I almost never think that what I’m writing is scary, but I am also an author who has occasionally had people put their books in the freezer in order to ‘stay safe.’ So, apparently I’m not the best judge of scary. I watched both Haunting of Hill House and Hereditary and nothing happened. No scary dreams, lingering horror, or even many jump scares. And these are movies/shows that are awesome and other people rave about.
So, obviously something is wrong with me.
But the truth is that I find books way more scary than movies and that’s because my mind gets to fill in the gaps and I’m able to put myself in the character’s space and live it through them in a way that works for me more than it does in a movie.
So, how do we scare people in books? Here are three quick tips.
Find the Horror in Skiing
Think about what scares people. What scares you might not scare other people.
I am going to try to ski today. Last time, I fell and broke my ankle. The time before that, I fell and broke my arm.
That’s truth, but it’s not terrifying to other people, right?
So, for me, I’m scared of downhill skiing. That’s really pretty damn specific and isn’t going to make people frightened unless like me they lack depth perception, grace, and strong ankles.
But if I make skiing the setting for losing control and someone sabotages ski binders or some evil creature lurks in the woods while people are skiing? And then kills them and hangs their broken skis in creepy patterns in the woods? It gets better and scarier.
Take what your frightened of, and then think about why you’re frightened of it, and then make it bigger and creepier and more relatable. Bingo – you’ve got scary.
Do not make your character toilet paper.
Make us care about your characters.
We don’t care about tissues when horrible things happen to them. Or toilet paper. And really horrible things happen to toilet paper and tissues.
There’s a reason for our lack of horror and concern over their fate. They are just toilet paper. They are just tissues. Whatever.
It’s works the same way for characters. We care about the characters that have been built up, that have emotions, dimension, feelings. We get frightened for them and with them.
The toilet paper was ripped from its roll and used. Horribly. Flushed down the toilet and into a swirling dark pipe full of water, chemicals and impossible smells. It was gone.
We don’t really care that much and we aren’t scared. We know that our fate is not the toilet paper’s fate and can’t put ourselves in its position. At least… Well, I hope we can’t.
SHORT SENTENCE IT UP
When things get scary and full of action, you can use short sentences to show the fast-paced terror of your character.
He froze right outside the closet door.
Someone was humming on the other side.
No, he thought. I just pulled the last bin of toys out of there two minutes ago and shut the door.
Nothing could be in there.
The humming kept up, louder now, and closer to a tune. Some kind of childhood lullaby.
He would not open the door.
Something kept humming.
“No,” he said.
Dude. Do not open that door.
Happy Halloween and happy scary writing, everyone!
Next and Last Time Stoppers Book
It’s out! You can order my middle grade fantasy novel Time Stoppers Escape From the Badlands here or anywhere.
People call it a cross between Harry Potter and Percy Jackson but it’s set in Maine. It’s full of adventure, quirkiness and heart.
The Spy Who Played Baseball is a picture book biography about Moe Berg. And… there’s a movie out now about Moe Berg, a major league baseball player who became a spy. How cool is that?
It’s awesome and quirky and fun.
OUR PODCAST – DOGS ARE SMARTER THAN PEOPLE.
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Ebook on Sale for October!
And finally, for the month of July, my book NEED is on sale in ebook version on Amazon. It’s a cheap way to have an awesome read in a book that’s basically about human-sized pixies trying to start an apocalypse.
I’m WRITING BARN FACULTY AND THERE’S A COURSE YOU CAN TAKE!
I am super psyched to be teaching the six-month long Write. Submit. Support. class at the Writing Barn!
Are you looking for a group to support you in your writing process and help set achievable goals? Are you looking for the feedback and connections that could potentially lead you to that book deal you’ve been working towards?
Our Write. Submit. Support. (WSS) six-month ONLINE course offers structure and support not only to your writing lives and the manuscripts at hand, but also to the roller coaster ride of submissions: whether that be submitting to agents or, if agented, weathering the submissions to editors.
Past Write. Submit. Support. students have gone on to receive representation from literary agents across the country. View one of our most recent success stories here.