I thought maybe I'd do a week of scary or fright related stuff leading up the Halloween. So there.
I have a confession. I slept with a nightlight far later than a normal kid. I was terrified of the dark... the thing under the bed... the thing in the closet. I'm not sure this was strictly an overactive imagination. In fact I've never thought of myself as particularly imaginative... even now... writing books... I think my creativity is more a puzzle-master thing—pulling odd stuff together and mixing it up originally. I could never be a world-builder.
I mean rationally, there is nothing in the dark that isn't also there in the light...
The answer: BUT YOU DON'T KNOW!!! Anything COULD be there... something could be there that would be ten TIMES as scary if the light was on... it might be just out of reach. Right there in front of you!
As an older kid, I was one of those who liked to sit around with a couple friends working ourselves into frights with 'what ifs'. It was a thrill to be scared. Ghost stories tended to be my favorite, I think because of the paranormal entities, ghosts are the only one I actually mostly believe in. Speculation on werewolves and vampires didn't scare me much because I don't buy it, and stories about escaped murderers were TOO scary. Ghosts were just right... still are.
So how do we carry this into writing... how might we SCARE our readers?
(is my rotten streak showing?)
I think this ABSENCE of information... the working up the possibilities... is far more tense... can carry the reader on adrenaline for a lot longer than REALLY showing it. Maybe there is a story the MC hears... just rumors... Maybe pair the rumor with an ordinary event... a branch tapping or a faucet dripping... pair the ideas a second time, then DROP the story... you don't need it anymore. You just increase the frequency of noticing the ordinary event. (repetition is SCARY—think about The Shining, with both 'Redrum' or 'All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy'.)
The idea is, you aren't telling the reader much. You are planting ideas in an absence of what they mean and THEIR mind is filling in the blanks with scary stuff.
So next time YOU want to scare somebody... maybe think about how you can plant the idea and then leave your reader in the dark.
BOO! (did I scare you?)