Scare your reader!


How to instill fear, tension or anxiety in your reader?


Fear is a powerful emotion, which makes it a difficult one to achieve in prose. Instead of music or sound effects, we have descriptions of sounds and the author's voice. Instead of jumpscares, angles, cuts or shifts in colourgrading or imagery, we have paragraphs to describe the scary thing or the terrifying events. Instead of seeing an actor show a fearful expression, we have the thoughts inside the character's head. Compared to how easily a film can make you scared with a combination of all these elements to build and keep up tension and fear.

1. Use prose to your advantage. Sure, jumpscares may be impossible in prose. But jumpscares are cheesy and cheap anyway. Because a horror story requires the reader to focus and do the act of reading actively, instead of passively staring at a screen, they're also going to be more invested once they get into it. Because it's a slower process, and during that process you as the author gain the reader's trust, the fear will creep up on them slowly. Well written prose has the advantage of placing the reader inside of the character's body, unlike a movie where they are a by-watcher,  and if you write your prose in a calculated, immersive, authentic way, you may be able to convince them that just about anything is realand in this case, it's coming to hurt them.

2.  Use foreshadowing. In order to create fear, you need to slowly build suspense. And it really is a slow, slow thing. Find a way to make your reader suspect the worst while hoping for the best. Make them concerned. Make them suspicious of everyone around. Drop in hints early on in both the inner dialogue the character has, and the dialogue they have with the people around them. Suspense isn't just for horror writing, though! Every book needs suspense, and while foreshadowing is the most common way of creating it, there are also a lot of other narrative tools you as a writer should know. A book full of suspense is a book that can be read more than once.

3. Get all up in your character's senses and show them how everything feels, sounds, smells, and looks like. Make it unfiltered and raw. Your character is your biggest weapon against your unsuspecting reader. If you can make your reader feel like they are actually living as your character for the duration of the book, you're going to be able to truly torture them with goosebumps.

4. Don't show the monster. Maybe show it at the end, if you want to. And maybe it's just a personal preference, but I like to be kept in the dark. I love how the fear of the unknown makes me squirm and tense up. I don't like it when I don't know if I can fight the monster or not, because I have no idea about the monster's weaknesses. The longer you're able to keep your characters scared, confused and running around blindly, making things worse for themselves, the scarier it's going to be when they finally come face to face with the incarnation of their greatest fears.

What did I miss? What do you think about books that have no tension whatsoever? Pretty lame, huh? 🧛‍♂️ Happy 5 days until Halloween!! 

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