1. Fife
    Offline

    Fife Senior Member

    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2012
    Messages:
    112
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    US

    What Elements Make Something Scary (in Writing)?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Fife, Oct 29, 2012.

    In movies, grotesque images, gore and blood, or the effectiveness of the actors can convince us (to be scared). This is because our visual and auditory senses are engaged.

    With that being said, how do make something scary in writing? If you have a favorite section in a novel or short story, please include them; I would like to learn about this craft.



    TL
     
  2. Spiderman
    Offline

    Spiderman Member

    Joined:
    Oct 29, 2012
    Messages:
    47
    Likes Received:
    2
    Suspense.
    Some kind of scary alien monster.
    Depends on the genre.
     
  3. Gilborn
    Offline

    Gilborn Member

    Joined:
    Nov 6, 2011
    Messages:
    63
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Austin, TX
    Review Poe's short stories and you'll discover several recurring themes.
    Suspense is the key to building the story and drawing the read in. However, you can also use shock and gore similar to how modern horror works. Depends on what emotion you want to play on in the reader. Horror is all about building the psychological pressure.
     
  4. captain kate
    Offline

    captain kate Active Member

    Joined:
    May 4, 2008
    Messages:
    876
    Likes Received:
    28
    Location:
    Cruising through space.
    The mood of a scene is the biggest item. Psychology plays a big role in frightening people-even more then blood and guts. I'm afraid I don't write horror so I don't have any good examples. Try reading King, Barker, Straub, and Koontz for ideas. In King, read, in my opinion, Christine or It for the best examples. Pay attention to how he describes Archie's girlfriend's experience, and feelings, inside the car.

    Hope this helps.
     
  5. Spiderman
    Offline

    Spiderman Member

    Joined:
    Oct 29, 2012
    Messages:
    47
    Likes Received:
    2
    Give a false sense of security.
     
  6. marktx
    Offline

    marktx Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2012
    Messages:
    202
    Likes Received:
    8
    For me, the key to raising the suspense is to place a character in harm's way, but to make absolutely sure that your reader cares about the character. I have a few characters who die in the book that I've just finished. In one case the character is a complete traitor--not the kind of person you would normally feel any sympathy with. But in the scenes leading up to his death (and it's pretty clear that this guy is dead meat--he has worked his way into a nearly impossible situation through his own treachery), I work very hard to help the reader see him as a human being and not just a villain. One way I do this is to explore the regrets he is now feeling about the treachery he has committed.

    If the reader truly cares about the character, or if you can at least help the reader see things from that character's perspective--even if he deserves what he is about to get--it goes a very long way towards increasing the level of suspense as events unfold towards the doom the reader is anticipating.
     
  7. Selbbin
    Offline

    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2012
    Messages:
    3,238
    Likes Received:
    1,806
    Location:
    Australia
    Anticipation.

    The fear of something happening is scarier than something happening. You only need things to happen to validate the fear.
     
  8. Mallory
    Offline

    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 27, 2010
    Messages:
    4,274
    Likes Received:
    191
    Location:
    Tampa Bay
    I talked about this in the monster thread over in the lounge, but I'll say it again here because it's relevant to this thread too. By the way, everyone is scared or not scared by different things, so this is just my personal tastes.

    I'm only scared by something when I've got just enough information to know that 1) something's out there to get me, and 2) it's something unnatural.

    For me, personally -- and I know other people have their own preferences on this -- things like vampires, werewolves, mummies, zombies and most serial killers just aren't scary in fiction. In real life, yes, but in books, no. This is because all these things are either real from our world, or used in fiction so often that it's not a mystery what they do, look like, want, etc.

    I'm scared when I know there's something unnatural and malevolent, but not what it is, and when I only have just enough details to get my imagination running on its own. What I don't know/see is scarier than what I do. As soon as things are explained, the fear is gone.
     
  9. MilesTro
    Offline

    MilesTro Active Member

    Joined:
    Sep 5, 2007
    Messages:
    1,062
    Likes Received:
    49
    Location:
    Springfield
    Using what scares me are things that suddenly pop out. But that doesn't work in fiction. You will have to describe the fear of what the character is feeling while he or she is in danger.

    1408 by Stephen King have good psychological horror description. It kind of scared me as I imagine what horror the character is seeing.
     
  10. steve119
    Offline

    steve119 Senior Member

    Joined:
    Oct 28, 2012
    Messages:
    127
    Likes Received:
    2
    I guess the only real answer to your question is what scares you?. What things or situations make you fearful. Fear is a more personal thing than a generic thing as different people find different things and situations scary. What your really have to do to scare people in general would be to have something that threatens their survival as the strongest instinct in humans is the survival instinct of the individual.
     
