This week: Creating frightening charactersEdited by: Arakun the Twisted Raccoon
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Quote for the week: "It is a mistake to fancy that horror is associated inextricably with darkness, silence, and solitude."
The most frightening fictional character I have ever seen was the hearse driver in the movie "Burnt Offerings" which was based on a horror story of the same name. This character had no lines and didn't have an important part in the story. He only showed up in nightmares and flashbacks of a funeral one of the main characters had attended when he was a child. Still, with his gaunt, skeletal features and evil smile, this minor character was easily the scariest thing about the movie.
What character or monster scares you the most, and why is that character frightening? Is it their appearance, voice, words, actions, or just something about their mannerisms?
When they make a movie, they can bring a frightening character to life by casting the right actor with the right voice and through the use of costumes, makeup, and special effects. When we write, we need to be able to use words to create an image in the reader's mind. While movies have the advantage of projecting the exact image they want the viewers to see, writers have the advantage of appealing to the reader's imagination.
When you develop frightening characters, remember that not matter how you describe them, readers will still not all imagine them in the same way. Avoid long, complicated descriptions which will interrupt the flow of reading and break the tension you are trying to create. Concentrate on a few key features that you want to make sure they see.
Remember that sometimes, a character is more frightening the less you see of it. In the first movie of the "Alien" series the entire monster was never really shown. It usually lurked in the shadows, with only a tentacle or two occasionally visible. In subsequent movies, when they showed the entire monster more often, it was much less scary. When the first "Jaws" movie was made, the mechanical shark they used in filming often didn't work, which meant they were not able to show it as much as they had planned. They ended up creating suspense and terror in other ways which was far more effective.
Some quite frightening characters are actually never seen at all. In "The Bird Box" the characters are terrorized by creatures that cause people who see them to kill themselves for no apparent reason. The creatures are never directly shown on camera, and are only indicated by a disturbance in the surrounding trees and grass. The main focus is on the people who have seen them and the terrible actions they take immediately afterward. In this case, seeing the creatures would only be a letdown for the viewers, because nothing they could actually see could seem bad enough to cause people to kill themselves. If you write a story of this type, focus on the feeling created by the fearsome creature rather than its appearance.
Something to try: Write a horror story featuring the scariest creature you can imagine.
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