Maybe scary stories should be saved for Halloween, but maybe in today’s world, where there are scary stories , real scary stories all around us, it is the time to control the spooky stuff by creating it – a writer always has control (or does s/he? – Maybe a thought for a different sort of creepy tale!)
Her Lois Elsden considers writing ‘tales of mystery and imagination’:
What makes a good spooky story? … Fear of the unknown, a dreadful descent from the ‘normal’ to the dystopian, a total suspension disbelief…
You are going to write a ‘tales of mystery and imagination’, you are going to channel your inner Edgar Allan Poe… but in order to be most effective:
- But be realistic and have well-described settings and characters,
- avoid clichés in the situation you choose, avoid the dusty old castle or the spooky mansion – make the settings ordinary,
- contrast situations to the story – maybe set on a beautiful summers day, maybe in a modern hi-tech house or building
- make the characters real – it’s what happens which is spooky.
- Avoid using feelings – use other senses,
- Lull your reader
- Surprise your reader
- Mystify your reader – but don’t baffle them
Make your reader ‘feel’ what is happening:
- smell can be very effective,
- sounds – especially if they are barely audible, unidentifiable or out of place,
- what you see or barely see or don’t see, sounds… especially things which in another setting might be innocuous,
- touch – and sensations of hot or cold, wind where there shouldn’t be any, prickling skin etc.
- even taste… eating something which tastes of something else
Let your imagination take you to unexpected places, but bear in mind you are writing for an audience, remember them, remember your readers (even if you are only writing for yourself, you want to enjoy it when you read it back to yourself!)
- Show don’t tell… describe the scene rather than just write ‘it was scary…’ ‘it was creepy…’
- … and furthermore, forbid yourself to uses obvious words like scared/scary, afraid, frightened, horror/horrified, terror/terrified etc.; if a person is frightened describe the physical sensations they have, shivers, shudders, sweating, feeling cold, and also what their thoughts might be. Remember, there may be other emotions apart from fear and horror sorrow, pity, anger etc…
- Make the ending count – but make it true to the rest of the story… remember your reader! You want them to understand what has happened and you want your tale to linger with them!
Here is a link to Lois’s e-books: