All horror writers have something very clear, we like to scare our readers, and the big question that we all ask ourselves is: how do we scare our readers?
Surely there are many answers, each writer has his secrets, and each of us handles a type of fear. Last week I spoke about how terror works in the human brain, on a psychological level fear is an evolutionary constant, a defense mechanism against the dangers that surround us as a species.
Fear produces physiological and chemical reactions in our body, nervousness, palpitations, sweating. Fear can be so strong that someone, extremely scared, could die of fear, just like in Doyle’s wonderful story, The Hound of the Baskervilles .
I prefer that my readers survive the readings of my stories, above all, so that they can continue to read me. I wouldn’t even want them to pass out. I want you to read cover to cover, but I want you to do it with a cold sweat running down your back and your breath holding.
Today I want to share 11 tips on terror from some writers of the genre , they, like you and me, are looking for the key to fear, the one that makes a reader have nightmares.
You’re Not Safe, You’ve Never Been
One of the best ways to make your reader uncomfortable is to make them feel insecure. Create a daily scene, something that can happen in the next room, fill it with characters to empathize with, and then make something bad happen. It can be anything from a light that turns off by itself, a huge red wasp that has crept into the room, to a gigantic three-headed mutant dog … Maybe the last one is too effective, but it is that confrontation between the real and I miss him what makes the reader feel insecure.
Show the threat, whatever it is, somewhere where your character feels comfortable, where nothing bad is supposed to happen. If your characters have friends, then they must increase the threat, doing the worst possible thing with the best of intentions.
Atmosphere and Rhythm
Scaring is not always the best solution, I prefer to make them feel uncomfortable, which can be achieved in many ways. However, the key to a good scare is the atmosphere. Build up the feeling of threat little by little by choosing your vocabulary carefully. The setting and the sensations create a greater sense of terror than any monster or killer.
Good terror literature is all about rhythm. Good horror stories gradually take you into a believable and safe world, before showing any difficulties. In this way the reader creates bonds of empathy with the characters and places and will worry about them when bad things start to happen. If bad things happen little by little, the story will catch the reader more than if everything rushes, as it happens in The Curse of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson, beginning with minor events that escalate until terror is unleashed. .
I have adopted this way of writing making the events increase as the story progresses, in this way it not only helps me to shape the story, it also helps the reader to better understand what is happening to the characters.
Although it seems silly, it is actually very simple, do not try to scare others, first be scared you and the rest will come. For me, that internal terror is linked to love. The things that scare me the most are not those full of teeth that attack you in the middle of the night, but losing someone you love. Or the idea of losing myself, when your mind melts into nothingness. That is my horror.
Fear is within all of us, to be able to get it out you must first know yourself and know what you fear the most, so you can get into the minds of your characters and scare them. That’s one of the things that makes Stephen King such a teacher, his characters are so real that you connect with them from the start and they start whispering to you right away.
Having a sense of fear is a lot like having a sense of humor.
There is nothing wrong with frightening yourself. If you have seen someone tell a real ghost story, if you have seen their voice shake and tears well up in their eyes, then you know what I mean… This is how fear works when it reactivates. That’s a good start if you want to scare your readers. Another good idea is to release the terror in the middle of a scene, instead of building up the intensity. Imagine the whole family gathered for a family meal, all happy and suddenly a dismembered goat falls on the table breaking dishes and splashing blood on everyone present. That scene may turn out to be more intense than anything you’ve been building for 200 pages.
Get INTO THE READER’S MIND
Each reader fears something different. Fear is as personal as a sense of humor. That applies to both sides of the page. Each character must have their own fears. Imagine that your character has not had an easy life, however, he has always held on to a moment, a memory that he shares with the person he loves the most. What will happen when you discover that that moment never existed? Go a little further, turn that loved one into a real monster.
There are two ways to scare the reader. The first is very simple, find out what they fear and put it on the page. It’s a fool-proof method, but it doesn’t work in the long run. Insects, death, childhood trauma, abuse, instantly cause fear, yet last just long enough for the reader to turn the page.
The second way is more durable, it uncovers the reader’s hidden fears. Fear is a very powerful tool (most religions use fear to keep people at bay). Fear affects the reader, sneaks up on him and accompanies him even when he finishes reading the book. For me it is the best form of terror that exists.
False Sense Of Security
Simon Kurt Unsworth
How to scare your reader: Make your story as based on the real world as possible (even if it’s in a made-up world). Make it recognizable to everyone, then show the elements that make it vulnerable. Real fear consists in showing, through narration, the chain of events that, if they occur, will endanger something that matters to the reader and will change that world they love, turning it into something horrible that they no longer understand. Monsters aren’t that scary. But the monsters that walk our streets and threaten the lives of our children are something else.
Before scaring someone you have to get them to lower their guard. Readers face terror by preparing for what may happen. Find a way to turn the tables. Get them to feel comfortable, make them laugh, empathize with the characters. You have to make readers trust you.
Blood is not necessarily the best option for scaring people. Neither is gore or disgust. Do you know that feeling you have when you go to a job interview? Just thinking about it right now, do you feel that unpleasant sensation in the pit of your stomach?
As a general rule, “anticipation” is usually worse than reality, and that is something I love to use to scare my readers. I try to drive them into a state of false security and quickly change direction.
Ultimately it all comes down to taking people out of their comfort zone and into those kinds of situations they fear and avoid. For me, the key is to leave them in that uncomfortable area for longer than necessary…
Find something that your readers don’t want to see or know exists, then write about it in a way that they can’t look away.
In short, there is everything and for all tastes. Every horror writer understands fear in one way and writes accordingly. Each of these tips is of immense value on its own and can be turned into a separate novel. That’s how good they seem to me.
How about you? How is your terror? What is your trick to scare the reader?
I hope that all these tips are useful in your ghost writing, if you have any questions that have not been resolved in these tips you can leave a comment or contact me. Also, if you want to start with terror or improve what you know, I teach a horror workshop at EFE.