In my continuing studies of the horror genre, I noticed a method of creating scares for a first-person perspective. And that’s cool because I considered it a harder way of doing horror in certain cases. And, outside of what I’m about to say, that’s for one reason: you can’t kill your narrator. If you do, the story ends.
So, if you’re staying inside the head of a single character, you can only show scary things—you can’t have it get them.
The workaround for this is “The Victim.”
In a different article, I outlined the necessity for isolation when setting up a scare. You have to put characters in a position where they could not reasonably expect outside help. But you can still achieve this with a pair of characters—and that’s exactly the trick here.
If the main character becomes witness to someone else having the full brunt of the horror, then you can show off the scares in their entirety, while not derailing the story.
This also has a few beneficial knock-on effects. The first being that it still obviously threatens the main character. We get a fairly good look at what could happen to them. The blood is very much on the walls, after all—and it’s fresh.
The other benefit is that, if the characters involved are important to the main character, you still achieve the “traumatize” step I consider crucial to proper horror payoffs (assuming you don’t also end the story by killing the main). They still have a solid loss, and it can even inform the rest of the plot with the momentum from that death.
It’s just so solid of a tactic I’m amazed I don’t see it way more. Have one person hide and witness the horror, or have them stand silently, frozen as it occurs, or have it play out in such a way that trying to save the other character would simply kill them, too. The options are endless, workable, and narratively strong. Be creative with it—I’ve already given you the outline.
Send two people into the fray, but only let one come back.