The Creep Factor: Nine Ways to Add Eeriness to Your Story

Ragged clouds scudded across the swollen face of the blood-red moon. The rising wind caused the bare trees branches to clack together like skeletal fingers. It whipped strands of Randi Enderson’s pale blonde hair into her eyes, blurring her vision. Her heart thudded with fear as she called her son’s name. “Kitteridge!”

She spun around at a rustle in the underbrush, and her foot came squarely down on the tail of her neighbor’s black cat, Spectre. At his ear-splitting yowl, her flashlight dropped from her nerveless fingers, bounced hard off the ground and went out. Blackness enveloped her like a heavy cloak.

Lightning split the sky, throwing the trees and brush into an eye-searing bas-relief. Deafening thunder rolled through the countryside, shaking the ground. The first icy drops of rain pelted down. She had to find Kitt before his father arrived. Schulyer would have her in court in a heartbeat if he found his son shivering from wet and cold.

Randi staggered, need driving her. Her steps faltered, and the skin on her arms dimpled and the hair on the back of her neck stood as an impossible sound filled the air. It rose, far too close, long and ululating, a note out of nightmares and fairytales. No dog, no yipping Kansas coyote. Only one animal made that noise, the reverberation of violence, terror and death.

Crimson eyes gleamed in the darkness, as Randi found herself staring into the face of the wolf.

The piece above illustrates nine ways to add eeriness and suspense to a manuscript.

1. It uses the number one devastator of us all: Fear. Randi is afraid for her son. Afraid for his safety and of losing him.
2. It uses a ticking clock. She must find Kitt before his father arrives.
3. It uses a deprivation of the sense we all rely on most: Sight. The darkness and lightning make it hard for Randi to see.
4. It uses a “bus.” Named for the famous bus scene in director Val Lewton’s movie Cat People, it represents a scare that elevates tension, then turns out to be an empty threat. Randi’s stepping on Spectre is a “bus.”
5. It sets a tone with portents. The blood-red moon and the skeletal fingers of the trees let the reader know something untoward is about to happen.
6. It uses weather to add to Randi’s disorientation and discomfort. The thunderstorm with its lighting and rain drives her fear higher.
7. It piles problem after problem onto the character: Loss of sight, stepping on the cat, flashlight going out, lightning, thunder, rain, the thought of her ex-husband’s disapproval, all leading to the final terror of the howl.
8. It’s unpredictable. Small annoyances like stepping on cats and flashlights going out increase tension. No one lives in a vacuum. Everyday problems bug us all.
9. It throws the unexpected at the reader. The Kansas countryside is not a place you would anticipate coming face to face with a wolf.

I hope this post helps show you how to add the “creep factor” to your work. Enjoy this night of horrors and hauntings. I wish you a Happy Hallowe’en!


Rox Delaney said...

Ah, a truly great opening on this All Hallow's Eve!

Excellent job showing us how to write to build tension quickly.

Add the smell of something, and you've hit all 5 senses in one fell swoop. Definitely not easy to do!

Glad to have you back among us!

Starla Kaye said...

Wow, Jeannie! As always, you've nailed the creep factor. I would dearly love to have your ease with descriptions. Whenever I read (or hear) your descriptions, I feel like such a beginner.

Pat Davids said...

Thanks for the chill. I hate being outside in the dark so I was there.

Rox Delaney said...

Amen on feeling like a beginner, Starla! I'm totally aware of my lack of descriptions when writing and have yet to cure it.

Nina Sipes said...

Good Lord,that little bit lets me KNOW I'm a rank beginner at description. WOW! Double WOW!

And what a clever job tying it to the holiday AND bullet points of information.

Sheesh. Sitting here with my mouth open in awe and my eyes green with envy.

Great Blog.

Joan Vincent said...

What a "treat" Jeannie! I'm printing out your list as your points make for high drama in any scene. A terrific post.

Jeannie said...

Thanks, Rox. You're right, I should have talked about the smell of the wet leaves and earth or something.

Glad to be back. It's good to be feeling better day by day.

Rox Delaney said...

Jeannie, I wouldn't have noticed if you hadn't done such a great job!

Doesn't nearby lightning have a smell? Is it sulphur? I forget.

Jeannie said...

Thank you, Star. We all have our strengths. Whenever I hear your page count, I feel like a piker. lol.

I've always thought you do a nice job setting up the romantic tension between a couple. You make that look easy. My guys and gals are always getting lost in the adventure. :)

Jeannie said...

You're welcome, Pat. I didn't know you didn't like being outside in the dark. I'm glad my writing could be vivid enough to make feel like you were there (I think). :)

Jeannie said...

I don't think you do such a poor job with descriptions, Rox. That scene in THE RODEO RIDER where the hero gets kicked in the head by the bronc is really colorful and compelling.

The one thing I learned early on about description (I can't even remember where I learned it. Isn't that sad?) Is to use specifics.

Instead of saying, "John drove a car." say "John drove a cherry red vintage 1965 Mustang." The specifics give the reader a clearer picture of the car and also give a clue to the personality of your driver.

Jeannie said...

Thanks for the enthusiastic compliments, Nina. But I think you're underating yourself. I've read that opening to THE SHIP'S BASTARD (Love that title, BTW). That scene is some majorly good stuff! Nice descriptions of the wood and the water. You finish that one. I want to read the rest of it. :)

Jeannie said...

Thanks, Joan. It was a "treat" for me, too. I'm glad you feel the points would help someone add dramatic tension to any scene. I had a lot of fun writing this post. It's always nice to both enjoy and inform.

Jeannie said...

Rox, I've heard lightning smells like ozone. I don't know. I've never been that close to a strike. I did get to stand next to ball lightning once. That was an experience. :)

Rox Delaney said...

Ozone! Oh, the brain is not working well tonight. Anyway, it was nothing more than a thought. Don't mess with it now. It's great as it is.

And thanks for the compliment. It's easier to write description during action. But I'm working on writing it when there's no action. We'll see how that goes. LOL

Penny Rader said...

Great list, Jeannie! Another post I shall be printing for reference. Thanks!