Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Sow With Darkness

If you want to write good scary scenes I suggest you take the time to scare yourself, and notice the effects you get. I go for walks down the dirt roads around my place at midnight. Sometimes with the moon and sometimes not. There are trees on every side. I hear night birds. But there isn’t a single streetlight. Once in a while you’ll see a lonely house lamp through the pines, that faint fog of a light that only serves to accentuate the greater darkness all around.

Shadows follow me when the moon is up. I hear small animals crashing away through the brush, but they don’t sound so small when you’re standing alone on a rutted dirt road with the dark forest all around. I don’t know if this will work for you, but it gets my heart rate up.

Use your own actual experiences of fear. Create new experiences. Write them down without holding anything back. This is the secret to generating the emotions of fear, terror, and horror in your readers.

Sow with darkness. Reap by the light of the moon.


Erik Donald France said...

Excellent. You know, one of the eeriest nights I've spent was walking the Gettysburg battleground all night alone, trying to sleep on Little Round Top until dawn. Spooky stuff! Lots of strange noises, birds and, maybe, ghosts.

This seems like good writing prep, indeed.

cs harris said...

Great idea. Although since I get scared alone at night INSIDE the lake house, I don't think I'll get very far down those dark country roads!

Charles Gramlich said...

Erik, that sounds way cool. In grad school I used to walk home every night around 2 or 3 in the morning from the lab through a graveyard. Quite eerie, but effective.

Candice, sometimes it's pretty hard to make myself go on down those roads. Sometimes I don't succeed.

Lucas Pederson said...

Great advice, as always. I find experience is the best for true terror or fright. I have been in a number of haunted houses and cemteries. One of such houses used to be an old stagecoach house back int eh early 1800's. I took a tour of the place, with the just the current owner of the house. He ttold me of its history and who died there, how many died there and of the ghost stories surroundign this old place. and through it all I heard light tapping from the walls around me. Tap, tap, tap, tap. Either the owner did not hear the tapping, or was ignoring ti to tell me the various stories of the place, I don't know. I do know he would not show me one of the rooms ont he second story. The door was deadbolted from the outside, yes, the outside. The door itself stood, white paint flaking from its surface. I asked him why I could not see this room.
The owner's face got all pale for a moment and he shook his head.
"Nothing in there but storage." He said.
Pressing further, I asked:
Does that room have a history too?"
He looked at me, frowned and as he spoke, his eyes drifted to that bolted door.
"Three people were murdered in that room." He told me. "A mother and two daughters. The father killed them with an axe. Authorities lynched him right in the front yard later that night."
I could help but shiver at the story.
He later told me that there had also been a mother who's baby died at birth, the mid-wives, not wanting to upset the young mother, burried the baby in the basement. When the mother was told the baby died, she took her own life.
Okay, I'm done now. Sorry for wasting up so much comment space. I just thought it'd be something fun to share. Later.

Donnetta said...

Good advice, Charles. The most scared I have been was in Mexico. We were taking public transportation (bus) outside of Cancun and stopped by a group of locals carrying machetes. Earth was scooped up so the bus could go no further. I'll have to dig into that memory to capture how terrified I was. Nothing as scary as passionate young men carrying knives, speaking excitedly in an unfamiliar tongue!

the walking man said...

There are many ghosts at Gettysburg, and all through the limited area of the major battles fought in every country. But remember a ghost is not a demon and a ghost will not harm you, mostly just lost souls that don't know where to go to sleep.

I don't think I could scare myself Charles. I 've lived in the deep bush for weeks at a time and the circle of utter blackness beyond the limited light thrown off by my cooking fire was always filled with noises or pairs of glowing eyes, looking in.

I always tried to find a place to set up that was in a grove of trees near an glen or mountain stream in the forest because i used to like to lay alone in the darkness away from my fire and watch the night sky move by as the owls and bats went after their meals as a sort of symphony to what my eyes saw.

It was beauty.



Steve Malley said...

Atmospheric and delicious. You've got a real feel for the horror there, Charles!

Bernita said...

Lovely post.Lovely last line.
People scare me. Nature, nor the "supernatural" almost never does.

Sidney said...

There's a scene in one of the Jack Flanders audio adventures from ZBS Foundation, mystical travelogues all, in which he's in South America looking for the Crystal Skull or something.

He's sitting by the campfire with a fellow adventurer hearing things and seeing shadows in the jungle. The guy observes that he can see where magic realism comes from because of all of the strange things they can see and hear.

Sounds like those walks are an excellent idea.

Rachel V. Olivier said...

1) Am I the only one here who read it "Sow" as in female pig before realizing it was "sow" as in spread seed? I thought that was funny - demon pig.......
2) I have read somewhere that Stephen King is paranoid and afraid of a lot of stuff - that's where he gets his stories. He's trying to deal with the crap he's afraid of.

Stewart Sternberg (half of L.P. Styles) said...

Charles, I believe the writer's job is observe the world through different lens and then reproduce that experience. That fear that you can create walking down a dirt road can be felt at home at night, listening to the house on a breezy midnight. Or afterschool, walking down the deserted halls, steps echoing.

Charles Gramlich said...

Lucas, that would be a cool house to spend the night in.

Donnetta, you're right there.
Most scary.

Walking man, I don't really believe that there are things in the dark that will get me, but at some level my sympathetic nervous system disgrees.

Steve, Thanks, I'm just writing it as I remember it.

Bernita, people tend not to scare me, especially if I'm within reach of one of my guns. I'm weird about the supertnatural. I don't truly believe in it but yet I can scare myself thinking about it.

Sid, I think that's true. I have similar thoughts sometimes at night. The world just looks so alien at times.

Rachel, I think so. I never thought of it as "Pig." And I'm a farm boy. But a devil pig might be the next big thing.

Stewart, that was part of my point. Whatever it is or wherever it is, if you can find your personal fear then it's good for use in writing. Good point about the empty school. Any large empty building can do that to me.

Michelle's Spell said...

This is a great writing prompt. I usually manage to scare myself around my own house when its dark. I'm convinced it's haunted, as is everyone else who has been in it. But that's all right -- more material! Where I grew up, there was a great decommissioned army base which had tons of empty buildings and an empty deserted mental hospital that used to house Vietnam Vets -- writing bonaza!

Bernita said...

Charles, you've been "Thinking Blogger" tagged.
That's scary stuff too.

writtenwyrdd said...

Great point. I always try to evoke the desired emotion in myself and observe how it works for me before I try to force it on my characters.

And thanks for stopping by and commenting on my blog!