Evolution provided our minds with a healthy sense of fear. Long ago, we learned not to touch fire, say mean things to big strong people or walk close to a cliff. Those individuals with a weak sense of fear passed away without offspring. Today we fear many subjects which range from minor annoyances to fictional horrors beyond imagination. For example, scientists remind us that a meteorite could wipe out all life on earth. Yes, this occurred in our distant past. Yikes!
Let’s start this blog off with a good scare. What is the most (safe) fearful activity a person can experience? How about a Halloween amusement park? A person walks through dark rooms, listens to scary noises and suddenly, an unseen hand reaches out. Boo! Wow, that does not read scary, but in real life, such experiences gets our blood pumping.
This weekend, the movie IT Two is playing. It’s loaded with scary music, bloody graphics, intense surprises, and dramatic build-ups. These movies certainly scare audiences. And yet, terms like “bloody graphics” do not evoke fear in readers.
How about a less than safe experience? A person walks around an abandoned building, stands on a cliff, hangs from a tree branch or drives recklessly. All terrifying experiences, but, not too scary to read. Bob waked near a cliff. And nearly fell off! Ohhh. Scared me to death.
I gave the topic some thought and came up with the most terrifying (short term) situation possible. (As opposed to being locked up for a lifetime of torture.) Bob meets a person and they reveal his social security number, address, bank account balance, daily schedule and family member names. How does this mystery person know Bob’s personal information? In real life, this experience would be frightening. Why? The mystery person only said a few words. No threats, consequences, demands or actions. No panic room could save Bob from calm words.
Let’s take this situation a step further. The mystery person tells Bob a personal detail he never revealed. Can this person read minds? Now, let's take this situation to the edge. “Bob, that scar on your leg. I cut you on your eighth birthday.” What the heck? How did that happen? Time travel? Is this person related to me? Now the final push. The person reveals they are able to harm Bob in the past. Bob understands he is completely at this person’s mercy. The worst possible fear.
Umm… Not reading too scary. Yet, if this occurrence happened to us, we would be terrified beyond comprehension. It’s difficult to convey deep fear in a written format. Movies are able to provide viewers imagines conveying emotions. Audiences see fear in expressions, which helps them to connect with their own fears. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.
Written stories must take a different approach. The author first connects with the reader through character development. Readers become comfortable and form emotional bonds. Only then can an author dramatically harm a character which will instill a reader’s fear.
What are some great ways an author can do this? Umm. I am still figuring this out. Sorry. My best approach is to do a great job of connecting with readers and then build suspense. Do my readers experience a good scare? Umm, probably not.
I’m not into reading scary books and this limits what I am able to write. The stories I have come up with do contain far more drama than my own life. For example, in one scene, two characters climb up a cliff and nearly die. I think this part of the book reads scary. However, experienced readers would appreciate that an author cannot kill off the main characters at the beginning.
Emotions are difficult to convey in written form and fear is no exception. I do my best to keep readers in suspense and then and bring them back to a comfortable setting. I suppose my disdain for suspenseful reading material limits my market. Or is that fear talking?
You’re the best -Bill
October 09 2019
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