Face the Fear

Oct 19, 2012 by

Here’s a quick tip to help you write better horror stories. I discovered this technique when writing my Invisible Fiends horror series, and used it regularly while working on every one of the books. It’s a visualisation exercise you can do yourself or with a group, and it’ll allow you to write more convincingly about characters who are in fear for their lives!

Start by thinking of a scary moment in your life – the scarier the better. Maybe it’s your first day at high school, your driving test, the first time you jumped in the swimming pool or a childhood trip to a ghost train. Think hard – the scarier the experience, the more effective the exercise will be.

When you have your scary event, keep it to yourself. No-one should feel they have to share what their frightening memory is, as fear can be an intensely private emotion.

Now close your eyes and replay the scary event in your head. Start with the run up to the event, walk through it as if you’re living it over again. Feel the anticipation, the building nerves, perhaps even the first stirrings of panic.

Continue replaying the event and as you do try to be aware of how you physically felt at the time. How did your stomach feel? Did it flutter like butterflies, go tight, or something else entirely?

Did your heartbeat increase? If so, what did that feel like? Did your breathing become faster? More difficult? Did the hairs on your arms stand up? Did your skin get goosebumps or your head go light? Think of as many details as you can. Try to remember how it felt physically to be afraid. Then, when you come to write your story, use those memories to describe to the reader how your character is feeling.

Don’t tell us “he was afraid” but use your own memories to show us he was afraid. Describe the feeling in his stomach, the goosebumps on his arms, the prickling heat on his face or the sweat slicking his back. We’ve all experienced these same sensations when being afraid, so by describing them you’ll trigger the reader’s own memories of being scared, and your scene will have much more of an emotional impact.

Alternative suggestion.

If you really want to feel what it’s like to be afraid, arrange to do something scary – do a bungee jump, sing at a karaoke, try stand up comedy – just remember to be aware of your body’s physical reactions when you’re putting it through its ordeal!

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