Are you scared yet?

12 Oct

by Biljana Likic

~~~

Before I begin, you have to promise yourself that while reading this article, you will not turn around. No checking behind your back for monsters. This is a bit of an experiment.

A few weeks ago I was hanging out with a friend. One that is fully aware of how paranoid I am. So like the great person he is, he made his face go all slack and surprised, widened his eyes, looked over my shoulder, and said, “What the hell is that?”

Obviously, I looked. Who wouldn’t? It’s a preservation act. It’s instinct. If you feel like there’s something threatening behind you, you look. And then you see that there isn’t (for the most part) and you go along living your merry life, laughing (or having a friend laugh) at your foolishness.

But of course, he had to make it a competition.

It quickly turned into, “I bet if I told you that there was a man in a mutant bunny suit behind you à la Donnie Darko, you’d look.”

Oh he’s a clever one, isn’t he? He didn’t even have to say it. He just had to allude to it and I wanted to turn around. It’s that creepy feeling where you imagine something watching you behind your back. You have to look to make sure there isn’t, even if the idea is absolutely ridiculous.

So I didn’t turn around. I glared at him, and all the while, I could feel the back of my neck prickling with just the possibility that there was something behind me.

Which got me thinking.

Being fortunate enough to not have experienced too much fear in my lifetime, scary scenes aren’t exactly on the top of my writing list. It could be just because it’s never come up in my writing, (because I’d most likely scare myself more than anybody reading it,) but it could conceivably also be because I’ve never been very, very scared in my life before.

So how do you go about getting across a character’s fear without being sure what it feels like?

Well here’s a way. Make yourself creeped out.

Allow me to help you with that.

First of all, don’t look.

Imagine that there’s a man in a mutant bunny suit behind you. His eyes are lifeless and the fur around his mouth is stained red. He is completely motionless; unnaturally still. Just standing behind you and watching you. Then he slowly starts walking up to you with noiseless footsteps. He’s getting closer. He’s close enough now to read this over your shoulder. You think you might be able to hear something dripping. He’s reaching out to touch you. He’s inches away. You realize the dripping is blood falling from a carving knife.

You suddenly know with incredible certainty that what I’m describing is what’s actually happening to you right now. He knows that you’ve figured it out. And just for that, he going to kill you.

He’s raising his arm.

He’s lifting the knife into the air.

He can smell your fear.

This isn’t a fun exercise anymore. This is reality. If you turn around and look, you will, without a doubt, see a man in a chilling, distorted bunny suit, a knife poised and ready to be driven into your spine.

And the only way you can save yourself if to look. Just turn around. The moment your lay eyes on him, he’ll disappear and you’ll be safe. But until then…

You can hear him shifting his weight. He’s about to strike.

Did you look yet?

Are you creeped out?

Can you feel your stomach coiling with tension, back hunching defensively?

Use it. Go back to that scary scene that’s been stumping you or sounds contrived.

Just be thankful it isn’t real.

…Right?

~~~

Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She is in her first year of university, where she can’t wait till she’s out so she’ll finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her blog here and follow her on Twitter here.

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16 Responses to “Are you scared yet?”

  1. Aurora Blackguard October 12, 2010 at 1:17 AM #

    ACK! I wanted to take a nap but now, I’m having seconds thoughts. Great post, Biljana! (I think) Thanks for writing this (?).

    • Biljana October 12, 2010 at 12:05 PM #

      Dude I wrote this right before I went to sleep, too. I feel your pain haha.

  2. Vee October 12, 2010 at 1:52 AM #

    I totally got creeped out just reading about the conversation with your friend. And then the rest of the post, omg. Billy, I think you have a career in writing creepy second person crime-thrillers. Yes, yes?

    (I looked, by the way. And my neck’s STILL all prickly, haha.)

    • Biljana October 12, 2010 at 12:06 PM #

      Lol!

      I look every time haha. And when I don’t, it’s because there’s something reflective I can look at to reassure myself that there’s nothing there. But that doesn’t really count as not looking :P.

  3. Heather October 12, 2010 at 3:12 AM #

    I can’t decide if this article is brilliant or cruel. Either way, I won’t be getting much sleep tonight!

