With the spooky month upon us I thought I might share with you my thoughts on how to write fear effectively.
I should start by pointing out that I hate being scared. My son’s enjoy trying to frighten the life out of me every chance they get and often tag me in jump-scare videos on Facebook to try to get a rise. So it surprised me that I would enjoy writing scary scenes so much.
We put our characters (or in many cases they put themselves) in situations that would frighten either themselves or the others around them, so how do we effectively portray fear?
Firstly you will need to understand your characters completely. You need to really know what terrifies them. Then you need to understand that as we don’t all share the same fears it can be difficult to adequately portray fear to your readers.
We don’t want to tell our readers that the MC is scared, ie: Violet was terrified of the big bad beast. NO NO NO! We need to understand that the MC is terrified by addressing all the senses.
Sight: The MC might stare at the object of their fear, or might turn away, avoiding eye contact completely.
Sound: The sound of heavy breathing, the characters pulse drumming in their ears, cries of pain, are all examples of how sound can be used to help portray fear.
Touch: Are they sweating, is their skin prickled? They could be shaking uncontrollably frozen in place.
Smell: Smells are something that bring forth memories so easily. Use smell to your advantage whenever you can. If something is rotting have the stench waft over the MC, if blood covers the floor have its sweet odor hang in the air. The air could be thick with the foul stench of rotting flesh.
Taste: Taste is not as easy, but you can still use it whenever possible. The metallic taste of blood clung to their mouth no matter how much water they drank, or your MC could force down the bile that rose into their mouth at the sight of so much blood,it left it’s fiery tang at the back of their throat.
So if using the MC we mentioned earlier we could rewrite the line to more effectively portray fear;
Violet stared wide eyed at the creature emerging from the shadows. It’s paws slapped against the wet ground with each slow step it took towards her. The light from the moon shimmered across its bristled fur and for a second she thought it could just be a dog, but then it tossed back its head and opened its jaws.Violet threw her hands over her ears as it let out a shrill howl. The beasts foul breath engulfed her and she moved her hands to cover her mouth barley in time to hold back the bile that now burned at the back of her throat.
I have used an extreme example here, but even in the more realistic scenarios, addressing the senses will give your readers a better chance of understanding your characters fear rather than skimming over it when being told simply that the character was afraid.