  11. SuperVenom
    Offline

    SuperVenom Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Nov 11, 2010
    Messages:
    478
    Likes Received:
    72
    Location:
    South Wales
    I would point out that I don't think that Grotesque images gore and blood etc. are what make movies scary. Hostle is a good example or over the top gore, where instead of being scary its became more uncomfortable. I believe that anticipation of an event is far scarier. As the fear of the unknown plays on the viewer and the reader alike. Music in the movies is one of its finest weapons, used perfectly in JAWS. The build up to the anti climax to the surprise. People always hide their eyes before the gory part. I read a Barbara Erskine called House of Echoes and the scariest part was the 'Tin man" the child spoke about throughout the book that stood in the corner at night. Playing on our emotions of 1. as a parent 2. it being something we don't understand. No gore needed. With writing I'm not expert and others prob help more but i think that pace is important, not giving too much away until you need to. Let the reader do the fantasizing about what scares them. There maybe a monster behind the door, but what it looks like depends on their imagination (until you reveal the axe wielding, 6ft wide psycho wearing a maids outfit with the head of a fish). I myself would hate to see a giant spider as i'm petrified but my friend would hate to see a clown. Twilight etc. not done much for vampire and werewolves street cred when i comes to scare factor tho.
     
  12. TheLeonard112
    Offline

    TheLeonard112 Sūpākūru Senpai

    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2012
    Messages:
    1,023
    Likes Received:
    80
    Location:
    The Ale Giant
    I think anything that will keep you thinking about it when you get home, for it to linger in your mind makes it scary. Because u must think about it, it makes u on the edge. Like after you watch a scary movie and you keep thinking about it in bed then look at your closet or outside your window or you don't want to go outside your room till morning.
     
  13. peachalulu
    Online

    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    May 20, 2012
    Messages:
    3,829
    Likes Received:
    2,382
    Location:
    occasionally Oz , mainly Canada
    I think Selbbin and Supervenom nailed it. Gore isn't scary because it's the end result. Put yourself in a horrible situation - A body of
    water you know teems with sharks - every bump against your flesh, every darting shadow and especially the fin rising out of the
    water is what's going to make you terrified - because you know what sharks can do. ( that's the key - validate the
    fear! ) But as soon as the shark starts eating, the terror is replaced by shock. Never assume gore is scary.
    It's just gussied up death. The fear of death is scary because everyone can associate with it, not everyone can associate with death.

    Here's what I love in a scary book - 1. false scares - that's when the characters are in say... a spooky house the lights have gone
    out and the character is wandering around in the dark attempting to flick the breaker switch. The reader knows the killer is in
    the house with the hero - when suddenly the hero trips - has he been grabbed by the killer? - no, it's a false scare, the hero
    gets up and sees a figure at the end of the hall - the reader tenses, it's the killer! - no, it's just his reflection in a mirror. Then you
    wait until the reader relaxes it's not going to happen - whamo! the killer appears.

    2. A feeling of helplessness - Stephen King can blow an ending but he has marvelous build up. He creates
    villians, entities, and situations that seems beyond the hero's power. Never make a hero in a horror invincible make him
    weak, ordinary - up against enormous odds. Think of the men in jaws. Three men whose boat practically becomes a
    snack for the enormous shark. Once the odds are stacked against your hero, you'll have the reader going
    how is he going to get out of this, how is he going to defeat this?

    3. believability - sounds weird cause most horrors include the supernatural but for me - and this could be strictly
    personal - the more ordinary the situation to start with the more believable, the more horrible. Start with everyday
    actions being interrupted by something scary or peculiar. I thought Jeepers Creepers had one of the creepiest
    introductions to a villain ever. And it starts with something so ordinary - two kids driving home from college
    on a sunshiny back road.

    4. Likability - Also the reason so many 80's horrors fail in being scary is that the characters are annoying, cliche and stupid,
    so who cares if they die? which swaps tension for glee. Once you can make your characters nice, likable,
    believable you'll tense up your reader. They'll be going oh, don't kill off so-and-so I like him. And if the hero
    and heroine act smart if forces you to be more clever in drawing out the suspence. Having the characters
    act dumb allows the screenwriters free range in neatly bumping them off one two three. Think of how
    hard it would be if the characters had been smart.

    Read some scary books - I like Richard Laymon, Stephen King can be pretty good. Brian Keene,
    Jack Ketchum. Even some forefathers like Poe, H.P. Lovecraft.
     
  14. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Character reactions.

    Also, character reactions.

    Oh, and did I mention character reactions?
     
  15. JamesOliv
    Offline

    JamesOliv Senior Member

    Joined:
    Aug 26, 2012
    Messages:
    174
    Likes Received:
    13
    Location:
    New York
    I, personally, like a more cerebral horror.

    Gore doesn't so it for me. Once you've seen one person fed into a wood chipper, it kind of loses the impact.

    One of the scariest things I ever saw was an episode of The Twilight Zone in which a man is in a car accident and cannot move. He is assumed dead by everyone, including the police and ambulance crew. Just as they are about to send him for an autopsy, he is discovered by a tear in his eye as he gives up hope on communicating with anyone.

    Just imagining being in that position scared the crap out of me. There was no need for gore and the entire story could have been told just as effectively in writing. As Cogito said,character reactions set the entire scene. You have one guy basically screaming silently and everyone else treating him like a corpse.
     
