Writing tense or frightening scenes
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  1. #1
    Less cute in person Beth Pavell's Avatar
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    Default Writing tense or frightening scenes

    It occurred to me while noodling around with some writing practice today that I'm really not that good at writing very tense scenes. In fact I'd like to be better at writing frightening scenes - so, I put it to you esteemed worthies of the Workshop: how do you go about it? Have you seen it done particularly well somewhere (In fanfic or published fiction?)? And so on.

    As for myself, I'm not really much of a horror aficionado, so there's a real gap in my knowledge where this is concerned
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    Brock's Pikachu LightningTopaz's Avatar Moderator
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    Default Re: Writing tense or frightening scenes

    Sometimes it's more scarier to not see the monster than to see it.
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    Registered User Airt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Writing tense or frightening scenes

    When it comes to tense or frightening scenes very efficient writing is needed. Trim off all the fat: use tight, staccato thinking; quickfire dialogue; short sentences and paragraphs for a breathless effect; and trim any words or description that's not really needed. This punchy style of writing drags the reader along with you and hooks them from the get-go.

    Another tip is the lure of the unknown. Keep the backstory hidden and look to the future. Drop little clues and hints as to a family argument or hatred of a sibling - maybe avoid a funeral or a wedding - for example, and as the action unfolds the reader will slowly want to know more and more. Another Hitchcock variant is similar to dramatic irony, where the reader knows something huge in regards to the plot and the tension builds as we wait to learn when the hero will find out what we know.

    Little things but I hope they give some food for thought.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Writing tense or frightening scenes

    I'm not much of a scare writer but I do got some tips when it comes to suspense, which is a tool many horror writers use.

    The key is to draw out the scene, here's one example from System Error.

    In the middle of the lake was a massive serpent. Its body was armored by coarse, thick scales that appeared as though they would only yield to hard bludgeoning. The length of it was comprised of countless segments - tinted a desolute beige on its front, and a cold, dark blue on its back, lined with off-gray fins so sharp and rigid they might shred through metal. But what stood out most of all was the head of the matter. Though a creature of the deep, a fire resonated in its already scarlet eyes. Its jaw - from which two white whiskers dangled - was wide enough to devour a man in one bite, and though only a few fangs sprouted from its gums, they alone seemed capable of the task of tearing food to pieces. And if their pointed form was not enough to platicate the masochistic, several spines on the side of its face and a pointed dragon's crest above its eyes served as decor to the furious guise of the destroyer.


    Here Mr. Error is describing a Gyarados, but his use of details help build up the Pokemon as being more frightening than it already is. Another tip is mood changing. What I mean is instead of having a story where every paragraph alternates between suspense and gore, make the story shift to what appears to be light-hearted and comedic. Doing so makes a bit more of bang when you jerk the audience back into scary-horror time. Of course it doesn't have to be comedic shifts, just whatever isn't obvious suspense and horror. This oddly enough makes the build up lengths between the scary bits even more suspenseful.

    Here's another example from a story I wrote a while ago.

    A shrill, ear-splitting scream echoed through the room. Each of the stormtroopers synchronously raised their rifles towards the door. Seconds later, the scream was replaced with pure silence. The sergeant signaled one of his men towards the door. Slowly, the soldier treaded towards the room's entrance. Kress could faintly hear the soft click as the trooper's boots met the floor. Reaching the entrance, the trooper gradually eased up to the door's edge before aiming his rifle into the corridor. Sweeping his blaster across the hallway, he eventually looked back at the sergeant and shrugged. Just as the stormtrooper began to speak, a soft rumbling started coming from overhead. As the noise gradually grew louder, the dangling glowpanels began to vibrate. The sergeant started yelling for them to clear the room, that was when the ceiling burst open.

    Here, in my poorly written Star Wars fic, I tried to make the pacing of the scene slow. The idea of a slow build up could be compared to a drumroll at executions. The beat starts slow but gradually rises until the crescendo of silence, followed shortly after by the hanging.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Writing tense or frightening scenes

    One of my favorites, from The Cold Commands:

    Ringil doesn't look back. If Hjel the scavenger prince and sorcerer can play this game, so can he.
    But as the new chill walks its way up his spine, he knows beyond doubt what he'll see if he does turn. He knows because he's seen it before, falling off the feverish edge of consciousness as he lay on the cobbled streets of Hinerion and heard the screams of Venj's men dying.

    A gaunt figure, a scarred face, a sword blade swinging like a scythe.
    A blunt, powerful form, fists gripped around a heavy smith's hammer and long-handled manacle cutters.
    A young boy, mouth open, snarling through bloodied teeth, a quarrel sprouting from under his sternum like some alien appendage.
    They stand at his back in the cold--he can feel them there now--like new gods. Like a fresh pantheon waiting to be born.

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