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How to Spook Your Readers!


When reading a story that gets a lot of praise, I usually get disappointed when the story fails to scare me. Nowadays, I typically find only a few stories that actually manage to creep me out or unnerve me. I decided to post this blog to help new writers who want to try to scare their reader. Don't get me wrong, it's not a major requirement, just something I like to see in Creepypasta.

Explaining Fear in Literature

Fear is one of the natural responses to a sense of imminent danger. It is a feeling, usually characterized by being uneasy and alert, worrying and anxiety. There are various actions that people do in response to fear. Some people respond very calmly to fear, while others react very poorly to fear. 

In literature, fear is used through manipulating the reader. If you can paint a picture to your audience that will have them invoke characteristics of being afraid, then the mind is going to percieve it as being afraid. In a movie when you see a jumpscare, they add a loud sound; so that it invokes a feeling of alertness; causing you to jump.

Creepy vs. Scary

Perhaps, these two share a similarity. They both can cause fear in the reader, but they tend to go off on different routes to get there. If you want to be Creepy, write very subtly and ominously. Rely on the circumstances, setting, and atmosphere to be creepy. If you want to be Scary, make the reader alert. Yell "BOO!" right in their face.

Creepy sentence: Grandma stood bent over the counter in the kitchen, chopping away at the cuttingboard. The lights were off.

Scary sentence: I turn the lights back on as I walk into the kitchen. As I am about to address my Grandma, she's gone. I look to the left, then I look to the right. As I figured I must be crazy, I turn back around and see her standing right in front of me. "Turn the lights back off." 

Personally, finding the balance between the two is a good idea. Be creepy enough to create tension, but be scary enough to be...scary.

Dread & Paranoia: Unnerving to the Extreme

If you want to scare someone, then jumpscares and shock value is the way to do it. If you want to unnerve someone and terrify them after the story is over, then paranoia and dread are good ways to do it. There's a difference between the two, but they work to the same effect.

Paranoia is especially a good technique when involving a monster or character. The character is still at large, on the loose. Is it clich'e? Yes. Is it effective? Yes. Add your own style, but invoke a feeling that something bad is going to happen to the reader as a result of reading your story. 

The cameraman looks into the base with his camera, I can still see my shirt. The camera quickly switches to the helicopter view of a large hole. The door that I barracaded could be seen in the camera too, about 20ft away from the hole. 

Dread is very similar to paranoia except it is more focused on sadness than fear. The goal of dread is to invoke an 'all-is-lost' feeling for your reader. This is usually the path that many of the best stories take, and while it isn't all that scary, it is very unnerving. Here is a long example of dread, it's my own design, but the premise is inspired.

Ex: I had waited so long for the door to open, I have an opportunity to escape. I can not spend another minute in the hole. If I climb out of here, the thing will kill me. As I run down the hall, I found it! I see the wooden ladder! I get on, I am so overjoyed that I'm counting the seconds.

"One...'Two...'Three." I hear him, he is on the ladder.

"Four...'Five...'Six." He's gettinng closer, but so am I. I rush to pull ahead.

"Seven...'Eight...'Nine." I see the latch, freedom is near.

"Ten."  I've arrived, I am free!

The latch was locked.

Notice how so many creepypastas end like that, the desire to be ontop, to have everything crushed at the last second. 

Common Fears/Phobias:

  • Spiders/Insects 
  • Clowns
  • Heights 
  • Death
  • Holes
  • Mirrors
  • Dolls

These were just the basics. In an updated blog, I will add techniques and more advanced methods of writing. Including Atmosphere, Immersion, and Manipulation. More to come, thanks.


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