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Writing Lab #1: Fear and the Five Senses


Written by: Lucas Graham

Writing horror fiction is the act of instilling fear. Well, what is that? Fear, particularly when being sought in books, is subjective. Erotica might be the scariest thing in the library to the asexual man. Some are afraid of crazy people, others terrified by creatures in the dark. Personally, I don’t like the idea of being insane. Every person’s demon is different, but some factors do remain constant. For example, you’re always at the wheel, no matter who’s reading your story.

There will be consistencies in your audience, as well. One common denominator is a basic human characteristic: the five senses. Our feelers. The tools we use to find our way through the world. As a horror writer, it’s your job to concoct a formula that will offend your readers’ senses.

This concoction is your story, of course.

What does your setting smell like? That’s not a question I hear often. Perhaps one of your characters was just vaporized by a plasma beam, so it smells like singed hair. What will make your audience sniff most? Lure them in with rain and damp earth, and then smother them with the stench of blood and rot. Smell is something every writer should take advantage of.

Sight and sound are the two most expressed, I would imagine. We’re constantly using our eyes and ears, and a person’s writing would reflect that. In horror fiction, I think it would be beneficial to not rely on these senses so much. What could be more frightening than not being able to see or hear?

Touch and taste come next. Which do you find more important? I usually only describe one or the other in a scene. Taste is effective for obvious reasons: it’s easy to make a person uncomfortable by telling them what’s in their mouth. Touch is powerful because it’s familiar, and it’s three hundred and sixty degrees. In horror, these senses are often tied to sickness and pain. Tasting bile. Feeling the dog’s fangs.

It’s good to explore the senses, and find which ones best fit with each scene. A writer shouldn’t overload their reader all at once. I prefer when descriptions for the senses are sprinkled around evenly, and sometimes flat-out abused. It makes for an even ratio that leaves me unsettled.

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About The Overseer (1669 Articles)
Author of Say No to Drugs, writer for Blumhouse, Dread Central, Horror Novel Reviews and Addicted to Horror Movies.

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