Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Blog Tour: Writing Scary Scenes by Rayne Hall

Non Fiction - Writing Craft
Date Published: 7/06/12

Are your frightening scenes scary enough? Learn practical tricks to turn up the suspense. Make your readers' hearts hammer with suspense, their breaths quicken with excitement, and their skins tingle with goosebumps of delicious fright. 
This book contains practical suggestions how to structure a scary scene, increase the suspense, make the climax more terrifying, make the reader feel the character's fear. It includes techniques for manipulating the readers' subconscious and creating powerful emotional effects. 
Use this book to write a new scene, or to add tension and excitement to a draft.
You will learn tricks of the trade for "black moment" and "climax" scenes, describing monsters and villains, writing harrowing captivity sections and breathtaking escapes, as well as how to make sure that your hero doesn't come across as a wimp... and much more.
This book is recommended for writers of all genres, especially thriller, horror, paranormal romance and urban fantasy. 


So let's be honest, we've all read a few "Scary" or "Horror" Books that didn't fit in their genre and were not anywhere near scary enough. Books are a lot like movies in that way. Readers who enjoy the genre want the THRILL just the same as those who enjoy Scary Movies. So if you are an author looking to write your own Scary or Horror book, this is a great tool! 

Rayne has practical advice and tips that will help even the newest of authors better their work and enhance the scenes meant to frighten or thrill the reader. 



Readers don't like wusses.

Heroes – male or female - may be frightened, but they may not be wusses. Often, the difference lies not in their actions, but in the words you've used.

You may have created a spunky, heroic, brave heroine, but the reader still perceives her as a wimpy wuss, because you've unwittingly used certain phrases which signal “wimp” to the reader's subconscious. I call this the Wimp Effect.

It's best to avoid those words, or at least, to use them sparingly.

The Wimp Test

See how your hero performs in your manuscript. Every time your protagonist does one of the following things, she or he gets one Wimp Point.

* Sighing, exhaling, breath taking. Each time the protagonist heaves a sigh, sighs deeply, takes a deep breath, inhales, exhales slowly etc, that's one Wimp Point.

* Shrugging. Shrugs may be intended to convey arrogance or indifference, but they also signal weakness. One Wimp Point for each shrug.

* Hesitation. Each time the protagonist hesitates, however good the reason, that's a Wimp Point.

* Visceral responses to minor triggers. Visceral responses to real danger are great! But if the protagonist shudders, trembles, jerks and gasps at something harmless like the sound of a banging door, this gets a Wimp Point.

* Indulging in negative-passive emotions. It's ok to feel sadness, grief, loss, worry, anxiety, helplessness. However, these should be dealt with quickly. The protagonist should experience them, but not dwell on them. Each time such an emotion is described for more than one sentence, it gets a Wimp Point.

* Tears. Each time the protagonist weeps, spills tears, wipes a tear from his eyes, gets moist eyes, or has a tear sliding down her cheek, earns one Wimp Point.

* Thinking. Thoughts should be very short or implied in the action. Whenever the protagonist thinks for more than one sentence, that's a Wimp Point. If he thinks aloud, or holds conversations with himself, the Wimp Points double.

* Nervous habits. Each time the protagonist bites or chews lips, cheeks or nails, clenches fists or teeth, freezes, gulps, swallows, clears a throat, drops a jaw or stares in disbelief, that's one Wimp Point.

* Tries and attempts. Each time your protagonist tries/attempts/endeavours something, that's one Wimp Point. When he tries something in connection with an emotional response (He tried not to shudder. She tried to suppress a groan. He couldn't stop himself trembling), the points double.

* Feeling. Every time the word “feel” is used  (He felt xxx, Feeling yyy, she did zzz) earns one Wimp Point.

* Finding themselves. Every time the protagonist finds himself in a place or situation (He found himself in a dark alleyway), or finds himself doing something instead of doing it (He found himself shaking all over. She found herself staring at a house.), this earns one Wimp Point.

* Involuntary actions. Each time she does something involuntarily/unconsciously/instinctively/ without meaning to/against her will, gets one Wimp Point.

* Each time the protagonist's body parts (instead of the protagonist) do something (His legs stepped forward. His hands took the weapon.Her eyes watched the rat.) gets one Wimp Point.

How Much is Too Much?

How many Wimp Points has the protagonist earned? Aim for no more than three in the scariest scene, and no more than ten or fifteen in the whole book, although it depends on the genre. Romance can be allowed a little more; thrillers fewer. Females are allowed a few more points than males, but not many more.

Some writers accumulate a dozen Wimp Points in a single paragraph, and are surprised when readers think their heroine is a wuss.