    • Biljana October 12, 2010 at 12:06 PM #

      Sorry, lol.

  4. Chele October 12, 2010 at 7:53 AM #

    They were telling ghost stories at work today.

    And then I check the site and read this.

    It’s a great article! …but I’m holding you responsible for my lack of sleep and/or nightmares tonight. Hahaha.. eep.

    • Biljana October 12, 2010 at 12:07 PM #

      I’ll take that responsibility with equal parts remorse and pride :D.

  5. Kat Zhang October 12, 2010 at 8:24 AM #

    …I still hate you for making me read this at 11pm yesterday 😡

    ;P

    • Biljana October 12, 2010 at 12:07 PM #

      😀 ❤

  6. tymcon October 12, 2010 at 11:03 AM #

    Just going to add some input. In a horror movie a lot of the scary scenes is a variation of someone jumping out at you and screaming boo. Of course a movie has lighting, music, the sound of footsteps, breathing etc. In a book you don’t really have that.
    I haven’t read many horrors, but I remember one scene in a book that really creeped me out. In short format the world was gettign attacked by demons. Then the force death turned sential and joined the demons. Death could steal souls, put them into bodys or just keep them. Before we find out a bout death there’s a mystery abotu how someone came back to life. She used to be a pretty, seductress, psycho type (with magic), but she was brought back in a horrible body. I won’t even do it justice by describing it.
    Then when I found out about death I was like: “Oh s***.”
    Pretty much, because there was a creature who could keep people alive indefinetly working with things that despised humans (and a particular demon who fed on suffering), who wanted nothing more than to torture and kill. That idea really takes hold, and you put yourself into their shoes.
    So if you want to create suspense/tension do it by a scene by scene thing. But if you want to create horror use an imagery/idea/plan etc that takes root in the readers mind and makes them relate to that horror

    • Biljana October 12, 2010 at 12:13 PM #

      Great points/observations all around. Fear can take root in some of the simplest ideas, and because they’re so easy to imagine, it makes them scary as shit. Also, just working with the suspense/element of surprise, which you see in a lot of novels, adds to horror because suddenly, that thing that was scary, is much, much less predictable. Out of your control = terrifying. This article was more of a “get your self in a scared mindset to write that scene where your protag is scared” because I don’t really consider myself qualified to do a post about writing horror :P.

  7. Vanessa Di Gregorio October 13, 2010 at 12:39 PM #

    You know, I’m more scared of paranormal things (ghosts, etc) than serial killers (weird, huh?). I love scary/creepy scenes. I think if your character is scared shitless, chances are your reader will be too.

    I’ve read some wonderfully creepy books with hair-raising sections… and they were SO GOOD!

    Great article B!

    • Biljana October 15, 2010 at 2:04 AM #

      Actually, I kind of agree about the paranormal stuff :P. It’s because you can’t prove that there isn’t a ghost behind you. But you can prove that there isn’t a person.

  8. Cassie October 14, 2010 at 9:40 PM #

    Eeeeek!!! I got that tickling feeling on the back of my neck and goosebumps on my arms!! And I read this today (of course late bc fate obviously hates me). This morning at like 6:20, I woke up to a series of loud and rhythmic bangs. Like someone was banging their fist against the door or window…

    It turns out that it was just my sister trying to deter a chipmunk that was scurrying across the ceiling…but I had to ruminate over the fact that my house was haunted by some rhythmic ghost for 12 hours until she enlightened me…

    Ugh. Sometimes coincidences suck.

    But at least I can take solace in the fact that this article will DEFINITELY come to mind whenever I have to write a creepy scene 😉 (…or whenever I’m watching Donnie Darko)

    • Biljana October 16, 2010 at 6:56 PM #

      Oooooh yeah a couple summers ago every so often these CRAZY raccoons would get into fights under my window and I’d be woken up in the middle of the night by the most horrific screeching you can imagine. Until I got use to the idea of raccoons fighting by my window (which frankly never really happened, haha) I’d wake up in this insane panic that I was being attacked by hellions.

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