Last week, I made a bold claim that books can’t be scarier than movies. And I stand by that claim. However, for the sake of argument let’s try and work out how a book might be scarier than a film. Besides, I like to prove myself wrong before anyone else can.
I’m my own worst enemy.
At its core, a novel and a film aren’t that different. Both tell a story to the audience. One does so through the use of pictures and sound while the other uses words and the reader’s imagination. In last week’s column, I talked about some of the reasons why a movie has the edge when it comes to scaring its audience.
While it is still my contention that books cannot be the all-of-a-sudden scare you out of your pants type of scary that movies are, I will concede that books can be psychologically scary.
These books are the type that sticks with you long after you close the cover.
“Eddie discovered one of his childhood’s great truths. Grownups are the real monsters, he though.” – Stephen King, IT.
Sure, little children are scary and pretty creepy when they want to be. Have you ever looked around and there was a little kid standing behind you when you didn’t hear anything. It’s especially scary when you’re living alone and then they disappear when you blink. What’s even scarier than that is an innocent looking adult suddenly turning into a psychotic serial killer. A killer clown from outer space is scary, but at least you know ITs motivations. With all supernatural monsters there are rules. Vampires can’t be allowed into your home unless you invite them in, werewolves can be killed with silver bullets, demons can be exorcised, and rituals can be performed to send the Old Ones back to their ancient slumber.
Adults though, there are no rules. Take your work environment, for instance. Do you really know the person that you sit by? Do you know what goes on inside that mind? Your desk neighbor may smile, nod, say all the right things, but in their mind they might be trying to decide whether your innards would be best served with cilantro or a nice bottle of Chianti.
In the book IT, Pennywise the Dancing Clown wakes up every 27 years to feast on children. After that, IT goes back to sleep. With humans, there’s no telling what’s going to set a person off. Once, I told my coworker (not at my present job) that she couldn’t just hide Chic-fil-A sandwiches and that she’d have to sell them to customers. Basically, she wanted to hide them so at the end of the day she could call them waste and take them home. Instead of saying “Oh, that makes sense” she yelled at me and threw the sandwiches at me.
“God never talks. But the devil keeps advertising, Father. The devil does a lot of commercials.” – William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist.
As a Christian, demonic possession isn’t a fictional narrative to me. It’s a definite possibility. That’s scary to me. When I read books that deal with demons and exorcists, the forces of good and evil, Christ and the Antichrist, it’s always in the back of my mind that it could possibly happen.
When I was writing my third book, it involved a scene where one of the characters had to be exorcised. The character had this demon trying to take hold and the other characters were like “bye, bye Felicia.” Well, being someone that tries to be accurate in his writing, I found an actual Catholic exorcist rite and included some of it. Now, I say some of it because the text warned not to recreate it word for word.
“The last time I saw of Count Dracula was his kissing his hand to me, with a red light of triumph in his eyes, and with a smile that Judas in hell might be proud of.” – Bram Stoker, Dracula.
Diseases are also pretty scary. Anyone reading this will already know that because of the time we’re currently living in. We don’t know when the disease will arrive, we don’t know if it will hit us, and we don’t know who is carrying the disease unless they’re showing symptoms.
Diseases in literature isn’t a new thing. One of the earlier stories was published in 1897 and if you couldn’t guess from the quote above, it’s Dracula, but Bram Stoker. Disease isn’t the only theme in that story, but I think it’s one of the more important ones. Basically, Dracula decides to get out of his Eastern European castle in the Carpathian Mountains and follow the protagonist, Jonathan Harker, to London. When he gets there, Dracula starts biting people and sucking out their blood. Well, you guessed it, Dracula didn’t really know how to sanitize his fangs because he passes on vampirism to those he bites. Harker and company seek out Professor Abraham Van Helsing. They fight the vampire and ultimately win.
I think what makes a book “scary” is subjective. To some, it can be a child-eating clown from outer space. To others, it can be a serial killer that wears the skin of the people he/she kills. In my personal opinion, the only thing that I’m afraid of are things that could actually happen. Like being possessed by a demon, catching some disease, or humans being all evil. Those, or another James Patterson book.
Categories: Mastering the Craft