Don’t be afraid to scare your readers

Happy_Halloween!Eleven more weeks in our contest countdown! Does that fact fill you with anxiety? Go ahead and embrace it—it’s the perfect day to do so.

Every year I celebrate Halloween by “enjoying” a scary book (I have a low tolerance—about one a year is my limit). While looking for recommendations on what to read this year I ran across this list of the 50 scariest books of all time. What struck me was how many of the books on the list weren’t what I’d consider “scary stories”―like 1984 and Lord of the Flies. Sure, they are frightening, but not because they feature killer clowns hiding in sewers. Both scare their readers by shining a light on the terrifying parts of human nature. They also make you care about their characters, and then put them in dangerous situations. To make a reader genuinely afraid for the safety of a fictional character—I’ve always found that to be the mark of a great author.

So, in honor of Halloween, take a look at the fear, suspense, unease, anxiety, or outright terror in your novel. Does the reader care enough about the characters to feel afraid for them? Is the scary thing—the monster, the disaster, or whatever the threat is—completely unexpected and shocking? Or does the reader know it’s coming? That can be even scarier. Remember watching a character in a horror movie descend into a dark basement. You know something bad is going to happen, you just don’t know exactly when or what. You can do the same thing in your writing, even if you aren’t writing in the horror genre. Through foreshadowing and tone, you can create suspense for your reader, and keep them flipping those pages.

Fear in nonfiction deserves attention as well. If you are writing about a crime or a disaster, the reader might know the ending. Still, you need to develop characters and build suspense just as if it were fiction.

What do you think? Are there any books or stories that have taught you how to write about fear? What’s your favorite? Let us know in the comments.

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