I get into quite a few conversations about strange, sinister stuff. It comes with the territory when you’re writing about creepy creatures and ghosts – people love to ask questions about the supernatural, and I like to answer them!
Today, I’m not focusing on the classic inspirations for horror stories though. I’m going to leave urban myths, folklore and oft-told ghost tales well alone. Instead, I’ll be focusing on surprising sources of spookiness – and how you can uncover them for your own eerie stories.
Firstly, this is nothing new…
I can’t claim to be the first author to find fear in the mundane. In fact, it’s been done by plenty of authors, with one notable example being Stephen King – who proves beyond a doubt that things like clowns, wind-up monkey toys and cars can be the stuff of nightmares. Shirley Jackson’s wonderful The Haunting of Hill House is another great example, showing how a property itself can be terrifying, rather than any supernatural entities or mass-murdering humans.
The big question is… how do you locate frightening material in ordinary things?
Turn it on its head
Let’s take Stephen King’s It as an example. That book scarred me for life, but it’s undeniably brilliant, and the reason it works so well is that it takes a common stereotype (the funny clown) and flips it 180 degrees. Suddenly, the warm, comedic figure becomes menacing and unnatural, without losing any of its essential ‘clownness’.
You can pretty much do this with anything – person or inanimate object. Here’s a fun game to play, which illustrates the point nicely. Take the object nearest to you. I’m going to do this too; and the nearest item to me right now is my mobile phone.
Think about what that item does. So, using my phone as an example, it:
- Puts people in touch with one another
- Plays videos and songs (not that I really know how to use these features, I’m useless with technology!)
- Has apps that do all sorts of clever things (ahem… see above)
The list could go on, but we’ll leave it there for now.
Now twist those features into something sinister…
So, the phone can be used to talk to other people. How could that be a scary thing?
- It could be used as a conduit to the dead… recently deceased people keep calling you. Eep!
- It could start developing a voice of its own.
- It could ‘tune in’ to alien conversations.
It plays videos and songs. But what if:
- Those videos were from the dark net and showed terrible murders happening on your street?
- The songs featured subliminal messages that controlled your brain?
- There was one video that, once you watched it, you’d die shortly after? (Yep, I’ll admit, that idea already exists in the horror film The Ring!)
It has a load of fancy apps. But these could be frightening too.
- You accidentally download an app that starts connecting you with serial killers across the world.
- You find an app that lets you converse with the spirit world.
- You stumble upon the app of a secret society, who’ll do anything to keep themselves a secret.
So there you have it!
Even something as unthreatening as a mobile phone can be transformed into something altogether more sinister, with just a little bit of imagination. The same applies to anything and anyone. See that lollipop lady, helping kids across the road? What if she’s actually a zombie? That electric toothbrush… what if it suddenly went out of control and wouldn’t stop brushing your skin until it did you some serious damage? Okay, so that last one probably hasn’t got the makings of a bestseller, but you take my point.
Exploration and fun
I always advocate having fun with your writing – and a major part of the process is playing around with ideas. Don’t be afraid to go ‘way out there’ with it. Several of the world’s best writers have come up with outlandish ideas and transformed them into amazing literature.
Dr Ribero’s Agency of the Supernatural – The Case of the Green-Dressed Ghost, is available to buy – you can do so here (US) or here (UK). Also, The Case of the Deadly Doppelganger is now out, and can also be bought on Amazon, and other bookshops in the US.