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Wednesday, 23 September 2015

"How to Write Scary" by Annalisa Crawford, guest judge for WEP's Halloween challenge!

 The subject today is "How to Write Scary." 
Author and the guest judge for this year's Halloween challenge, Annalisa Crawford is here to share some of her secrets just in time for the WEP Halloween challenge.
In just seven days the post for sign up will go live. 

Take it away Annalisa!

Many thanks to Yolanda and Denise for inviting me here today. Although, when I was asked to write a post on ‘how to write scary’, I wondered whether I could. I don’t think I know how to write scary. When I write, I never know exactly what genre is going to appear. Sometimes they just happen to be scary.

I realize pretty quickly if I’m writing something scary when I find myself holding my breath or making strange gestures. If I’m writing about a sudden noise, I imagine that noise then act out the response. I will be jumping in my seat, ducking, holding my hands up to protect myself, making horrified faces. I talk out loud, trying to find the right words. When I was writing my book Our Beautiful Child I developed a particularly whispery voice for the narrator, which confused my dog:

“We stay close by; we don’t want to leave her alone like this, so scared and insecure, our beautiful child. But she shudders again. She’s sensing us again. We draw back into the shadows; we hide in the past.”

I do most of my writing at home, in front of a very large window. Yes, sometimes people do pass by when I’m in the middle of one of these moments.

Yes, people do look in the window and give me some very strange looks. 

Although, to be fair, they shouldn’t be looking into my living room in the first place!

So, how do you write a scary story?
  1.  Don’t try to be scary! I once watched The Others. It’s rated 12 in the UK (not sure about rest of the world equivalent), so it’s not actually a scary film, but I was on edge watching it. It’s understated, muted and you can feel the tension in every scene – even in scenes that aren’t inherently scary.
  2. Avoid explaining everything. The scariest things in daily life are the things you don’t understand – even the simple inexplicable noise from the next room can alarm you, especially if you can’t find the cause.
  3. However, you as the writer need to be absolutely sure what’s happening. This isn’t a scary story example, however, I once wrote a short story where the main character split in two – but I didn’t explain whether this was a physical, spiritual or figurative split. I know, but I’m not telling!
  4.  Think about the actual words you are using. Read your story out loud to highlight where you might be going astray.
a.      Use a thesaurus. Some writing advice advocates using simple words that people understand so the story flows, but sometimes a slightly unfamiliar word can work to unsettle the reader. This is a scary story you’re writing, remember – you don’t want your reader to be comfortable.
b.      Use short sentences. I love to start a paragraph with a long, ambling sentence that flows and leads the reader into a lull from the action. And then a shorter one, to heighten the tension. Shorter, to incite anxiety.
c.      Use repetition. You have to use this technique sparingly, and know when it’s too much. Reading aloud will definitely help here. Repetition of a word within the same paragraph, or the same sentence from the beginning of the story repeated every so often throughout, can bring your reader back to the main issue. 

5.  Once you get to the end of your story, go back and add in foreshadowing. Again, this needs to be subtle, just a word or two that hints towards something later on.

What tips can you share? Do you use some of these techniques already?

Thank you Annalisa, for sharing your knowledge and for judging our efforts.

*****

Annalisa Crawford lives in Cornwall UK, with a good supply of moorland and beaches to keep her inspired. She lives with her husband, two sons, a dog and a cat.
She writes dark contemporary, character-driven stories, with a hint of the paranormal. She has been winning competitions and publishing short stories in small press journals for many years, and is the author of Cat & The Dreamer, That Sadie Thing and Our Beautiful Child.


                                                         Author links

CAT AND THE DREAMER
“In my world, I am fifteen, the age I was when I met Rachel Carr, the age I was when Rachel Carr killed herself with a tonne of painkillers and two bottles of rum.”

Julia survived a teen suicide pact: her best friend Rachel did not. Years later, Julia is introvert and insular, spiralling into depression, shrouding herself in daydreams to protect herself from reality – a controlling mother and a huge burden of guilt.

