March 2, 2013


Writing Scary Scenes by Rayne Hall
Kindle, 276 KB 
Published July 6, 2012

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. It is aimed at advanced-level and professional authors and may not be suitable for beginners.

My Thoughts on Writing Scary Scenes

Author Rayne Hall loves scaring people and she has written this instructional book so that you too can love scaring people!
Ms. Hall provides practical advice, broken down into relatively short and easy to read chapters, on how to build suspense,  to put the reader in your character’s shoes and deliver the ultimate payoff.   Especially helpful are the examples she supplies after each topic,  allowing the reader to experience exactly what Ms. Hall is instructing. 

Of particular benefit to this writer was the section on showing, not telling (something I have to work on) and pacing yourself while being careful not to overdo it.  In the horror and suspense genre it can be easy to aim for constant intensity and Ms. Hall’s teaching helps to rein that in.  (See the guest post from Ms. Hall at the end of this review for fantastic examples). 
How to Write Scary Scenes is a great tool for both the beginning writer and the more practiced writer and one that should be on the desk or shelf of anyone looking to pen horror, mystery or suspense. 

How to Write Scary Scenes is available for purchase at major booksellers, including Amazon.  I am an Amazon affiliate.  If you make a purchase through my link, I will receive a small commission.
Author Rayne Hall offers writing workshops.  Please click on the link for more information.

Excerpt from Writing Scary Scenes


1. Flavours of Fear
2. Instant Hooks
3. What Lurks Behind That Door?

4. Dark and Dangerous

5. Sounds Build Suspense
6. Total Isolation

7. Strip to Tease
8. Keep the Clock Ticking

9. Feel the Fear
10. Pacing

11. Euphonics
12. Peaks and Troughs

13. Structuring a Scary Scene
14. Choosing the Location

15. Using the Senses
16. Cliffhangers

17. Villains and Monsters
18. Captivity

19. Chases and Escapes
20. Violence And Gore

21. Humour
22. Backloading

23. The Story's First and Final Scenes
24. Black Moment And Climax Scenes

25. Genres
26. The Wimp Effect

Sample Story: Druid Stones
Sample Story: Through The Tunnel

Sample Story: Only A Fool

by Rayne Hall

To make a scene suspenseful or scary, show the point-of-view character's fear, and allow the reader to feel it.
Telling the reader that the character is afraid doesn't work:

He felt frightened
She was scared

I grew very afraid
He experienced a really terrible emotion of utter fear, a feeling that was indescribably scary.

Instead, “show” the fear. The showing is more visceral than visual, describing the physical effects.

When a human is frightened, lots of things happen to the body:
The person may feel hot or cold, may shiver or sweat.

The heart beats faster, harder, louder. The person may hear or feel their own heart beat in unusual places: in their ears, in their throat. 

The breathing changes. Usually it becomes faster and shallower, though for some people it may deepen and slow.

The palms may become damp, the mouth dry, the stomach tight,  the throat clogged. 

Fear can make a person yawn, though you need to be careful with this so you don't accidentally suggest boredom.

The skin reacts. There may be goose-pimples (“goosebumps” in American). The little hairs may stand up in some places. Often, there's an itch, most commonly on the head, though it can occur anywhere, and this itch may be very inconvenient when someone tries hard not to move.

The stomach may clench, or churn, or feel like it's filled with ice.

Some people feel fear in strange places, e.g. the fillings of their teeth hurt.

During prolonged apprehension, pressure on the bladder build, resulting in an urge to use the loo (“bathroom” in American). In moments of panic, the bladder may open, and in a state of terror, the bowels may loosen.

Simply insert a sentence about a physical symptom, and the reader's heart will accelerate with the hero's, and shivers will crawl over their skin just like the heroine's.

If possible, avoid clich├ęd phrases, such as “Shivers ran down her spine.”

Here are some phrases you can adapt for your own use:

Fear prickled her scalp.
Her breath stalled.

Fear clenched like a tight first around my chest.

Tendrils of terror curled into her stomach.

Cold sweat trickled down her sides.

His heart thudded louder and louder.

Fear clogged his throat.

My pulse pounded in my throat.

Cold sweat glued the shirt to his back.

Chills chased up my back.

Common sense warned me to stay in my hiding place, but I needed a toilet. Now.

The sight made the back of my neck tingle.

I could hear the blood rushing through my head.

My skull seemed to shrink.

A ball of fear formed in my stomach.

My stomach knotted.

My stomach swelled with fear.

A weight seemed to press on her chest, robbing her of breath.
A thousand ants seemed to crawl over my skin.

You can insert several 'physical symptom' sentences into a scary scene. You may want to vary the symptoms, e.g. when she first feels foreboding, her scalp tingled. When she realises there is danger, her stomach tightens and her palms grow wet. When the villain involves her in conversation, her throat is so dry she can't get a word out. When she's tied up and she hears the bomb ticking, her stomach contorts,  cold sweat soaks her clothes, and her heart thuds as if it was trying to break out of her ribcage.

At the scariest moment, you can cluster two or three visceral effects closely together.

Careful: don't get carried away. If overused, this technique can become tedious. Although you can use physical symptoms of fear several times in each scary scene,  take care not to use them much elsewhere in your novel. If the hero's heart starts pounding every time a door bangs and if sweat trickles down his spine every time he faces a challenge, he'll come across as a wimp.

Choose symptoms appropriate to the situation, the character, the desired scariness-level, and the genre - and don't overdo it. Opening bladders and loosening bowels are fine for the climax of an ultra-scary thriller - but in a Regency romance they're out of place. 

Do you remember an occasion when you were anxious, frightened, panicked, or terrified? Where in your body did you feel the fear? When you think of something scary - dentists, spiders, cliffs, or whatever frightens you - how does your body react to the thoughts? Use your own experience as research for your writing.

If you're a writer and have questions about this technique, please leave a comment. I'll be around for a week and will reply. I love answering questions.

So what do you say, readers?  Any questions for Ms. Hall on scary writing?

Ms. Hall has been gracious enough to offer up her collection of short stories for giveaway.  Simply use the Rafflecopter link.  Good luck! 


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