Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Writing Scary



I have been wracking my brain trying to come up with something appropriately scary for the YA Stands Halloween post. Relevant. Funny even. I don’t typically write scary. But my daughter challenged me to write a scary story recently in response to a local book store contest. So I’ve been pondering writing scary.

Then Hurricane Sandy hit. And I completely forgot about my post until Tuesday afternoon—the day before I am supposed to post.

But I think it’s related…the last couple of days have been scary.

For something to be scary, truly scary, it needs to be grounded in reality. The reader needs to feel it in her bones. It needs to resonate. And for that to happen, it needs to feel real. There’s nothing better than using real experiences, real emotions, real events—even if you’re writing pure fiction. Experiences like living through the Frankenstorm.

One of the scariest books I’ve read recently is the Bodyfinder by Kimberly Derting. I love the sweet romance between Violet and her best friend Jay. But even though there is a paranormal element in the book, the scariest moments are the ones from the serial killer’s perspective. The ones grounded in horrible reality. The sounds of the woods. The terror. The emotion and the texture of those moments make it real. The sensory details that Kimberly includes are terrifying.

In his book, On Writing, Stephen King says this, “We’ve all heard someone say, ‘Man, it was so great (or so horrible/strange/funny) … I just can’t describe it!’ If you want to be a successful writer, you must be able to describe it, and in a way that will cause your reader to prickle with recognition.”
Make your reader prickle with recognition. Give them something real to chew on.

So if you were in the middle of the storm think about:
1.      The sounds you heard. The rain? The wind? The hum of the generator? What do they sound like? A knock on the door in the midst of it all…How do they make you feel?
2.      The things you saw. The color of the sky, the way the wind whips against the trees, the rain against the skylight, the flicker of the candle or a weird shadow from the flashlight. 
3.      The emotion you felt. How do you feel while the power is off? Is the house quiet? What do dogs/kids/spouses do differently? Are you cranky? Tired? On edge? Or happily playing board games and hoping it never ends?
4.      The aftermath. The trees, leaves, streetlights, etc. on the ground. Neighbors picking up their yards, fire trucks/emergency vehicles roaring down the street.

Try this: Write a scene for a scary story that incorporates the things you heard, saw, and the aftermath of the storm—and if you weren’t in the middle of Hurricane Sandy, use your imagination or draw from a memory of something scary you experienced.

Use your senses to paint the picture—and give your reader something for which to prickle with recognition. Scare the pants off them for Halloween.

Happy Halloween! Don’t eat too much candy…that’s another scary story.

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