Here's an example of how a paragraph with many Wimp Points might read:

Henry Hero stared in disbelief at the dark river, and couldn't help himself swallowing. He found himself shaking involuntarily. Part of him whispered, No man has ever crossed this water alive. Go home while you can. Another part of him yelled, Just do it. Be the First. He chewed his lower lip, hesitating. A cloud crossed the sky, making him shudder. Then he took a deep breath to steady himself, and exhaled with a sigh. I have to do it, he told himself. The Delectable Damsel needs me. His feet stepped towards the shore.

Or how about this:

Captain Hero stared at the starship's monitor, disbelieving, and swallowed.
That's the end, part of him said. There's nothing you can do.
Another part of him said, Don't just stand there. Do something.
The first part of him replied, It's hopeless. In thirty seconds, this ship is going to blow up in a ball of fire. The second part continued, But how you use those thirty seconds matters.
He found himself trembling against his will. He chewed his lower lip and heaved sigh, wondering how he should spend the final moments of his life.
Without meaning to, he found himself looking at a pretty crying yeoman.
His legs walked towards her. He hesitated for a second, then he took a deep breath. His arms stretched to pull her close, and he found himself hugging her.
Part of him said, It's against the rules to make love to a member of his crew, but another part of him said, It doesn't matter any more.
He couldn't stop himself sighing deeply. Duty comes first, he told himself.
He took a deep breath to steady himself. Then he swallowed, and returned to the console.

Would you enjoy reading about such wusses? Your readers won't either.


Each of the “Wimp Effects” is ok on its own, if it happens just once. A single sigh, a single swallow, a one-off burst into tears are fine.

It's when the Wimp Points accumulate that they become problematic, and they accumulate quickly. Novice writers often have twenty or more Wimp Points in the first chapter, because their characters shrug and sigh constantly. This establishes their protagonists as wusses before the scary action begins.

The hero Odysseus weeps several times in Homer's famous ancient epic The Odyssey. Does this make him a wimp? Definitely not. The weeping shows him as a sensitive human, and it works because he doesn't do anything else to earn Wimp Points. He doesn't sigh, shrug, inhale, exhale, bite his lips and clear his throat. If he did all those things on top of the weeping, he would come across as a wuss, no matter how many cyclops and monsters he defeated.

It also depends on the character. A timid character is allowed the occasional Wimp Point, but not many.


Spunky person: She halted. (0 Wimp Points)
Timid person: She hesitated. (1 Wimp Point)
Wimpy wuss: She hesitated, chewing her lips, and heaved a deep sigh. (3 Wimp Points)

Spunky person: She braced herself. (0 Wimp Points)
Timid person: She swallowed and braced herself. (1 Wimp Point)
Wimpy wuss: She swallowed. Then she took a deep breath, exhaled slowly, and braced herself. (4 Wimp Points)

How to Avoid the Wimp Effect

Wherever possible, cut down on Wimp Points.

* Delete sighs, shrugs, inhales, exhales, lip biting, cheek chewing, swallowing etc.

* Don't let your protagonists do a lot of thinking, and never let two parts of their psyche engage in a conversation.

* If the plot demands that the protagonist hesitates, express it with different words (He halted. He paused. He waited)

* If the protagonist tries to do something, express it without the words try/attempt/endeavour. Instead of He tried to pull it out write He pulled at it with all his strength.

* Describe negative-passive emotions intensely but briefly.

De-wimpifying your manuscript can be fun. Enjoy the process.


Which wimpy habits have invaded your writing? Tell us about them. If you have questions, please ask. I'll be around for a week and will reply.  I love answering questions.

Rayne Hall
Rayne Hall has published more than forty books under different pen names with different publishers in different genres, mostly fantasy, horror and non-fiction. Recent books include Storm Dancer (dark epic fantasy novel), Six Historical Tales Vol 1, Six Scary Tales Vol 1, 2 and 3 (mild horror stories), Six Historical Tales (short stories), Six Quirky Tales (humorous fantasy stories), Writing Fight Scenes andWriting Scary Scenes (instructions for authors).
She holds a college degree in publishing management and a masters degree in creative writing. Currently, she edits the Ten Tales series of multi-author short story anthologies: Bites: Ten Tales of Vampires, Haunted: Ten Tales of Ghosts, Scared: Ten Tales of Horror, Cutlass: Ten Tales of Pirates, Beltane: Ten Tales of Witchcraft, Spells: Ten Tales of Magic, Undead: Ten Tales of Zombies and more. 
Twitter: @raynehall

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