Friday, July 26, 2013

Writing horror: creating a Pavlovian response

Happy Friday, Operation Awesome! Well, the sun is still trying to melt us out there, so I'll be writing another post on horror-writing today - because as I said in my last post, if you don't have some ice cream on hand, giving yourself goosebumps is actually a pretty great way to cool down.

So, if horror movies are your thing, you might have gone to see the new movie The Conjuring last weekend, as I did. And I enjoyed it very much! It was a fun, gore-free, 70's throwback kind of creepy, which is very much my weakness. But as someone who likes to write horror, it's hard to just turn my brain off and enjoy the scary - I usually end up breaking the movie down to its working parts as I'm watching. This doubles as a pretty good way to avoid sleepless nights, but it also means taking a look at each trope and technique to see how effective they are. There's one in particular I noticed the director seems to enjoy (it popped up in his past effort, Insidious, as well) and when used properly, it's chillingly effective indeed.

Creating a Pavlovian response is all about setting a creepy precedent early on centered around a word, phrase, object, or character, and turning that word/phrase/etc into an instant tension-builder. In the movies I mentioned above, the director sets the precedent by associating each film's monster with a distinct sound (claws slowly unfurling and the sound of a straining rope, respectively) and using that sound to suggest that stuff's about to go down.

But you can be sneakier than that, if you want. Sometimes it's even scarier if your callback is buried in a perfectly normal scene, without any attention called to it whatsoever. Your reader's imagination is the scariest thing you've got in your arsenal, and I know for me, it's extra unsettling to run across a passage like this and wonder if I've imagined the creep-factor altogether.

Have a great weekend, all, and happy writing! I hope you're staying cool - even if you're not doing so by scaring yourself silly. ;)

1 comment:

  1. They showed trailers for The Conjuring and it looked pretty scary. That was enough to convince me it's probably too scary for me to see the actual movie!


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