What’s in the dark? I have heard it said and written that the answer is “the same things that are in the light before the lights are turned off.” Is that true?
Some everyday creatures search out the darkness. Spiders like to lay their nests in a darkened corner of a room or between the folds of a heavy drape. Why? The reason is for protection. They can’t be seen as well in the dark corner, and they hide for survival.
The same can be said for humans. While children may be terrified of what is under their beds, they willingly crawl under the bed when frightened. Adults may also turn off lights if they hear a strange noise. The same dark that hides an intruder will help hide them.
This love/hate relationship of light and dark plays well into the paranormal and horror genres in writing. Ghosts and evil creatures always prefer to hide in the dark. Since they are supernatural beings, they don’t need the cover of darkness to act out their evil deeds. However, it puts their victims in a more precarious situation if they attack in the dark.
The dark will also pull the reader into your story. They might have their own fear of the dark or remember a situation where the dark added some tension to their situation. The bright sunshine chases away the shadows and much of the fear.
Scary stories that take place in a haunted house usually have a dark, creepy attic or a damp, dreary basement. Teenagers, on a dare, visit a supposed haunted house. They sneak in after dark. The darkness enhances their fear level and in turn draws your reader into their fear.
A walk through an abandoned cemetery is more frightening at night. If there is enough moonlight to cast shadows from the large tombstones and trees blowing in the breeze, the fear will grow. It may appear that the tombstones have moved, or there is a spirit walking around the grounds.
Adding the right mix of light and dark will add to your story. I love the night sky with a full moon and deep blue clouds against the black sky. Enough light shines through the eerie clouds to add the right atmosphere to any scary story. Moonlight filtering through windows into a dark room will cast interesting shadows. Was it just a shadow? Your character isn’t sure, and neither is the reader. The more detailed the scene becomes, the greater the fear. It will make the story stronger.
The dark also changes perspective. A fun little experiment is to turn off all the lights in your house, or somewhere you feel perfectly safe. Look around, and as your eyes become accustomed to the dark, you may see shadows or a bit of light from the moon or street light. Feel how this change in perspective affects you and write it into your character’s personality or scene. If you don’t like the dark, you may want to try this with a friend. I don’t like the dark and find dark places uncomfortable regardless of how many people I’m with. When I want to experience the fear of dark places, I only need to recall my trip through the Lewis and Clark Caverns. At one point, the guide turned off the lights, and we were in total darkness. The guide, used to this situation, thought it amusing that we were unable to see our hands even when we lifted them right in front of our faces. I did not find it amusing and gripped my husband’s arm so tightly I left fingernail impressions.
Any and all life experiences can be used to make your writing more realistic.
Happy writing and reading!