Horror author’s top tips for penning scary stories
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.