Scary Stories

No idea why the last post has such oddball font.

Last night at the writer’s group I attend, I asked the others what story scared them so much that it has stayed with them. It started an interesting discussion that I wanted to continue here.

We listed those stories that still scare us, like ‘Salem’s Lot’ by Stephen King (he made it so believable), ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ by Edgar Allen Poe, (the rhythm of the heartbeat in the words), ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ by Shirley Jackson (as Stephen King has said, she can terrorize without yelling).

What was interesting was that none of the stories that scared us and still haunt us, had anything to do with blood and gore, but with pacing, tension, word use, the slow escalation, the unexpected. By unexpected I don’t mean the creature under the bed. If you’ve read Shirley Jackson’s book there’s a scene with a terrified young woman holding tight to her friend’s hand in a dark bedroom while something pounds on the door. The reader is directed to that ghostly terror outside the room trying to get in, until the light comes back on and the totally unexpected, totally creepy part, is inside the room. It’s a great example of directing the reader’s attention unobtrusively in one direction, while the author sneaks up behind the reader.

Of course you’d expect writers to focus on the craft of the scary story, but I think they have pinpointed what scares us  in these kinds of books, whether you’re a writer or not. A character to care about. That niggling faint feeling that something is about to happen, the sense of doom rushing toward you.

In all fiction though, there are moments in our stories where we need to accomplish the same thing. Tiny moments of pushing our reader to the edge of the seat, whether that’s in a romance, a western, or a mystery. I think we could learn how to make those tiny pieces of our plots more breathless by studying the structure of those scary masterpieces.

Besides, Halloween is coming. It’s time for me to dust off Shirley Jackson’s book and read it again.

Oh, and by the way, photos can be terrifying, too…for a parent!

3 thoughts on “Scary Stories

  1. I tend to watch scary movies because you can’t look away from a short story or a book when the scene gets scary.

    I look at your photo and remember all the times my daughter has given me a near heart attack in her own way. We must have raised them to be adventurous, huh?

    • Oh I love scary movies; especially the ones that realize nothing but blood and guts aren’t scary. There’s one movie that’s kind of hard to get hold of here, British, called ‘The Dark’ with Sean Bean. That one scares me every time and has this perfect creepy, unexpected ending. Adventurous kids. It’s where our gray hair comes from.

  2. I also prefer the creepy, mysterious movies like thrillers and not the gore ones…
    One that I remember from my childhood was “it”. I watched the movie and wanted to read the book then but it was so much more intense in the book, that I stopped it. After I watched all the Steven King movies that came on a Saturday night and was quite creeped out to sleep afterwards…lol
    The Shining ir another one that is quite good and kind of a classic, or birds…

    I dont need to see lots of killing or cutting people open, etc…

    Oh and watching your kid in a scar situation…
    you were actually there Lisa, so its not just the picture…
    I have that with my little charges all the time. Sometimes the are still so young and dont realize the risks yet, but then I still want them to learn and grow and have them try out things. I was never too worried until I had a horrible accident with a child, which had a good ending. But since then I am way more scared to watch my littles ones climb on a playground.
    I wonder how much worse it will be if I have my own…

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