What makes something scary
Well, I didn't get the chance to go to the Monster Mash last night. I was super bummed, but poor planning on my part meant I had to sit it out. Oh well. I'll have to do the whole "Nightmare and Corpse Bride" thing to get my Halloween fix.
But let's not dwell on the bad stuff, let's talk about writing spooky stuff. Now, this isn't going to be an advice post, it's more an exploration of my thoughts. You see, I don't actually horror. Well, at least, I don't think I do. Apparently a couple of my demonic scenes have been described as "nightmare fuel," but I was never setting out to make The Paladin scare people. Maybe unsettle them, give them something graphic to picture, I mean it does involve demons, but horror was never the end goal.
To add to this matter, I'm not a big consumer of horror or thrillers. I just don't like being scared. But you know, some people do. And for those people, I hope my story can scratch that itch just a little. But what is it that makes something scary? I'm actually asking here because I don't know. In visual media we use a lot of jump scares. It's cheap and easy. If not that, we build suspense with sound, with atmosphere. How does that translate into writing? Well... let's examine it.
I think a lot of horror probably comes from letting your imagination fill in the gaps. Only telling the reader what they need to know to comprehend the scene, then hinting at far more. The unknown is a scary thing in real life. It's why we hate walking alone in the dark; we can't see what's around the corner. That same in the light loses all tension. So obscuring things from the reader, to me, seems to be way to go. Heighten the tension with descriptions of the character's mindset. When we see others acting anxious, scared, that leeches over into us. So let the character jump. Let them scan the room. Raise their heartbeat. Let their breath catch.
What did I actually do in The Paladin? Well, again, I don't think it's horror, but for the scenes that betas thought were disturbing (in a good way), I just tried to play with expectations. I took inspiration from old depictions of monsters, I looked for things that were unsettling, uncomfortable. I made everything personal to the characters experiencing, letting their feelings carry over to the reader. Can I get more specific? Not unless you read the book.
But on that note, if you're a regular of the site, you should know the first three chapters of The Paladin have been updated to reflect the last edit of the manuscript. It's tighter, more engaging, and just plain better. I think you'll like it. Give it a shot.
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Keep your eyes open for my debut novel, The Paladin.