My Books & Stories (Amazon Page)

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Why We Like Being Scared

I'm trying this again after a delay of 4-1/2 years. Those years have seen a lot of changes which I'll tell you about later, maybe. Suffice it to know that I intend to keep this blog up on a more or less regular basis from now on.

I've become quite the regular poster over at the Absolute Write Water Cooler forums since I've become more and more dedicated to my writing. You can find them at

I can't say enough about AW. The forums there are a goldmine of information for writers and about writing. If all you do is read the "Learn Writing With Uncle Jim" thread you'll be there for days and will learn more than you thought was ever possible about the craft. The thread's moderator is the reknowned author James D. MacDonald, just so you know.

Today, there was a posting by a member who asked "What Makes A Story Scary?". I didn't have to think too hard about this and made the following post,

"The question's answer is probably different for everyone, but the basics are probably nearly the same for each of us.

There's something deep in our psyche that likes to be scared, that likes the feeling of hiding in the dark and listening for the monsters under the bed, the creak of the attic door opening in the darkness, the howl of a wolf on a night of the full moon, the creep of the fog as it slides slowly over the landscape...

The "fear" does not have to be visceral. In fact, most books probably work better when the fear is intensely psychological and leave you breathless with anticipation. I think Hollywood gets it completely wrong with their indulgence of the chase and the gore over the suspense and the anticipation of the final outcome.

Look at the types of psychological drama that Alfred Hitchcock was able to convey with almost zero gore factor. Yet, even though there's so little blood in Psycho, The Birds, Vertigo, North By Northwest, etc., etc., those movies work so much better than schlock and shock pieces like Friday The 13th, Caw, or several others I could name. Even the first Halloween movie worked better than Nightmare On Elm Street or Friday The 13th because of the sense of suspense and oncoming doom for the character of Michael Meyers' sister.

Alien and Aliens are good examples of good psychological suspense movies as is the 1982 version of The Thing. Night Of The Living Dead (the original) has its share of gore, but the real suspense is between the characters inside the house awaiting the moment when the zombies are going to break in and eat them alive.

It's not the moment of final drama, it;s the suspense leading up to that final moment that keeps us on the edges of our seats, that gets our hearts beating faster, and makes us clutch the arms of the theater seat tighter as the moment looms closer and closer to characters we have somehow come to care about. Remember that - as several have pointed out above, it's about the characters and the suspense, not the moment when the axe falls and the blood splashes..

It's about that deep-seated thing in our psyche that loves to be scared, that loves it when our heart races faster, our blood pumps harder, that tenses our muscles and makes us feel alive and connected.

It's a connection with our world and the characters in a book or story that's important to us because all too often in our world today we are so disconnected from what's going on around us. We don't hunt for our food. Picking up a chicken at the grocery is a far, far cry from chasing it across the range and killing it with our bare hands. But that little piece of what we once were is still inside us, hidden, but still rails against being trapped in an 8x6 cubicle all day long with no glimpse of the sun or the fields or the mountains or clouds beyond the cold gray concrete walls of the city. It wants out. It wants to feel again. It wants to feel the thrill of the wind in our hair and the thrill of the chase and even the moment of the kill. We evolved as hunters and that hunter is still within us.

But we also evolved as the hunted and there's this tiny speck within us still that loves the thrill of that chase too. It gets our blood pumping, our heart racing. It makes us feel alive again in a way that sitting in an 8x6 cubicle never can or will. It lets us know that there's still a life out there, that there's still life in us too.

It's fear and yearning and the desire to chase and be chased. It's emotions and characters and connection.

We love to be scared because it helps us feel alive.

Please forgive my pontification. Yee, Gods I'm longwinded tonight..."

Yup, it was a bit long-winded, but I think it gets to the heart of the matter.

I'd like to know what you think.

No comments: