Matt Ralphs is well known for his novel fire girl. In a recent interview with the guardian he stated.
“When I was a child I lived in a large, old house on the edge of a village in Suffolk. It had three storeys, a cellar, winding stairs, crooked corridors – and seemed to come alive at night. That was when floorboards creaked in empty rooms and shadows shifted in the corners. It was obvious to me that we were not alone. I loved that house. It’s where my fascination with fear and scary stories was born, and has directly influenced my writing style.”
I wrote my novel Fire Girl as a fast-paced adventure, punctuated with moments of horror that I hope will make the reader jump, and then laugh with relief because, hey, its only a story. Here are some of my thoughts on how to write to frighten.
The diversity of fear
We’re all different, with our own likes and dislikes. We also have our own unique fears. Some fears are universal: fear of death, fear of pain, fear of the unknown, and these have been exploited in books, television and films over and over again. But what about the types of fear that haven’t been explored so exhaustively?
There are many types of phobia. Here is a random selection: fear of insects, fear of noise, fear of dentists, fear of going to school, fear of cats, fear of being touched, fear of solitude, even fear of beards. I think there’s a story for each of them. Look around for the unusual, the strange, the unique, because it might just be your way into a really original and frightening story.
Examine your fears
There’s an old writer’s maxim that says “write what you know”, so a good starting point if you want to write to frighten is to examine your own experiences. It could be a specific incident: an accident, an ugly confrontation, or being lost and alone in a strange place.
Relive it. Recall every detail. How did you feel? What physical and mental changes did you experience? Panic? Shallow breathing? Faintness? Nausea? What did you do when the first wave of fear crashed over you? Did you freeze? Or did you act?
By using your own experiences you’ll add authenticity to your writing.
The science of fear
When fear strikes, our bodies react by releasing a cocktail of chemicals and hormones into the bloodstream. This decreases our response times and allows us to think and move faster than normal. This is called the Fight or Flight response, honed by evolution to give us an edge in dangerous situations and increase our chances of survival. Fear is useful. Fear is essential. Understanding the science of fear will enable you write about it more convincingly.