The Five Essential Ingredients for a Scary Story
As an author of spooky tales or "Trick-or-Treat Thrillers" as I like to call them, I've often been asked, what's my secret for writing a scary story. Well, we all know that tingly, spine-chilling feeling we get from a wonderfully suspenseful, creepy story, but how do you get there? How do you create that amazing, almost intangible feeling from a few written words? Below, I’ll share with you, my private recipe.
What is a scary story without the cold chill of a dense fog or the sound of a low groan? I remember a story I once read that started with a girl just walking down the street. Nothing was attacking her or jumping out of the bushes, but the way the author described the disturbing quiet of the street sent chills up my spine.
Balance/Contrast between the Familiar and the Unknown
Begin with the normal, the comfortable, and lead into the unexplored. Your dad came home drunk―again. You've seen this before, but what's he going to do tonight? Or maybe something is following you in the dark. You don't know what it is, but you know what it wants―you! Then again, maybe you're home in your own bed when someone breaks in. Your feeling of security is suddenly shattered! Playing the familiar against the unknown is startling, disturbing, and best of all, interesting.
I've read stories where I didn't like the character and really didn't care when the thing in the shadows attacked. Also, when I barely knew the character, same result: BIG yawn. When you create characters that emotionally connect with your readers, you can drag the reader into the monster's den right along with your damsel in distress.
Balance/Contrast between Believability and Disbelief
Have you ever watched a movie where the action turned cartoonish? The director was trying to create an amazing scene, but instead it became ridiculous. Start with ordinary and relatable, then build up to the unbelievable. The shock of someone discovering their innocent five-year-old daughter is turning into a zombie―a real zombie!—is a key moment in a story. But anchor it with real emotions.
Balance of Pace
Don't go too slow or too fast. Keep enough action to hook the readers, but don't race to the finish line, skipping the chilling build up. Suspense and excitement are the keys to keeping your reader turning the pages. You can find entire books written on proper pacing, and I recommend reading as many as you can.
If you're a beginning writer, and my list seems as terrifying as a vampire in a Stephen King novel, take a few deep breaths. Chances are if you enjoy the genre, many of these things are already second nature to you. So, my final advice to all of you would-be-authors: have fun. If you can do that, well, you've won over the most important person of all—yourself.
About the Author:
S. K. Gregory is an author, editor and blogger. She currently resides in Northern Ireland.
“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”