The Ingredients of Spooky on all NaNo’s Eve

First and foremost, Happy Halloween everyone! I hope it’s a safe and pleasant one. Especially for those of you on the East Coast. My entire family lives there and I know how bad it’s been, my heart goes out to all of you!

When I saw the blogging schedule weeks ago and realized I was lucky enough, as a horror writer, to have my post land on Halloween–well, I squealed. (It was very dignified, I promise.) I had a conversation with my mother not too long ago about Halloween and how it’s changed over the years. She isn’t a fan of the gory decorations like body parts and the like. She doesn’t find it to be ‘scary’ and instead feels it’s just excessive and unnecessary. She prefers the subtle spookiness, cobwebs and dark hallways, old gravestones and eerie sound effects. Two very different types of spooky, but each can be, and often are, effective.

The same goes for writing. A while back I did a post discussing ‘Gore Bags‘ or really, what does gore contribute to your horror works? Let’s take a broader look at the topic. When writing, how do you know whether to go with a bloody scene, bits and pieces flying everywhere or with growing suspense and a thick, creepy atmosphere? What about a blend of the two? There is no right or wrong way to go about it. You have to know your story as well as your audience. While you may have started out wanting to write a splatterpunk serial killer type mystery, how have the characters and setting evolved as the story progressed? Will they still make the same uneducated decisions they did at the beginning of the ordeal that led to mayhem and possible deaths, or have they wised up? If they have, the odds of someone falling into a gory trap decrease. Unless, of course, your antagonist grows with them.

Likewise, if you’re going for a strictly atmospheric spook-factor, these factors still apply. Say your characters have been trapped in a scary mansion, complete with secret passageways and a fog-heavy cemetary. The first few hours, or even days, are bound to be nerve-wracking, but the longer they’re there, will the setting have the same effect, or will the characters have grown desensitized to it? If they have, you may have to dial up the spook factor. Pull out that shambling figure or wailing ghost you’ve been saving.

The list of what frightens people varies drastically. I have a close friend that is terrified of spiders, and while zombies are gross and the gore is unsettling, they don’t frighten the ever-livin’ out of her. For me, it’s the exact opposite. I wouldn’t recommend relying on the ‘tried-and-true’ tactics in this situation. Gore may unsettle many, but it doesn’t necessarily frighten all. A darkened hallway with disconcerting soundeffects will unerve quite a few and bore others. It’s impossible to please everyone. As with many aspects of writing a novel, focus on pleasing yourself and staying true to your characters. Odds are, so long as you have real characters that a reader can identify with, what frightens the HeartyHeroine will frighten the reader.

Finally, while you’re stuffing your faces with obscene amounts of candy corn and chocolately goodness, NaNoWriMo lurks in the shadows. It watches you. It won’t strike just yet, not for a few hours at least, but when it does, it will have all month to watch you writhe in writing agony.

I won’t go too far into the joy, and terror, that is NaNoWriMo, I’ll save that for perhaps tomorrow’s post as well as my own blog. I will say that I am participating in it, and will be using this opportunity to step out of my comfort zone! Which is a frightening concept all on its own. I hope to see you there!

What frightens you in both reality and literature? Do you find gore in literature to be scary or trite? What about atmosphere and suspense? Do you intend to participate in NaNoWriMo? How about candy corn, got any you’d like to share with me?

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