Happy Friday the 13th, MUF peeps! In the interest of personal safety on this creeptastic day, go ahead and hang a horseshoe for good luck, don’t break any mirrors and — whatever you do — hold your breath when you pass a cemetery!
At least, that’s what my 8-year-old self would have advised… That stuff doesn’t scare grown-up me one bit. I’ll just be here blissfully stepping on cracks in the sidewalks, spilling salt everywhere, and whoa… wait a minute? Was that a black cat? Crossing my path? Excuse me while I run home and hide under the covers…
Phew! Safe now.
Okay, in all seriousness, there’s just something about a good, creepy story — no matter what your age — but especially when you’re a middle-grader. Maybe it’s because it’s sorta scary (in an exciting way, of course) to leave childhood behind. Or perhaps it’s because looming adolescence makes it feel like you’ve been possessed at times. Or, it could just be that there’s no better way to safely scare the socks off yourself than with a good book.
Whatever the case, I distinctly remember devouring ghost stories as a fifth-grader — then hanging out with my buddies at recess holding seances, trying to conjure up spirits and lift each other using only our fingertips (“light as a feather, stiff as a board” anyone?).
And we all had Ouija boards, which of course we never EVER used alone, lest we become the earthly vessels for some malevolent spirit…
Still, as much as I enjoyed spooking myself out as I kid (like the time a friend and I found a smashed gravestone in the woods, took it home and hid it in my closet until we became convinced that it was possessed and had to be exorcised and properly disposed of…), I’d never actually written a spooky story. I’ve always been funny/realistic writer. Well, until my recent work-for-hire gig with the fabulous Working Partners Ltd., that is. So let me share a few things I’ve learned along the way:
- Less is more. Horror and humor are similar in this regard. Over-the-top can be funny or scary, but oftentimes it’s much creepier not to have the whole monster jump right out at you — let the reader get just a glimpse of a jagged fang, the outline of a horrifying shadow, the scrape of nails along the wall.
- Physical reactions can be your friend — and enemy. Hearts can only pound so much before they explode. Too many goosebumps make your characters look like they’re diseased. Find other physical ways to convey fear — the uncontrollable twitch of the eyelid, a sweaty palm sliding down a railing, a mouth suddenly gone dry.
- Don’t rush it! The anticipation of something scary can be even creepier than the thing itself. Telltale heart, anyone? Let the suspense build — don’t just rush into the big “BOO!” moment. Make. Them. Sweat. It. Out…
And… apparently because I’m writing a creepy post, I was just, quite literally, interrupted by the sound of footsteps clomping across my back porch. Seriously. I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP! And I am here alone. Gulp. Excuse me while I go check things out. And if I don’t come back, please call 911. And tell my mom I love her…
Okay, upon a very freaked out investigation (heart pounding, for real…), I just discovered a worker had erroneously wandered into my back yard (she was supposed to be at my neighbor’s house next door).
Phew. (Wipes sweaty palms on dress.) On that note, I am going to sign off now.
And go hide under the covers. For real.
Jan Gangsei is a writer on the Welcome to Weirdsville series, published by Little Brown in the UK. And because she wants to thank you for making it to the end of this post, she’ll be giving away one copy of the first and second books: Happyland and Ghost School. Share your favorite spooky story in the comments below (or just say “BOO!”) and she’ll pick two random winners next week! But whatever you do, please don’t hang out on her back porch. You’ll give her a heart attack.