent of dust and the warm overpowering smell of sweet hay. The victim had done nothing wrong, just stood to be a witness to something else. The murderer did it cold, as though stepping on a bug. It's even worse because when I introduce the character earlier (the lead character's daughter's riding instructor) he is very charming, helpful, and likable. I spend a long time creating a character you don't want to die. He becomes scarier because the reader knows he is after the lead character. No one really knows what he is capable of until he gets rid of this guy. So-- I would say "suspense" don't show the monster (in this case a killer) until you are ready to really go for the juggler. Altering the mood really helps to make it scary. I have used paintings to sort of identify images that can be read as "scary." Andrew Wyeth, a great American Painter (father was N.C. Wyeth, and son is artist Jamie Wyeth) Did many very scary paintings. Christina's World is one of his most famous, but he did others of old buildings and scary looking people and meat hooks and really weird compositions. I tend to like to study Wyeth for "atmosphere." Also you might ruminate on photographs to get details you think are "scary." I used to take my camera to old graveyards in the East (when I lived there) to get "scary" ideas. Just walking around the neighborhood taking pictures of scary things is a good idea. Like once I saw a creepy worker's glove that made me think of a severed hand.

    Mood, Atmosphere, tension, climate, lighting, decay and so on really help.
     
  12. Edward
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    Edward Active Member

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    Interesting. I might go around with a camera myself. Also, you kind of scare me.

    I don't remember if I mentioned it in my original post, but I've been doing a little studying up on horror: Watching Session Nine, Silent Hill, Reincarnation, playing Silent Hill 2 (this is the most frightening thing I've ever seen. Just walking around the Apartment building unnerved me so badly that when I put down the controller my hands where pale, cold, and shaking. Nothing else has given me that kind of feeling), and I actually did buy Ring yesterday. Also gonna read some Lovecraft, from what little I know of him it's all "those who look upon it's face are driven mad" and "those who read from it's pages are driven mad" and "madness madness madness". Wouldn't mind reading the novelization of the Silent Hill game and/or movie, Silent Hill graphic novels, and the Se7en graphic novels. Neither the library or the Barnes and Noble had Silent hill or the comic books. I could have ordered them, but meh...

    Long story short, the next few days I might have trouble sleeping...

    I'm gonna go look up this artist you speak of.
     
  13. EyezForYou
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    Edward, I suggest, you go buy yourself a copy of DOOM III, and experience true terror. You will **** your pants.
     
  14. LionofPerth
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    LionofPerth Senior Member

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    Doom 3 is not that scary, it's kinda funny actually, listening to those recordings.

    As for the monsters etc, it's just an updated version of the original, and that didn't scare me, where as a game with moving stone busts does.
     
  15. Funny Bunny
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    Lovecraft wrote illegible purple prose. I often wondered if he actually knew what he was doing. I'd go mad if I had to edit him. Why not read some Allister Crowley or other "source" material instead of fiction writing. "The Book of Lies" and so on are bedrocks of Horror. I thin if anyone wants to write fiction, you could go to the source and actually get into a bit of evil magic or something. First hand research trumps scary movies or books any old day.
     
  16. Edward
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    Edward Active Member

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    I haven't read much of Aleister Crowley's work because frankly, I don't find him that interesting. He seems to have a sort of Anton LaVey feel to him from what I've read, and Thelema seems like Wicca. It all seems like it was done for the attention. (Seriously, Church of Satan, full of attention seeking). I have done research though. I've read up on the Divine Comedy, The Sephiroth, Angelology/demonology (the last two is where Crowley and LeVay keep turning up). Doing research on Japanese ghosts and things like the kind of urban legends that aren't really legends, but things people make up to scare each other. For instance:
    There are seven words in every Gideon's Bible - y'know, the ones they stuff in every hotel room - that can't be found in any other bible.

    If you repeat those seven words to yourself while grasping the doorknob to your room, the door will open to any hotel room in the world.

