We at Twisted Sister truly appreciate Rayne Hall sharing her thoughts on writing with us, this is the second part of a short series on writing scary or suspenseful stories (check out part one — Alone into Danger for ideas on creating suspense, or part two Violence and Gore for ideas on seasoning your story with spatter).
What do you fear? Fire, spiders, dentists’ drills? Use it to enrich your stories. Here are some ideas.
* Do you know any creepy places? Does the thought of certain dangerous locations make you queasy? Is there an abandoned building that gives you shudders each time you pass? Does a house in your neighbourhood ooze malevolence? Do you have to brace yourself each time you climb up into your attic? Are you terrified of walking a certain path? Creepy places make atmospheric fiction settings. Many of my short stories started from descriptions of such locations. You can also use those places in your novels, especially for suspense-rich scenes or the book’s climax.
* Perhaps your novel heroine has a serious phobia; she may be scared of snakes or terrified of heights. Throughout the novel, she is successful in avoiding snakes or heights… but during the climax, when the her only chance of survival lies in jumping into the snake pit or in scaling the cliff, she must confront her fear. This creates enormous excitement. The readers will be scared on her behalf. If you have this phobia yourself, you can write about it with great authenticity.
* Are you frightened of something that other people consider harmless? I know people who are frightened of clothing zippers, long fingernails, clowns’ faces, butterflies or thermos flasks. If you have such a fear – whether it’s a full-blown phobia or just a shuddery feeling – , write a short story about it. Stories inspired by weird fears often get published in anthologies.
* What terrified you when you were a child? Whether the danger was real or imagined, your emotions were probably intense. What if there really was a cannibal living in your wardrobe or a dragon waiting behind the cellar door? Childhood fears can inspire awesome paranormal horror stories. I have sold several horror stories based on what frightened me when I was young.
* Do you have a recurring nightmare? If you dream about the same horror night after night, consider adapting it as a fiction plot. Some of my most successful short stories stemmed from dreams.
* Close your eyes and think of something that frightens you, whether that’s the clown’s face, the sinking ship or the dentist’s drill. Your body will react with symptoms of fear: observe them. Where in your body do you experience the fear, and how does it feel? Does your breathing become faster or shallower? Is your mouth dry, does it hurt to swallow? Does your chest compress as if a giant fist was closing around it? Perhaps your scalp itches or the little hairs on the backs of your arms raise. Does your heart hammer, race, thump or thud? Whatever happens, write it down. This is what your point-of-view character experiences in a situation of danger. Insert these visceral symptoms, and the reader will feel the character’s fear.
If you have many fears, you are lucky, because it gives you access to powerful authentic material for your fiction.
Cowards make the best horror writers: we know what it’s like to be afraid.
Rayne Hall has been working in the publishing industry for three decades, as a publishing manager, editorial assistant, magazine editor, investigative journalist, production editor, literary agent and publishing consultant. In between, and often at the same time, she’s been a museum guide, adult education teacher, development aid worker, apple picker, trade fair hostess, translator, belly dancer and tarot reader.
Now Rayne is a professional writer, with more than sixty books published under several pen names (mostly Rayne Hall), in several genres (mostly fantasy, horror, historical and non-fiction), by several publishers, in several languages. After living in Germany, China, Mongolia and Nepal, she’s settled on the south coast of England, where she enjoys gardening and walking along the seashore. You can find Rayne on Twitter (with her lucky black cat, Sulu) @RayneHall or at http://www.raynehall.com/ You can find many of Rayne’s books on Amazon