Wednesday, 1 June 2011

How To Scare Your Reader - BOO!

I've been falling in love with the horror genre for a little while now. Not too much - I'm a bit of a scaredycat - but a little. Over the past few days, my friends and I have been watching 'horror' movies and comedies that pretend to be horror movies. (Tremors, I'm looking at you)

Nothing with Kevin Bacon's name on the cover can be scary.

Nothing really scares me like it used to, not since I've played Amnesia. (I've written about Amnesia before and how to make your villains terrifying.) Simply, nothing comes close. This goes to several different aspects of the games. The villains, the monsters, the immersion, the type of 'scary', and the atmosphere.

Today, I'm going to talk about the type of scary. (I'm using Zero Punctuation's review as a basic idea. He's a fantastic game reviewer, if you're a gamer, check him out.)

To make this simple, let's start with a basic room. There's an empty room, well lit. White walls, white ceiling, wooden floor. You are in the doorway entering the room, on the other side of the room is a wardrobe. You flinch: the wardrobe may have just shuddered - but you don't know for sure.

Scary Type A) There's a pause. The wardrobe shakes again, the door slowly opens. Out creeps a monster, terrifying, ugly. It lumbers toward you slowly, and you're helpless to move. It reaches out clawed hands, gutting you. You die. (Or, alternately, you run and/or gun down with an AK-47)

Or a flamethrower. Whatevs

Scary Type B) Closet is absolutely still. Your breath calms down, you relax, and maybe watch some TV. Maybe you're still a little wary. Still, when you least expect it, the monster JUMPS OUT AT YOU!

Courtesy of Zero Punctuation. Abloogy Woogy Woo!

Scary Type C) The closet stays absolutely still. It does not move. You take a tentative step toward it but just KNOW that a monster is going to jump out at you like in scenario B. You wait. You wait. You wait. Nothing happens. But every time you turn away, you could swear it shudders again.

Which is the most effective?

Well, there are different situations for each types. But the way our friend at Zero Punctuation puts it is this: Type C is the most terrifying, because it's your imagination doing all the work. The reader (gamer) is terrifying himself. And as anyone who has ever jumped to get onto bed after the lights are off (avoiding the monsters under the bed) knows, your imagination is the scariest power of all.

It's all about giving the reader enough rope to hang himself with, so to speak. Which leads me to another aspect of terror - but we'll get to that later.

What terrifies you most in stories? In movies? In real life?




Marsha Sigman said...

Great illustrations of your point!

Your question isn't easy because I am a diehard horror fan. So, really nothing frightens me in movies, it startles me. The sudden jump in your face gets to me still if it's done well. I love Stephen King and I think it was him that said be careful not to show the zipper down the monstor's back.

I've been watching scary movies for so long now that I always see the zipper.

But real life is another story. I don't like closed in places and I am horribly afraid of heights.

L.G.Smith said...

Oh, I don't do scary movies anymore. Cuz they scare me. I loved Tremors, though. It was kind of a cult classic when it came out.

I think that option C does work because it relies on each individual's imagination. What scares me might not scare you, so if we are each left to imagine for ourselves what might be happening then we get to optimize the scene's power.

Jenna Cooper said...

Option C is definitely the way to go, it draws out the suspense and scariness longer.
I've never been much into the horror genre, but a creature that makes me sick to think about is the vampire. Ironic, since now it's painted to be all sexy.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Awesome post. I'm looking at writing a YA horror novel at some point. This is great advice. :D

Angela Ackerman said...

Great post. I love a novel with a good psychological scare. Those ones are much more terrifying that the booga-booga ones. :)

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Anonymous said...

Very informative post. At first I believed b would be the scariest scene however I now understand how c can heighten suspense and cause the higher startled jump!

Phil Hall said...

Type B is "the monster closet," a staple of many horror-based video-games (and movies.) Most often insulted because you can check a room visually and see nothing, but cross the imaginary line and it triggers an event that spawns in a baddie from nowhere's-ville.

Whether in movies or games, it's the single most annoying thing. I understand why they do it, but I still hate it. :)

Type A is awesome--when done right. Especially with the "we're being followed/cornered" angle. Good stuff there, but can be repetitive.

Type C could be a letdown if nothing ever resolves around it. Unless used as a red herring, in which case it's fun to watch the "victim" squirm. lol

Lisa Gail Green said...

I 100% agree that C is the scariest!! There is nothing scarier than our own imagination. Thus success of things like Jaws, Psycho (you never see the knife stab her in the shower scene), or Blair Witch. BTW, LOVE the pic. LOL!!

Talli Roland said...

I don't like any kind of scary. Nope, I don't. I can scare myself silly just opening my eyes in a dark room.