    Of course, if you want to control where you're going, you'll need to know the Gideon's Key - one more inserted word, unique to each copy, that acts as an index for each room.
    There's a small, inconspicious building called "Padraic Willoughsby and Co." in the industrial district of Birmingham, UK. Most of the time, its doors are locked and the windows are draped. However, on February 29th of every leap year, there will be a small plastic container outside the front door containing business cards. On the front of the card it says in large capital letters, "PADRAIC WILLOUGHSBY AND CO. ENGLAND'S THAUMATURGICAL SPECIALISTS". On the back, in nearly illegibly small type it says "The blood of the innocent." Any night after midnight one can come to Paidraic Willoughsby and Co. and slide their card through the door, and the door will instantly unlock. Inside there is an empty room with white walls. No light reaches this room, except for a small sliver from the other end of the room. When you approach this room you will find that it is actually another door. When you knock on it, a voice will ask "What makes a man become exalted?" and you must respond with the phrase on the back of the card: "The blood of the innocent." The door will open and you will come into another room, a kind of lounge. Inside it you will find around 5-10 people, depending on the night, sitting around smoking and drinking brandy, all in late Edwardian period dress. There is absolutely no conversation at all in this room and, it is nearly silent except for the phonograph which plays the exact same record over and over, ad infinitum. If you attempt to speak to one of the patrons, they will promptly ignore you and pretend as if you were not there. Towards the south wing of the room you will find a large, round table, slightly different from the others. On it will be a quill pen and a document. The document shows all of your personal information: name, birthdate, place of residence, criminal record, greatest fears, etc. At the bottom of the document is a long line that asks for your signature. No one knows what happens after you sign it.
    There is a small island in the Mediterranean Sea that does not appear on any map. It cannot be seen from any other island, nor can any other land be seen from it. On this island is a lighthouse, rotting from age and sea water, that is never lit. There is nothing inside it, save for a spiraling staircase that leads to the top, and an ancient, dusty bookcase.

    The case is filled with unmarked books, bound in ancient leather, save for a single space. If you remove a book from the shelf, it will fling itself open in your hands, and the words inscribed in it shall start screaming to the air. You must wrestle the book closed and shove it back on the shelf, or the immortal evil contained within its pages shall break free, and you will be forced to take its place, with pages, ink and binding crafted from your own flesh and blood.

    However, if you bring the correct book to the island, and place it in the empty space, the lighthouse will light. As long as it is lit, the world shall enjoy an unending paradise, for all the evil in the world will be contained in the lighthouse. And while it is lit, nothing can go in or out.

    The only problem; you will be trapped for eternity with all the evil ever known or conceived, by man or god. And the only way to escape, is to douse the light.
    man those things creep the hell out of me. I read a few about mirrors a while ago and they still make me antsy.

    Mostly at the moment I'm trying to capture the feeling, not the facts


    on another note: Played a bit of DOOM III, not all that scary. It's just a bunch of monsters going BOO. Quake scared me more. Plus, as far as scary games go, Silent Hill 2... just knowing Pyramid Head is in the game kinda gives me a pre-rape feeling. I'd be playing it right now if I didn't find scouring the apartments for something I missed so terrifying. And I already know that everything's dead and the game being on 'easy' it's not like they'll respawn. It's all the background music and lighting. Which reminds me, I need to go make a thread about a Halloween soundtrack.
     
  17. Funny Bunny
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    Funny Bunny Contributing Member

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    Thats great. Japanese ghosts sounds interesting.
     
  18. MarcG
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    MarcG Contributing Member

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    I'm not sure if it's helpful, but I can think of a few times or situations when something just downright scared me.

    In Crime and Punishment there is one scene that comes to mind. Reading the book at 11PM with a single light on and the door open... not so good.
    Raskolnikov is dreaming and is at the old moneylender's apartment... where it happened. He sees a figure hunched over in a rocking chair, in a way that their face is obscured, looking at the ground, continually rocking. To see their face, he has to get nearly to the ground. He sees that it is the old woman and a twisted, painful look is on her face... but she's laughing. He realizes that she is laughing at him. So he strikes her with the axe, again and again, and she keeps laughing more and more with each strike...

    I could PM the quote or page number if you'd like. It really struck me because of the apprehension - you don't know what it is, and you don't want to look, but you KNOW you have to. Then it could be quite anything, so long as it's bizarre and meshes with the novel. Obviously, it couldn't be puppies (although... puppies which grappled, fought, and killed each other might be pretty scary if described viciously enough) but it should be fairly obvious just what you'd like to have jump out at them. You can also use the 'false' setup, where it's the same apprehension, but it ends up being the neighbor or the mailman, or something equally innocent in the context of the book.

    As well, just like was said before, just setting the scene as SOMEWHERE YOU DON'T WANT TO BE is usually enough to seed a little fear in the reader. Oh, and as far as a scary game... Ravenholm in Half-life 2. I believe that's where the demo is set. Don't put the brightness too high or you'll damper the effect. :)
     
  19. Funny Bunny
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    I think there are technigues, like "the hook" that Stephan King talked about in Danse Macabre. By the way, I feel that is the best book written on writing horror. I was going to go into horror writing, but I really thought that real people were scarrier, so I do the Noir thriller.
     
