scary fiction

Scare Readers with Your Mind, Not Your Monsters


Dear Editor…

I want my WIP to totally scare readers, but it hasn’t scared even one of my Beta readers. They agree that the monsters are cool and the chases are exciting, but scary? Not so much. I’m frustrated. Advice?

Wannabe Scary

Dear Wannabe Scary…

I bet you aren’t digging deeply enough into readers’ psyches—or your own. Readers will never be in physical peril when reading a book, so you can’t rely on monsters jumping out of corners to get them jittery. Instead, trigger a psychological sense of peril in your audience. Try tapping into your own deep-rooted fear, because if something scares you, you’re primed to convey your discomfort in your writing. What scares you about your monsters? Their jaws and claws? Their immortality? Make an actual list. Now consider what makes those things scary for you. Do they symbolize something else, something that’s out of your control? Do they evoke a problem from your past? A fear for your future? Your monsters need to tie into a deeper fear that can resonate with readers. Then focus your plot decisions on pushing that fear relentlessly. That, not the monsters, will freak folks out.

Happy writing!
The Editor