I've started reading The Shining as a case study on how to scare readers.I'm about 75 pages in so far, and here's what I've learned...By page 35, Mr. King has introduced a lot of reasons to worry for the characters.- there's rat poison throughout the attic & cellar, so little 5 y/o Danny could be in danger there (how much you wanna bet there's a scene later when he goes to just that place!)- the boiler, if left unattended, could explode- the hotel has a history of people going crazy there, and killing other people- lots of people have died over the years via murder, suicide, and natural causes- some of the hotel staff has claimed seeing ghosts- the main character, Jack the frustrated playwright, is a drunk (currently on the wagon) and has a nasty, nasty temperSo, already, by page 35, I'm worried for the innocent little Danny and wife Winifred. The writing is on the wall!Then by page 40, little Danny's "understandings" (ie. mind-reading and imaginary friend who "shows him things") is explained, and he has a vision (a flash forward, if you will) where he sees his father attack him with a rubber mallet and he sees his mother dead. Then, low and behold, Jack comes home from the hotel interview and Danny has a flash again about the mallet, but talks himself out of talking to his father about it, because he knows how his parents worry about him.
So, my "lesson" for today is this:
The anticipation is killing the reader.
It builds immediate tension because the reader knows more than the characters do. The reader knows what is going to happen (almost exactly) but the reader just doesn't know HOW it happens, or how it will come out AFTER the said major scary event happens. So, because the reader knows more than the characters, the reader is worried and in fear for them, and this is why you are so scared while reading it. You want to jump through the page and say, "DON'T GO TO THE HOTEL!" But, of course, they do, and this is what keeps the reader riveted. How will the scary impending event unfold? How will Jack go coo-coo-for-Cocoa-Puffs? How will little Danny and Winnifred escape?
So, in order to implement that sense of dread in my work, I'm going to try and emulate this same strategy into my new book. I don't want to go into too much detail, but I hope after only a few pages into my new WIP the reader will be screaming at the book, DON'T GO TO THE ABANDONED BUILDING!!!
All Hail Stephen King.