Fright Factors: Regenerate Decrepit Imagery

Saturday, August 20, 2011
There was a summer storm brewing last night. Although the rain never came the thunderheads gathered across the sunset turning the sky an ominous shade of orange. Visibility was low and as I gazed across the street I thought of sinister plots and London fog. Why is it, I thought, that so many writers still use fog to build atmosphere? Surely creepy things can happen in dust storms as well. An apt conversation as this is the time to be writing Halloween tales.

Part of the charm of the Halloween tale is the nostalgia, a traditional telling of a tale set in autumn. But tradition can border on boredom if we refuse to see it through new eyes and refresh the imagery. The dark and stormy night with the dilapidated old mansion in a heavily wooded middle-of-nowhere place doesn’t reflect our current day experience. What about that creepy foreclosure at the end of the street though? You know, the one that keeps changing hands—people move in, people move out—they’re gone before you can make an introduction.

What are some of the elements we usually use to build a frightening tale? We touched on a couple, abandoned houses and, of course, the fog. What are some other images that might be over used? What can we substitute for them?

A fun exercise is to take your favorite traditional tale and re-work it. What substitutions can you make to bring this tale into modern times? Can you change the elements around so that the story takes place in a different part of the country without loosing the fright factor?

As my mother once told me, “There is nothing there in the dark that wasn’t there when the lights were on.” Which leads me to my next question… what is that standing next to you?

photos and text by Robyn Chausse


Tamara Marnell said...

A lot of the images we depend on are outdated; not just from overuse but the natural changes in our culture over time. When Frankenstein and Dracula were written, the authors could depend on the delicate sensibilities of a populace that feared foreigners, technology, and basic human nature (Sex! Science! Oh nos!). Now people aren't particularly squeamish about boobs or the creepy house down the street because they can just flip on the TV to see both on reruns of Buffy.

A few cliches I wish people would drop: wide-eyed dolls, ghosts of despondent children, and serial killer hunting games (e.g. "I'm a hunter...and you're the game!"). A good cat-and-mouse can be terrifying, but not if it's the crutch for your entire plot.

Robyn Chausse said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Tamara, I agree.
I'd like to hear from some other readers--what cliches can we drop?

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