  20. Edward
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    Edward Active Member

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    this is just off the top of my head here, but (and technically it's the opposite of the false set-up I guess...):
    The halls of the school were empty. Paint that had flaked off from the wall covered the floor, mixing with the town's ash, giving the building the same dark grey look as everything else. The higher parts of the wall were warped and faded from where rain had seeped through, leaving spots of black mold on the grey-white walls. The doors to the classrooms hung loosely, some held by a single hinge and some just slumped over on the threshold. At first the only sound was that of my footsteps, they seemed to echo louder than they should. I couldn't help but stop every know and then to be sure that the sound didn't hide others. I'd stand still and hold my breath, half expecting to hear his footsteps, the clink of chains, or the scrape of a blade on the broken tile. I didn't hear it though, and every time I was grateful, but still uneasy. It was during one of these moments that I first heard the sound.
    At first I thought it was him, the bandaged man, come to get me. I looked around and hid in the first locker I saw. The sound didn't grow closer. I waited with breath held. I couldn't make out what it was, but it wasn't the scrape of metal. The door opened with a screech and I crawled out, inching slowly toward the sound. Near the end of the hall I could finally make it out. It was the joyful yipping of puppies. For a moment I forgot the hell I was in and rushed down hallway. Through the fogged and dirtied glass I could make out four dark shapes traipsing around, rolling over each other. I put my hand on the handle and opened it as slowly as possible, not wanting the little dogs to be frightened. When the door was opened enough I poked my head in.
    The room must have been a kindergarten class, tacked to the fading pastel walls were juvenile crayon drawings: People being torn apart by wolves, the bandaged man, people being broken on the wheel. It was like the children had been asked to illustrate the Inferno. Slumped at the foot of the large desk at the front of the room was the bloodstained body of what I could only assume had once been the teacher. Its... her stomach was opened, intestines hanging out. The puppies tumbled about on the floor, leaving red smears where ever they went. They were falling apart, rancid flesh held together by gauze. Two of the beasties played tug of war with what could have been mistaken for a sock, pulling apart a small intestine. The cute and innocent barking seemed unearthly now. Appalled, I barely noticed when one of the pups skittered across the tile and stopped in front of me. Look up at me with those big blue puppy dog eyes. One of them was white and cut in half. It tilted its head to the side cutely, it's tail wagging, bloody bandages trailing off it looking like a flag. Choking, I slowly reached my hand down and placed it upon the thing's head and pat it. A slimy film stuck to my hand. The puppy barked happily.
    I slammed the door closed and ran down the hall to a bathroom. I barely made it to the toilet.
    puppies like that? though that's a little much exposition...

    On Danse Macabre: I might pick this up the next time I go to the library. I had always thought it was a collection of short stories, and that On Writing was the only book he did on writing. When it comes to Horror, Stephen King is a name you can trust.

    Oh yeah, I just finished watching Dagon, which turns out to be a movie of Shadow over Innsmouth and not the story Dagon. Confusing. It piqued my interest a little bit. Not a great movie, but nothing on SciFi Channel ever is.
     
  21. Funny Bunny
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    Funny Bunny Contributing Member

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    Danse Macabre is the best book on writing horror fiction their is. he goes into genres within genres and so on. Keeping in mind it is a pretty old book, it is really amazing how fresh it is.

    Oh sorry if I scare you. I am just naturally scary.

    FB :D
     
  22. Karpi
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    Karpi Member

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    i usually look for scary ways that people have really died.
    like my absolute favorite
    (if written right)
    Person 1 tied to table and blindfolded by Person 2, but after Person 2 shows Person 1 an axe.
    Person 2 makes a swishing noise with the axe and quickly places a warm damp cloth on Person 1's neck. Person 1 dies.

    ^true story^ since its true, i find it disturbing.
     
  23. Funny Bunny
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    Those sorts of storys seem to come from the old Eerie and Tales From the Crypt Comics.

    Here's a really old one:
    In the Victorian era...
    A death row prisoner agrees to be part of an experiment. The man knows he will die anyway, and so he is doing this for the good of man's knowledge. The scientists put him in a warm bath (temprature) and then tell him that they are opening a vein and he will die when all the blood leaves his body, and they explain the sensations he will feel. They nick his wrist but not badly and then hide it from his view. One Scientist starts a small drip tube which causes the prisoner to hear what he thinks is his blood leaving his body. The bathtub which has been "body temperature," begins to cool down. He starts to shiver as the bath becomes colder (thinking it is his body cooling down, he is becoming more and more agitated). Finally, the drip stops, and the prisoner suffers a fatal heart attack and dies, but not the way they said he would.
     
  24. Karpi
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    yeah i was just freaked when i found out that actually happened.

    the betraying author is the trick i love the most, and like to read about.

    Im currently searching for a book someone told me they had stopped reading because the betraying author was too much. I think its psychological horror at least. it makes you not trust any other characters from that point on. paranoia
     
  25. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    Or someone is seeing stuff, which is not really there and going nuts.
     

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