Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Writing a good scare!

Hey guys!

Ah the month of Halloween is upon us! In just 21 days all the spooky and creepy will hit our doorsteps and homes. And I, for one, couldn’t be more excited. This is hands down my favorite holiday of the year. The haunting atmosphere connects with my eerie little W.I.P. So, I wanted to look at some fundamental elements that I think should be in a “good scare” book (just to be clear: this is only my ramblings, no one else’s. Also, I’m talking spooky, not full on horror – though some elements might overlap).

All right, let’s get to it.

When it comes to eerie, one of the first thing I think of is pacing. A spooky book isn’t going to be a languid walk in the park. It’s got to be fast and unpredictable at times, and then at others there needs to be a slow, but ever-increasing tension buildup. This can’t be just your average building of tension. This needs to build a particular atmosphere. It needs to be an increasing “heart in your mouth” feeling. Think about those old horror movies where the girl goes creeping around the house. Cheesy, yes. Effective? Also, yes. Most of us will still hold our breath, even though we know what’s going to happen. It’s human nature. Now, I’m not saying write an old-fashioned cheesy horror (but you can if you want!). What I’m getting at is the variation in pacing should go between these two. You need to build up, then be quick and unpredictable.

So, here’s where I want to build on atmosphere aside from it building your tension. Atmosphere is crucial for a spooky book. You need to decide what kind of atmosphere you want (and I do recommend either doing this before you write your first draft, or doing an entire edit pass focusing on just this aspect.) Are you looking for eerie and peculiar (ala THE ACCIDENT SEASON by Moira Fowley-Doyle) or are you looking for something off-kilter and uncomfortable (ala CORALINE by Neil Gaiman)? Perhaps you’re going for an old-style Goosebumps book, or what about something like ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD by Kendare Blake? Whatever your choice, you need to think ahead – what makes an eerie tone as opposed to a “hold your breath” tone? Word choice, word choice, word choice. Sentence structure. Choice of details. Be careful in your choices.

Then, of course, there’re characters to talk about. You can have a cast of completely normal characters, of course, but you can up the spook by having odd characters, too. Think about HOW TO HANG A WITCH by Andriana Mather. The Descendants are plain unusual – descended from the witches from the Salem witch trials, all dressed in black, and giving fierce looks, and a closed circle kind of feel.

Plot – well, this one goes without saying. But just a reminder: twists, turns…the unexpected, and the guessing game of who is going to do what. And then you have the “this is weird…what the heck is going on?” And the “is there going to be something terrifying in there?” Choose whatever plot you want, but make sure it keeps the creepy factor throughout!

All right. So, there are many, many more things that can make a novel spooky, but if I try and write them all here, I’ll end up with a book (and I’m not writing non-fiction lol), and there will be plenty that I miss. So this is just my little nook in the web to tell you the main things I look at on my first edit pass when it comes to spooky!

Happy Halloween to come, you guys!!!

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