Writing Danger in the Dark
February 29, 2016
DOES YOUR STORY have a scene of danger or horror? Is it scary enough? Do you want your readers to fear for your main character’s safety? Here’s a simple technique on how to make a scene seriously frightening:
Turn the lights off.
Darkness makes people nervous, and everything is much more frightening in the dark. Can you change the time or location of your scene so it happens in darkness? The darker, the better. Absolute darkness is the scariest, when the protagonist sees nothing at all and has to grope their way. However, partial darkness can be spooky, too, especially with flickering lights and shadows.
A windowless room
Candles burn out
Wind blows candle
Lantern falls into abyss
Bullet shatters light-bulb
Canopy of trees blocks out the sun
Clouds veil the moon
Lights turned off for love-making
Hiding in a dark closet
Flash-light battery dies
If the storyline permits, let the darkness increase gradually:
Dusk gives way to night
The camp-fire burns down
In the dark, humans are deprived of the sense on which they rely most: seeing. Other senses sharpen, especially hearing. Your point-of-view character suddenly hears a lot more noises. These sounds add to the scary effect.
If the darkness is absolute, the point-of-view character relies on her sense of touch as she gropes her way around. Describe how the walls, the furniture, the trees feel to her fingers, and how the ground feels underfoot. Smells also become more noticeable in the dark, and you can give the reader an intense experience by mentioning a smell or two.
Darkness often brings low temperatures. Chills can increase the scare factor, so mention the cool breeze brushing your heroine’s arms, the cellar’s icy stone walls, the cold water dripping from the ceiling of the cave, the chill creeping through the thin soles of her shoes.
This technique suits almost any story, whether you want to send mild shivers across the skin of the paranormal romance reader, chill the thriller reader’s bones, or make the horror fan’s heart thump.