But, now, specifically, I am going to spend a few moments on how to make anything scary.
Everyone is afraid of something.
And, to elicit fear, you only need to hit them in the right spot.
Fear is about loss, ultimately. If you didn’t feel like the thing you might lose is worthwhile, there would not be fear attached. Because stories are usually fiction, the most common thing horror tries is losing a likable character.
Sometimes they also “proxy” a real-world death.
Loss of a family member, loss of a friend, loss of a pet, loss of something comforting like home.
And it goes further.
A lot of the most iconic and scary monsters make someone lose even more than their—or someone else’s—life. They lose their autonomy. They become another of the monsters. Werewolves, vampires, zombies, ghosts. They all convert. They steal faces, names, identities.
It’s all about loss.
So, let’s bring it back.
How do you make something scary?
Well, for a human monster, make it take things. Or not have things itself. Humans have a specific way we expect things to look and to be scary you need to make them lose a sense of familiarity, which is ultimately a loss of comfort or safety.
Remove a facial feature or two.
It also doesn’t have to be physical. Remove empathy. Remove remorse. Remove mercy.
Alternatively, to create a sense of loss of capability or certainty, take away a character’s ability to perceive in some way. Or effect things in some way.
Leave them in pitch black. Or deep underground. Or locked in a house.
Show them things out of their control.
A car that won’t stop.
A disease with no cure.
A rickety bridge with no safety rails.
You may have heard of cosmic horror. It’s the horror that one does not matter. But, really, all horror makes someone feel small, afraid, unimportant. Scurrying away from things that do not consider you worthy of life or care.
To vampires, we’re food. To giants, we are insect-sized annoyances. To dark gods, we might—maybe—be so lucky to be playthings worthy of not breaking.
Humans become calm and certain when we feel we’re safe.
So, if you’re making horror, continue to shatter that illusion in every way you can.
And soon enough, someone will start screaming.
Special thanks to: Bob Gerkin, Collin Pearman, Dylan Alexander, Jerry Banfield, and Michael The Comic Nerd.
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