Fright Write

Hor­ror au­thor’s top tips for pen­ning scary sto­ries

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1. Don’t try too hard. That’s the most im­por­tant thing to re­mem­ber. Force fear and you force con­trivance. Most of us spent our first ten years afraid of all kinds of things that our imag­i­na­tions in­vested them­selves into; many of th­ese things are silly, but they weren’t silly at the time. So go deep into your mem­ory and hon­estly ac­knowl­edge what chills you. Strive for authenticity. Don’t over­com­pli­cate the mat­ter ei­ther; when you de­scribe images, peo­ple, sit­u­a­tions and arte­facts that frighten you, use sim­ple lan­guage and put the safety catch on be­ing ver­bose – noth­ing dis­pels ef­fect more than over­writ­ing. As MR James shows us ( re­peat­edly in his sto­ries), the fright­en­ing is best de­scribed by or­di­nary and sim­ple words. Use the com­mon­place to de­scribe the sin­is­ter and hor­ri­ble and you strike chords. Be clever by not try­ing to be too clever. Re­straint.

2. Learn to fore­bode. You look out on the field at the back of your hol­i­day cot­tage and no­tice a black­ened tree with thin branches. The next morn­ing, after a dis­turbed night filled with a cu­ri­ous dream, you open the cur­tains and two of the tree’s branches sug­gest they are flung to­ward the sky, like arms. Odd you never no­ticed that yes­ter­day. No mat­ter, but you’d rather not look at it at all. Only it catches your eye three days later and you are sure the tree is in a dif­fer­ent part of the field. Per­haps it is the an­gle you are now sur­vey­ing it from, but it almost looks as if the skele­tal branches are now lean­ing to­ward the house. You can­not be cer­tain but it may be a bit closer than it was three days be­fore too…

No One Gets Out Alive is in shops from 23 Oc­to­ber.

Adam Nevill says simplicity is the key.

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