From the Archives--Scare-ine

Katherine Longshore Reply Friday, May 09, 2014
We've been talking about raising the stakes this week, so I figured I'd share with you this post from 2012.  Bret takes apart the pieces that build a "scary scene", but each of these components can be used to raise the stakes in your novel, too!

Settle down, class. Settle down. So for today’s lecture, I’ll be dissecting a scary scene, much in the same way I’ve studied Ends and Beginnings. As you’ve obviously deduced, class, a scary scene requires the same DNA as any other portion of a novel. And they are comprised of the same building blocks, specifically: Care-ine, Voice-ine, Theme-ine, and Hook-ine. However, they require some distinct characteristics to make them truly frightening.

  • If you recall, this literary molecule provides the reason for the reader to care.
  • Before the scary scene begins, the Care-ine has already provided clear stakes for the heroine (there’s a killer on the loose and he’s chasing after our heroine).
    • Note: No further explanations are required. In fact, if they are present…it can terminally degrade the Care-ine present.
  • Most often, the character is scared. Or, at the very least, the reader must be aware of the dangers lurking for our heroine.
  • Hook-ine keeps the reader turning the pages from cover to cover. It’s the big questions that fuel the reader’s interest. And it’s never more obvious than when examining a scary scene.
  • Since most scary scenes are life-and-death type situations, the most prevalent Hook-ine structure is “will she live?”
  • However, remember that the novel’s other over-arching questions (“Will she find her sister?” or “Will she ever love again?”) also remain in the background of the reader’s mind. While they won’t be addressed much or at all in the scary scene (living steamrolls those sorts of thoughts), but they do serve a purpose. They up the stakes of the situation. After all, our heroine won’t find her sister or love if she’s been hacked apart by the serial killer.
  • This portion of a book’s DNA defines the mood, tone, and pacing and is one of the least understood – though most critical – components of writing a scary scene. 
  • Fear is a primal emotion and the Voice-ine present in a suspenseful segment must be reflective of this. As humans, when we experience fear, we become walking medulla oblongatas. All of our filters are removed. We don’t think about the future or the past. We don’t wonder or ponder who to take out on a date.  We experience only what’s in the moment – our focus shifts to the most basic details. The clock ticking. How hard it is to breathe. The creaking in the closet.
  • Interestingly, Voice-ine popped out in the sentence and paragraph structure.
    • Sometimes it was in short, punchy sentences (gasp, even fragments)…letting the reader bulldoze through information. The light went out. My breath snagged. Something deep in the shadows growled. Low at first. Then louder.
    • In other instances, Voice-ine pulls the reader along in lengthy sentences. (double gasp, possibly run-on). One of the shadows sprung to life and barreled for me. It’s him! I turned and bolted down the hall, hearing the pounding feet behind me and feeling him snatch at my braid.    
  • Theme-ine is always subtle, but ever present and it behaves the same in a scene chalked full of fear.
  • A scary scene in a fantasy may involve a werewolf chasing the heroine, but the same creature chasing the sheriff in a western out-of-the-blue would likely be completely out-of-place.   
Ok, that’s it for the lecture. Now, for homework…
HEY! Where are you going? You didn’t get the assignment…Wait! Come back!

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