When Adam walks into her office, Julia knows he won’t be interested in her; Cat, her flirty blonde colleague, has already chosen him as her next conquest. But his presence alone is enough to shake Julia up, and make her realise real life could be so much better.

Except Cat has other plans, lurking in Julia’s imagination, torturing her, telling her she should have died too. And she’s right, of course, because Cat is always right.

Original Blurb:
As a teenager, Julia survived a suicide pact, while her best friend Rachel died. Julia’s only escape from her guilt, and her mother’s over-protection, is her imagination. When Adam arrives in the office, Julia’s world takes a startling turn as she realises reality can be much more fun than fantasy. Finally she has someone who can help her make the most of her life. But can she allow herself to be truly happy?


That Sadie Thing and other stories 
  That Sadie Thing and other stories is an intense and emotional journey through the relationships that define our lives.

•A couple breaking up on a rainy night
•A woman finding comfort from eating lunch as her best friend lies in hospital
•A runaway longing to go home
•A teenager oppressed by her father, and many more...

All of the characters in this collection are struggling to find their place in the world, attempting to find connections that matter with the people around them, however fleeting.
This is a dark, unsettling yet memorable collection, bringing together prize-winning and published stories from the past twenty years: the ‘greatest hits’.


Our Beautiful Child and other stories
“The Boathouse collects misfits. Strange solitary creatures that yearn for contact with the outside world, but not too much. They sit, glass in hand, either staring at the table in front of them, or at some distant point on the horizon.”

… so says the narrator of Our Beautiful Child. And he’s been around long enough to know.

People end up in this town almost by accident. Ella is running away from her nightmares, Sally is running away from the memories of previous boyfriends and Rona is running away from university. Each of them seek sanctuary in the 18th century pub, The Boathouse; but in fact, that’s where their troubles begin.

Ella finds love, a moment too late; Rona discovers a beautiful ability which needs refining before she gets hurt; and Sally meets the captivating Murray, who threatens to ruin everything.

Three women. Three stories. One pub.
*****

Share Annalisa's words of wisdom
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Are you as animated as Annalisa when you write? #WEPFF Getting ready for Halloween! @YolandaRenee & @DeniseCCovey http://writeeditpublishnow.blogspot.com/2015/09/how-to-write-scary-by-annalisa-crawford.html





43 comments:

  1. Oooh.
    My bookie lust has been ignited by each of Annalisa's books. And I will probably succumb.
    Life has got in the way a bit, and I don't think I can play this time - but I will find time to read and revel in the Halloween WEP.
    Thank you all.

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    1. Hi EC! Sorry to hear you won't be joining us for Halloween! :-( It will offer a feast of reading and viewing, however, so your support will be valuable. And Annalisa's books look awesome, don't they?

      Denise :-)

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    2. Hello, EC. I'm glad my books have enticed you :-)

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  2. Hi Annalisa - those tips are great ... I particularly liked #3 ... scary is what our mind makes of it ... the psychological person - neurotic about many things and a worrier .. but I like a strong person working their way through. I do get scared, but don't let myself get involved that often! Then there's scared and scared ...cheers Hilary

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    1. Exactly, Hilary. If you spell it out too much, there will always be someone who isn't affected, but if you give them just enough to realise their own fears, it's so much more effective.

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  3. Thanks for inviting me here today, ladies. Looking forward to having a good chat in the comments :-)

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    1. Hi Annalisa, thanks for being available to respond to comments. Let's talk scary!

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  4. Thank you Annalisa. A wonderful post leading up to Halloween. I hope you inspire many of our readers. :-)

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  5. Another tip would be to not overdo it. If you have one scare after the other, it wears out. It's better to focus on your characters and building an uneasy atmosphere... and when something does happen, it should be absolutely terrifying.

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    1. Yes, that's a really important one. Even I can get immune to the scariness if it happens constantly!

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  6. excellent suggestions and Annalisa's writing is proof that it can work. I think of Alfred Hitchcock movies - understated menace in the simplest things. That works in writing. Good luck to all of the Halloween contestants

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    1. Thanks Joanne. You know, I've never seen a Hitchcock movie. I should probably rectify that.

