Monday, November 1, 2010

Writing Creepy

I’m still in Halloween mode. This may be a direct result of stuffing too many caramels and Starbursts into my face.

Anyway, with Halloween still flowing through my veins, I’ve been considering the art of writing creepy. By creepy, I mean that down-to-the-bone chill that sometimes comes from an eerie basement, a spooky house, or (once in a while) a person. A repulsion that has no rational basis, but can’t be denied. Sure, it’s easy when a basement is dark and dank, strewn with cobwebs and corpses of rats, or if a house is falling apart and abandoned with winds whistling through the decomposing walls, or if someone resembles a zombie and drools bile colored goo on you while trying to chew on your elbow. But what if the crawl of that warning inside you is subtle? What if the basement is a cheery playroom but something feels beyond wrong about it? What if the house has a picket fence and rose gardens, but an inner fear blares within your gut every time you stroll past the house? How about if the person is clean and well dressed, but when he or she stares at you, you turn to ice?

When there is something unsettling about a place or a person, something that triggers a gut reaction that is not quite fight or flight, but amps up awareness and turns nerve endings electric, how does a writer translate this into type? Making use of rich details, back-story and character development are useful techniques, but I find that trying to explain the unexplainable can come across as awkward or clumsy. And simply describing someone as creepy isn’t very fair to that place or character, nor does it give the reader anything to work with or understand. The character with the intuitive warning who stamps another place or character as odd or creepy may risk being labeled as unreliable. Tricky business, I think.

If you are a writer, do you find writing creepy to be a bit challenging?

If you are a reader, do you have a favorite depiction of characters going through the heebie-jeebies for no rational reason? Can you think of a scene or scenes that gave you goose bumps as you read?

Now, excuse me while I go for another caramel.


  1. I don't know if I'm good at writing creepy, having never really tried it. It's not a genre I read either. I guess it all boils down to the fact that I'm just not into being creeped out. I think it goes back to watching the movie, The Incredible Shrinking Man when I was 7 or 8 and getting nightmares. And I also believed for sure if I ever went through fog that I'd start to shrink. There were so many aspects of that movie that un-nerved me...yuk.

  2. Bish, you reminded me of the first really terrifying movie I ever watched--The Fly (the original). I was so frozen with terror that I could not go near the television to turn it off. Thinking about it still makes me cringe. Thanks for sharing!