Please welcome Lorne Oliver to my blog today. He is going to talk about writing fear. It’s a perfect topic for October!
Fear. It can hit you at any time and has the power to paralyse your entire body. Writing fear is not simple at all. You have to be able to write emotion well enough so that the reader feels what you want them to. To write fear you have to be willing to acknowledge and accept your own personal fears. Then be willing to get right into them and write about them. My biggest fear is a mixture of the dark and my own imagination. Though my fear of chickens is up there. Traumatic childhood event, shut up.
When I say, “afraid of the dark,” I don’t just mean the dust filled attic crawl space – though I don’t do those. I mean any time when you can’t see what is out there. I wrote a scene in RED ISLAND where Reid is in the shower. Soap gets in his eyes. In his mind he sees the eyes of the serial killer he is chasing staring at him from the other side of the shower door. For a year or more after writing that scene I had panic attacks while taking showers. Even if I had the bathroom door locked I felt eyes on me.
In THE CISTERN I wrote about an actual terrifying event that involved the dark, the unknown and a healthy dose of my own imagination. In THE CISTERN it is sister and brother, Chrys and Spencer, who live through it. In real life my wife got a part-time job cleaning out foreclosed houses. The first one was out in the middle of nowhere. The family which had lived there had just up and left.
Spencer almost passed the driveway where it lay hidden on the grassy side of the road. As he eased the truck into the driveway and down a gentle slope, a feeling of dread fell over him.
Giant evergreens made a square around the house and yard blocking most of the wind coming across the fields. There were ghosts hanging from those trees. They dangled from strings tied around the grey paper to create a head. The grass over the entire yard had grown untouched until it was too heavy to stand up and fell over on itself. On one side the grass was only broken by a small kids’ swimming pool deflated and discarded. There was filthy water inside it from rain with piles of dead and rotting leaves turning the water dark. The house itself had an attached two-car garage, the roof shingles had seen better days, and over in front of a glass door was a deck with plants growing up from underneath poking through the floorboards. A vine had climbed halfway up one of the posts around the outside of the deck. It looked as though it had once been screened in, but that was long ago. A storm door stood open beside the garage with the door behind it closed. How long would it take for nature to take over the house?
My imagination went wild. I came up with a dozen possibilities about where the family had gone. Inside the house we found that they left a lot of their belongings from fishing gear to the dining table and chairs to photographs. One of the bedroom doors was hanging off one hinge. And then came the basement.
There was no light switch to be found at the top of the stairs, so with flashlight in hand don we went. My imagination tortured me with the possibilities only found in movies. Then I walked around a corner and put my light on something behind the furnace.
The hairs on her arms felt electrified at just the way her brother said her name. He was already moving forward.
Spencer felt drawn to walk around these inside walls. There had to be a door or something. There had to be a reason for them to be there. He said, “This is a concrete room. The walls don’t go up.”
“They don’t go all the way to the ceiling.”
The light from Spencer’s cellphone didn’t reach around the corner as he moved toward it. Shadows were cast and danced. Why was there a room like this inside the house? Every horror movie popped through his head. Pennywise the Clown liked basements. Zombies often got locked in them. Freddie Kruger. Jason. In his head he saw all of them turning the corner from the far side or maybe crawling along the top of it waiting for the next time he looked up.
To write any emotion you have to be completely honest with yourself. To write fear you have to even go beyond that. You need to include smells, sights, sounds and feelings to make it feel real to those reading it. I don’t know if admitting your fear will help to get your over it, but admitting my fears gives me the strength to challenge them.
But not chickens. I still stay away from chickens.
Lorne Oliver’s books:
Lorne Oliver has been writing most of his life. He honestly doesn’t remember a time when he didn’t have a black covered notebook in hand. The only time he doesn’t have the notebook is when at work in whichever kitchen he is in. (but he still has a notepad in his pocket) He has moved all across Canada, but now calls northern Saskatchewan home where he lives with his wife and 2 children.