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  7. Fantastic tips. When I'm writing scary, I can feel the tension rising in me. I get fidgety, and I really hope I don't bring it to bed with me at night or else I imagine many more scary things!

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    1. Ooh, that would be bad, to give yourself nightmares like that. Although, I guess you'd want to be lingering in the head of the reader, so maybe it's a good thing?

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  8. Don't let them be comfortable - check!
    The Others was a very tense and atmospheric film even though it wasn't really scary.

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    1. Yeah, I'm just a big wimp. I much prefer scaring people than being scared myself.

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  9. Excellent tips!! Many of these could be applied to any sort of writing, like the reading back tip. That is so useful for catching clunky phrases and over use of words.

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    1. Yes, reading out loud really highlights awkward writing.

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  10. That's a good selections of tips. Shorter sentences always move the pace faster.

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  11. Reading out loud is a favourite. Absolutely essential for poetry, scary or otherwise. Great tips, and in good time for Halloween.

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    1. I have to make sure I'm in the house alone when I read out loud, because the kids think it's weird :-)

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  12. Thanks for the tips, Annalisa!
    I always feel that I'm not very good when it comes to writing scary. However, I will post a very short snippet for the Halloween WEP.

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    1. Hope the tips help Michelle :-) Good luck.

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  13. Great tips Annalisa. I would love to see you act out the various responses, though:) I tend to talk out loud when I'm writing too.

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    1. It's embarrassing if I'm writing in a cafe and forget other people can see me, though :-)

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  15. Scary is a matter of perception sometimes. I thought The Others was scary. Maybe "unsettling" is a better word, but did frighten me with its intensity. I was actually relieved at the end to have it all explained. Awesome movie.

    I like subtle hints/foreshadowing. Most authors over-explain and ruin the "hint".

    And yes, people should not look in windows. You can't unsee what you saw. Give them a good discussion topic for their walk, or a reason to aver their eyes next time :)

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    1. I obviously just scare easily, Dolorah - unsettling is a great word for that film. And I loved the ending - just perfect. I wish I'd written it!

      Over-explaining is one of my bugbears. I'll probably avoid becoming a talking point - I meet these same people walking around town!!

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  16. I have to say that I have zero advice on writing scary stories. Just not a scary story writer. Your advice makes sense, though. :-)

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  17. Thanks for the tips, Annalisa, as horror isn't my usual writing either. I'm not sure how I will handle this prompt but I had lots of fears as a child growing up in a house which I was sure was haunted. . .but I wrote about that in last year's challenge. Happy reading, you'll be busy.

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    1. Haunted houses are great sources of inspiration. I think we all have a bit of horror in us somewhere, because we all have something that scares us.

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  18. I definitely think tension and anticipation can be more scary than full on horror. That sense when you just know something is about to happen but don't know what! I also like the suggestion of short sentences and repetition, I have used these techniques. Great piece, Annalisa.

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    1. Thanks for reading, Suzanne. I found the latest Doctor Who scary for exactly those reasons - tensions and anticipation!

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  19. LOVE her name. WOW. Why couldn't I have a name like that? SO sophisticated and elegant. I see a name change in my future. ;-) I loved her tips too. Can't wait. I'm working on my poem. Denise and Yolanda, you guys make my heart smile. You are the best. MWAH!!!!

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    1. Thank you Robyn! Sophisticated and elegant... if only :-)

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    2. Hey Robyn! Annalisa is a beautiful name for sure. Your poem will be amazing. Can't wait to read it. You make me smile too! :-)

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  20. Hi,
    These are great tips and even though I don't write horror, some of these tips, I use. I especially like the recommendation about using your Thesaurus, which is a wonderful tool for finding unusual and forgotten words that spice up your story.

    Thanks, Annalisa, for all of your suggestions. They can be used in writing in any genre.
    And all the best for the participants! I look forward to reading some of your stories.
    Shalom,
    Patricia

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  21. Hey mate i found a very nice content on your blog. Do you know i just read a Scary Halloween Sotry that is really true and amazing.

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