Thursday, October 7, 2010

On Scary Stories

People like being scared. When we were children, we would hide ourselves away in a dark closest and tell ghost stories. I broke a window one time because of doing that. Some friends were over at the house one day. They, my sister and I had been sitting on the front porch telling ghost stories. We all went around to the back of the house to go inside. Us four had just gotten to the back door, with me leading the way, when the dog barked. I know I jumped, but I kind of think the other three pushed me forward. Whatever happened, my arm slammed into the glass and broke it.

It takes more to scare most adults, be people still enjoy being scared. There’s an element of fear in every good story. We build a reader up to expect that certain things will happen, but we also introduce the possibility that it won’t . In suspense, the level of fear is pushed somewhat higher than what you might find in other genres, but every story has to have something to fear.

The greatest fear comes from things we can’t control. A car speeding down the highway at 120 mph doesn’t incite us to fear as much as a car with no brakes traveling down the road at 55 mph. But the most scary things are the supernatural. You hear the story about the old engineer that carries a light through the woods where the train used to run and it has the potential to scare you. You know it isn’t real, but you can’t help but wonder.

One of the difficulties of writing scare novels is that many genres require us to stay within the bounds of reality. A way to get around that is to have the characters telling scary stories. That way, we don’t have to say we believe there’s a woman knocking at the door wanting her golden arm. Instead we’re saying that we believe some friends might sit around the camp fire trying to scare each other. Then when we introduce the thing that really is out there in the woods, the reader has reason to fear it might be the thing from one of the stories, even though we can’t actually do that.