What Scares You?
You’re searching for clues on what to use to bring the horror alive in your story. Well, there’s a simple answer really: what scares you? Gooey, flesh-eating, brain-stealing zombies? Blood-drenched vampires? Savage werewolves? Or is it the unknown?
I like to think we can have so many more options by going with the unknown. If you’ve read my other posts, you’ve gotten an idea on what to litter your works with, now it’s time to go a bit deeper. From here on out, it’s all subjective. Do you want to skim the surface with your terror or go in for that jugular vein? Lately, I’ve been trying to push myself to go past that surface, to dig in and unbury the corpse hidden there.
Growing up, I was terrified the first time I picked up a copy of Audrey Rose from the upstairs bookshelf of the people I was babysitting for (this was around the time that babysitting in the movies became a nightmare job to hold). I can still remember the way my fingers trembled on the pages of that book as I read along… It scared me so badly that I didn’t want to sleep that night but it also instilled a curiosity to go back and read more. Comes the Blind Fury came next. And then I discovered Stephen King. Oh, what a journey his books were and still to this day are. He knows how to lead you to that cliff and push you over the edge.
I didn’t start off wanting to write horror. I wanted to do something light and funny. Circumstances in my life, however, turned dark and terrifying on their own however and because of this, I began to dabble in getting my feelings down on paper. Soon, becoming the survivor that I was, I realized I had a talent for taking the ordinary and wringing fears from it. Each piece I got down, I saw more and more, this was my niche, what I had grown into.
I would repeat the advice of the masters here. If you want to write horror, you have to read horror. Everything from Harlan Ellison, Poe, Lovecraft, Tanith Lee on down to the modern masters, King, Straub, Koontz, and Saul. Don’t forget to sprinkle some Ray Bradbury into the mix as well. His Something Wicked This Way Comes is to die for. Study, study, study how they do things. Decide how far you want to take your own fiction.
Let’s turn the question around on me. What scares me? Rabid animals, spiders, snakes, heck, all bugs for that matter, heights, the idea of a zombie apocalypse, the different layers of darkness, cold spots, the thought of one of my children in danger, the list can go on and on. It only takes one of these fears to build on. For instance, I’ve taken my dislike of the zombie franchise and spun my own creature called Moonlighters. You guessed it; they only come out at night and prey on human flesh and blood. But there are twists to them; they are mere puppets, enslaved by an even greater evil. They are sicked on humans like a dog might be. They cannot behave of their own accord. Instead, they operate like killing machines, spreading their evil across the land.
My ideas spark from dreams at times, snippets of things that happen throughout the days, news events, etc. The stimulus for new ideas is always around us, always waiting to pull us in. Use that to put the scare in your stories and then if you wish, knock that gravestone over and see what lies beneath.