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  • What makes a good horror story?

  • Sure, you could throw in some hideous monsters, fountains of blood, and things jumping out from every corner.

  • But as classic horror author H.P. Lovecraft wrote,

  • "The oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown."

  • And writers harness that fear not by revealing horrors, but by leaving the audience hanging in anticipation of them.

  • That is, in a state of suspense.

  • The most familiar examples of suspense come from horror films and mystery novels.

  • What's inside the haunted mansion?

  • Which of the dinner guests is the murderer?

  • But suspense exists beyond these genres.

  • Will the hero save the day?

  • Will the couple get together in the end?

  • And what is the dark secret that causes the main character so much pain?

  • The key to suspense is that it sets up a question, or several, that the audience hopes to get an answer to, and delays that answer while maintaining their interest and keeping them guessing.

  • So what are some techniques you can use to achieve this in your own writing?

  • Limit the point of view.

  • Instead of an omniscient narrator who can see and relay everything that happens, tell the story from the perspective of the characters.

  • They may start off knowing just as little as the audience does, and as they learn more, so do we.

  • Classic novels, like "Dracula," for example, are told through letters and diary entries where characters relate what they've experienced and fear what's to come.

  • Next, choose the right setting and imagery.

  • Old mansions or castles with winding halls and secret passageways suggest that disturbing things are being concealed.

  • Nighttime, fog, and storms all play similar roles in limiting visibility and restricting characters' movements.

  • That's why Victorian London is such a popular setting.

  • And even ordinary places and objects can be made sinister, as in the Gothic novel "Rebecca", where the flowers at the protagonist's new home are described as blood red.

  • Three: play with style and form.

  • You can build suspense by carefully paying attention not just to what happens, but how it's conveyed and paced.

  • Edgar Allan Poe conveys the mental state of the narrator in "The Tell-Tale Heart" with fragmented sentences that break off suddenly.

  • And other short declarative sentences in the story create a mix of breathless speed and weighty pauses.

  • On the screen, Alfred Hitchcock's cinematography is known for its use of extended silences and shots of staircases to create a feeling of discomfort.

  • Four: use dramatic irony.

  • You can't just keep the audience in the dark forever.

  • Sometimes, suspense is best served by revealing key parts of the big secret to the audience but not to the characters.

  • This is a technique known as dramatic irony, where the mystery becomes not what will happen, but when and how the characters will learn.

  • In the classic play "Oedipus Rex," the title character is unaware that he has killed his own father and married his mother.

  • But the audience knows, and watching Oedipus gradually learn the truth provides the story with its agonizing climax.

  • And finally, the cliffhanger.

  • Beware of overusing this one.

  • Some consider it a cheap and easy trick, but it's hard to deny its effectiveness.

  • This is where a chapter, episode, volume, or season cuts off right before something crucial is revealed, or in the midst of a dangerous situation with a slim chance of hope.

  • The wait, whether moments or years, makes us imagine possibilities about what could happen next, building extra suspense.

  • The awful thing is almost always averted, creating a sense of closure and emotional release.

  • But that doesn't stop us from worrying and wondering the next time the protagonists face near-certain disaster.

What makes a good horror story?

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B2 US TED-Ed suspense oedipus fear horror classic

【TED-Ed】How to make your writing suspenseful - Victoria Smith

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    osmend posted on 2020/10/12
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