1. Garball
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    Garball Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand. Supporter Contributor

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    Horror Writing a shocking scene (horror)

    Discussion in 'By the Genre' started by Garball, Jun 21, 2013.

    This question came up in my mind concerning my work while responding to a thread about writing humor. I have a scene in my book where an old man who is supposed to be helping my MC turns around in the form of a pig faced demon. It is not the climax, just a scene that confirms the MC's thoughts that he is dealing with something bigger and darker than he. The quick revelation is enough to send the MC falling backwards and I want some of that feeling conveyed to the reader.
    "Boo!" doesn't really translate well into reading/writing. I have read my passage several times and think that I am completely missing my objective. I attempt to describe what the creature looks like, but I think in the description, the shock value is weakened.
    Is it generally better to just show action and hint at physical attributes to ignite the reader's imagination?
     
  2. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I think there are a lot of different ways to do this (sorry, I know that isn't especially helpful, but I want to make it clear that I don't think there is only one way). If you just show action, you will certainly pique the reader's interest: What's he seeing? What the hell does he look like?? The downside is that when you finally do tell the reader what the character is seeing, it may be somewhat anticlimactic (the tension being in the not knowing). OTOH, if you want to shock the reader (which is how I read your post), then I think you will have to be very explicit in your description. Also, you have to make sure the reader is utterly unprepared to see what the character sees.

    I'm reminded of the 1970 musical, Scrooge, with Albert Finney, the graveyard scene where Scrooge steps gingerly toward the abyss. Up until now, all the viewer (and Scrooge) has seen is the classic shadow figure fully cloaked, face completely hidden. At the last minute, Scrooge turns back to look and gasps. The camera angle suddenly changes, and we see what Scrooge sees - a skeletal head. I remember seeing this in the movies when it first came out, and my twelve-year-old step-sister-to-be gasped and hid her face in my shoulder.

    The only thing is, I think that kind of shock is hard to attain in print. But if you want to do it, I think the best way is to focus on one feature at a time - as if his mind can't take it all in. Maybe he notices (and I'm just making this up right now) the snout instead of a nose. Then, fiery, inhuman eyes. Then...well, you get the idea.

    Good luck. Sounds like an interesting idea.
     
  3. Garball
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    Garball Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand. Supporter Contributor

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    Blatty had me terrified and looking over my shower curtain for a crab crawling possessed girl when I read the Exorcist. I have gone back and reread the passages that had me slamming the book shut and I just can't put my finger on the mechanics he used that had me so scared. Maybe it was the subject matter as a whole, but he wasn't terribly descriptive in some of the most shocking scenes.

    I find my writing scary-ish, but I know the scene in my head. I have the visual shock in my mind. Conveying my mind's eye seems incredibly difficult.
     
  4. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    L. J. Smith is a terrific author of the YA circle. And she's probably one of my favorite because of her horror/fantasy YA books.

    I've read the crap out of some Stephen King and Dean Koontz. But IMO, L.J. Smith does a much better job and portraying horror and fright than both of them combined. She wrote the Vampire Diaries, the Night World series and the Forbidden Game trilogy. But my favorite is the Dark Visions trilogy. The MC in it can bring the dead back to life. So as you can imagine, there are a lot of zombies in it, and the fear and detail and appearance she can describe are just incredible. She does it very well in the Forbidden Game, too, but it doesn't really come into play until the second or third book.

    If you have time, I'd recommend reading as much of those two trilogies as possible. She manages to include appearance and reaction and fear in her novels. Her books used to make me afraid of the dark. lol


    Good luck. =)
     
  5. maskedhero
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    maskedhero Active Member

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    In the film Alien we saw the horrid creature once, as a little baby, in a very gory, and disgusting scene. The full sized version was only hinted at, allowing our minds to fill in the details in the most awful sorts of ways. That's what makes horror so great. Our imaginations run with it, and we watch, and cringe, at what we are to witness.

    So I'd say give a very basic description, or just a confused description. Have him think about it after the fact, but don't give too much detail. Let the reader, shocked from the revelation, fill in the horrific details.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The key is to stroke the deepest fears of the reader. Unfortunately, readers differ enough that you cannot expect to be on target with every reader.

    Personally, I wasn't the least bit scared by The Exorcist, either in film or book form. But one of my fraternity brothers returned from the film a complete basket case. It seemed like the Catholics in the house were the ones most affected. As an atheist, none of it struck a chord with me.

    Generally, it works better to nudge the reader's imagination rather than stab it repeatedly. Milk the reader's imagination, gently but insistently.
     
  7. Vault
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    I think you could find a good balance between description, and making it brief enough to be shocking. Just focus on quick, concise words that convey the "big picture" message, don't get lost in the details, and cut out anything that seems like filler.
     

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