  16. Selbbin
    Offline

    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2012
    Messages:
    3,238
    Likes Received:
    1,806
    Location:
    Australia
    There is a hell of a lot more to creating a scary scene than just 'character reactions'

    Sometimes the character may be oblivious; the scary part can happen before the character even reacts (if at all). And sometimes there may not even be a character present.
     
  17. Lemex
    Offline

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2007
    Messages:
    10,507
    Likes Received:
    3,151
    Location:
    Northeast England
    There is no real answer to that question, but I'll say this: what makes everyone look at the sea differently after reading Call of Cthulhu? What exactly is in House of Leaves? Why are arguably only the first three Silent Hill games worth replaying?

    The answer: there is no answer. You can have all the elements of a good horror story and have it not actually be scary, there is something strange and unspoken that really makes horror work and when you are on to it you'll know it.
     
  18. digitig
    Offline

    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,502
    Likes Received:
    79
    Location:
    Orpington, Bromley, United Kingdom, United Kingdom
    And it depends totally on the reader. Call of Cthulhu didn't scare me at all, or make me look at the sea in a different way. One of the most scary stories I've read was Zenna Henderson's short story Hush, with a threat that the reader doesn't understand and that is left unresolved.
     
  19. Lemex
    Offline

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2007
    Messages:
    10,507
    Likes Received:
    3,151
    Location:
    Northeast England
    Exactly. What you might find scary another person might not. Horror is entirely subjective so it's worth sticking with what you find effective and not what might appeal to the largest audience.
     
  20. SuperVenom
    Offline

    SuperVenom Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Nov 11, 2010
    Messages:
    478
    Likes Received:
    72
    Location:
    South Wales
    I think the best answer is prob. a pinch of everything in moderation. Including planning, reactions, information, buildup etc. all mixed, paced and woven together. This can work for exciting scenes, sad scenes and scary scenes.
     
  21. Mallory
    Offline

    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 27, 2010
    Messages:
    4,274
    Likes Received:
    191
    Location:
    Tampa Bay
    There's a movie called "Disappearance." It's a 2002 made-for-TV movie that's actually pretty cheesy in terms of special effects, and there's also a lot of horror cliches: family gets lost in a creepy ghost town, nuclear testing had gone on in that town a long time ago, kind of feels like a ripoff of The Hills Have Eyes.

    But, despite the cheesiness and cliches, I actually thought this was a REALLY creepy movie. You just have to ignore the lame parts and focus on the actual story. The thing is, with movies like "The Hills Have Eyes" or "Descent," they actually show the monsters, and they just look like regular people but with badly-done artificial effects to make them lumpy/burned looking. But in "Disappearance," you never know exactly what's out there. There are a few different possibilities that are implied, and there are scenes where you know it's definitely something real. You get to see characters' horrified reactions but don't know what they're horrified at, and there's a scene where the camera is from the POV of one of the monsters and you can tell that it moves in a really surreal, unnatural manner (kind of a "step, step, step...lurch" very aggressive lunge).

    Same for the Blair Witch Project, at least for me. I know sometimes it's cheesy with the "teenagers lost in the woods" stereotype and I get how the shaky cam can be annoying, but the storyline is EXTREMELY creepy, to me, because you never actually see the BW, and even though there's multiple creepy possibilities offered (mainly based on the descriptions from their interviews in the beginning), there's no sure explanation.

    Another thing is, for both of of these movies, I didn't expect them to be scary. When I saw Disappearance, I was in middle school just passing through the kitchen for a snack (the movie had recently started) and my mom was watching it and it kind of caught my eye. Because it was a made-for-TV movie I was expecting it to be a piece of crap, but it actually scared me a lot, against my expectations. Later, in HS, I watched it again, thinking that because I was older I would think it was stupid and laughable now. Nope, I thought it was really scary then, too. Now that I'm in my 20s and out of college and it's been a while since I watched it, I really need to watch it again lol. I think I'll buy it on Amazon...

    But yeah, the expectations that the readers have will also play a big role. If you spend your first chapter setting up the book to be the OMG scariest thing ever, then readers will automatically have psychological walls up and will be expecting to be rooted to their chair with terror. And then, virtually anything you write will be a letdown, even if it's genuinely good, because it's not living up to their expectations.

    If I were to write a horror novel, I'd make the scariness come unexpectedly. I'd fill the first chapter with other things -- conflicts that are interesting enough to truly took people, but that don't scream "this will be a horror story." That way, when the scare DOES come, it takes people off guard. That makes a difference, imo.
     
  22. Mckk
    Offline

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2010
    Messages:
    4,749
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    I googled Hush - while at times I feel her use of pronouns could be improved (more than once I couldn't follow the sequence of action) - it was CREEPY!!!! How the heck did that thing get made!?

    Well, in answer to the thread - I think not understanding how something came to be, and then making your characters defenceless against it would do the job of scaring your readers! Make it seem effortless for the creature. Creepy creepy creepy! (Hush, that is - loved how it ended.)
     

Share This Page