What’s Behind that Door?
I won’t ruin the book for you (instead, I’d recommend reading it yourself). However, I’m not giving too much away if I say that the eerie room in The Upstairs Room features some classic horror-story elements, such as:
- An unexplained mystery. In this instance, it’s scary writing all over the wall, not to mention hints of the little girl that lived there previously. This immediately inspires questions. What happened there? What caused it all? Is it still going on?
- An unnatural state. Rooms in horror stories tend to be unnatural in some way. In The Upstairs Room, it’s the general state of filth and ruin, not to mention the scratches on the door…
- Weird goings-on. And of course, the final key element of the creepy room are the horrible, unexplainable events. Dead bird through the ceiling, anyone? Or perhaps an atmosphere that causes you to literally wet yourself, not to mention feel viciously sick? Nice work, Kate Murray-Browne, you officially had me freaked.
The Psychological Impact of Locked Rooms
Enough of me waxing lyrical about The Upstairs Room. Let’s move on to why locked rooms provide such rich fodder for scary writing.
When you think about it, there’s something deeply symbolic about a locked room – a symbolism that works on many levels. On the one hand, it’s representative of something unseen. Anything could be hiding behind that door, and chances are it won’t be pleasant. Alternatively, it’s representative of our own mind; that shut-off section that conceals dark, dangerous secrets. Once unlocked, who knows what might come pouring out?
Using Doors and Rooms in Your Writing
So many writers use this motif to excellent effect. In Jane Eyre, mad Mrs Rochester is kept prisoner in the attic. Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray features a locked room, concealing a very unpleasant portrait. These inaccessible spaces only reveal their secrets towards the end of the book – making it a popular symbol with crime novelists and thriller writers too.
When featuring a sinister room in your writing, think about how you can add something fresh to the concept. For example, could it be in an unusual place? (I read a hilariously frightening short story about a hidden area underneath Disneyland recently – beat that for strange!). Might the room look somehow different to the usual decaying / unpleasant locked room? Might it even lead to another dimension? One of the best things about this particular literary symbol is that you can get really creative with it – there’s a lot of imaginative scope here.
All Readers Barred… Until the End!
Ultimately, including a locked room is a great technique to use if you want to withhold a key secret – and it’s a sure-fire way to keep readers hooked until the end. Just make sure that what’s behind that door is worth it. After all, there’s nothing worse than expecting a big revelation, only to find it was disappointingly mundane after all.
I’ve got to admit, I’m a mad fan of using doors in my writing – they seem to crop up all over the place, whether I want them to or not! I recently had a short story accepted by Darkfuse, which featured an eerie basement door – plus of course, Kester’s spirit door-opening ability is what sets him apart in the Dr Ribero series.
Do you ever use doors in your writing? Do you find, like me, that they sneak in there, whether you want them to or not? Or are you obsessed by a different form of symbolism? Do share your thoughts on social media – I’d love to hear them.