Haven’t considered using fear for writing inspiration? Well, I don’t know about you, but one of my favorite holidays is Halloween. As a child, I loved planning who I would morph into for the day. Would I be a cowgirl, a sleeping princess, a witch? I also loved haunted houses and ghost stories, and reveled in the day I was terrified at every turn—but knew deep down it was make-believe. One Halloween I scared a kid, convincing him vampires lived in our neighborhood (and wow—did I get in trouble for that one). The thought that monsters were right there, lurking under the playground at school, was just too much for the poor kid to handle.
In NOS4A2, Joe Hill makes a literary statement on the commercialism of Christmas by turning it into sheer terror. His dad, Stephen King, has turned a dog, a car, and a grocery store into the backdrop for stories that terrify. Dean Koontz’s hero, Odd Thomas, is a fry cook in a diner in a small town. These writers know one of the keys to delicious, terrifying writing is to turn something everyday into threatening or include the everyday in a story of horror. They excel at using fear for writing inspiration.
Try it yourself. Use the following ideas to help you to use fear for writing inspiration:
- Make a list of ordinary places.
- Make a list of ordinary happenings—good things like a wedding, a birthday party, going out with friends, a band concert—any events you’ve attended in the last year or two, and don’t be surprised if you’re writing about something in your past. If the muse shows up be sure to follow!
- Make a list of everyday objects.
- Next list people you see in everyday life. Minister, teacher, deli-clerk, toll-booth collector, neighbor, landscaper, nanny—keep going until you run out of ideas.
- Now, turn these ordinary events, objects and people into something frightening. Whatever grabs you—write about it!
And What About the Opposite of fear?
Remember Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird? He lived in a scary house, had a scary father, and lived a scary life. Yet Scout discovers Boo is not-so-scary. You can use this idea to take fear for writing inspiration too.
Take the above lists and turn them to the opposite (scary places in life, terrifying happenings, bad events, horrific objects, people who frighten). Brainstorm how each could be the opposite. Write a story.
Scary Not Your Cup of Tea?
You can still use fear for writing inspiration… or things related to fear.
- Write about your favorite Halloween costume.
- How did you feel when you put it on?
- What about that persona was like you?
- What about that persona was opposite?
- Why did that particular costume appeal to you?
- Did you trick-or-treat with friends or go to a Halloween party?
- Write about what happened.
Next, venture into the world of the opposite—write about when were you frightened or someone terrified you and it was simply your perception that scared the bejeebers out of you.
Kathy Steffen is an award-winning novelist and author of the “Spirit of the River Series:” “First, There is a River,” “Jasper Mountain,” and “Theater of Illusion,” available online and in bookstores everywhere. Additionally, Kathy is published in short fiction and pens a monthly writing column, “Between the Lines.” She writes from a log home in the woods of southwestern Wisconsin that she shares with her husband and three cats. Find out more at www.kathysteffen.com