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August 05, 2014

Utilize the Dark


When you’re writing horror, or any story that requires tension or suspense, the dark is a great tool to utilize.

Anything your readers (and characters) are afraid of can be in the dark. Just knowing that can instill a sense of dread. Use those feelings in your story to heighten the tension, whether something comes out of the darkness or not.

If your character is surrounded by darkness (either walking home at night or in a room when the power suddenly goes out) bring out their fear and let their sixth sense (about something coming for him/her or lurking in the darkness) kick into high gear.

For more on how to use the sixth sense, check out this post: 
Use the Sixth Sense

Here are a few ways you can use darkness to its full potential:
  • Give the darkness a life of its own. Our eyes can play tricks on us, so let the darkness move and appear alive.
  • Heighten your character’s other senses. Doing this will let you give the dark a sound, smell, feel and even a taste if you want to get ambitious. 
  • Let something happen to your character(s) in the dark. This can be as simple as someone touching him/her, like a lover putting his arms around the heroine’s waist. Or it can be devious, like hands around his/her throat.
TIP: Even if it is innocent, build up to it with tension and suspense by letting your character’s imagination get the best of him/her.



Now turn off the light on your characters!



SHARE: Your tips for utilizing the dark in your writing.


QUESTION: Are you afraid of the dark? Or were you as a child?

I was as a child. I always thought a monster hiding under my bed would brag my foot when I got up in the middle of the night. I wouldn't even let my hand hang over the edge.


33 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I haven't used the dark like that in any of my stories unless you count the darkness of space.

Sarah Foster said...

Good tips. I can think of one time I used darkness to create suspense in a fantasy novel I was working on--my main character already knew she was in danger and then suddenly the power goes out...it seems so cliched now...gotta go back and work on that at some point.

Pat Hatt said...

I've used the dark a time or two. Never been afraid of it at my zoo.

Chrys Fey said...

The darkness of space qualifies. Any darkness can work for this. :)

Chrys Fey said...

I think you could fix that up and make it less of a cliche. The power going out is always exciting. I did the same thing in 30 Seconds, but I tried to make it so the readers wouldn't see it coming.

Chrys Fey said...

You must've been a brave kid. ;)

Unknown said...

"Oh, you think the darkness is your ally, but you merely adopted the dark. I was born in it, molded by it. I didn't see the light until I was already a man; by then, it was nothing to me but blinding!" BANE
Sorry, It wouldn't leave my head! I still find myself running for the light switch sometimes.

Chrys Fey said...

Love that Bane quote! :D

Unknown said...

Great tips! Darkness is a great canvass for a writer to use. It can be comforting to a character with too much on their brain, or scary for a character who is uncertain about the unknown. It's ripe for metaphor--which I love. :)

Unknown said...

Ha, ha Leave it to David to bring this all back to Batman. Love it! :D

Unknown said...

Ha! I wouldn't let my toes or fingers hang off the sides of the bed either. Who knew what monsters hid there??? (But for some reason, I had no problem watching scary movies or reading scary books.) I haven't used darkness yet in my writing but I'm sure I will, especially considering the kind of stories I've been writing lately!

Carrie-Anne said...

When I write about the dark, I like to include the size of the Moon if we're outside. I use HebCal.com for figuring out the day of the week in my historicals, and I know a full Moon is around the middle of a Hebrew month, and the new Moon is at the beginning of the month. Having a small sliver in the sky versus a huge full Moon can make all the difference.

I've written about the Great Northeast Blackout of 1965, and a real miracle on that night was was the full Moon in a cloudless sky. It helped all those people trapped in the dark to see a bit better, and gave them hope even when all the lights went out. Compare that to the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, when the sky was very foggy, cloudy, overcast.

Loni Townsend said...

I tend to delve into the dark recesses of my mind... does that count?

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

My current romance series has most of the action taking place in the dark. It's a challenge to make it different every scene and keep it scary.

Chrys Fey said...

You're right! I completely forgot about how darkness could have the opposite effect on some.

Chrys Fey said...

That's funny, because when I was a kid I watched a lot of scary movies and read so many books by R.L. Stine. Not anymore, though. haha

Chrys Fey said...

Sure! Going there is great for writing.

Chrys Fey said...

That could be a challenge. I guess the trick would be to focus on one sense for each scene to make it different, and to have different things happen.

Chrys Fey said...

The moon phase is a great detail to add if a character is outside at night. I love the moon and stars, so I always make sure to include both in my descriptions of the night. :)

That's fascinating! Having a full moon in a cloudless sky during a blackout would be a blessing.

Optimistic Existentialist said...

Hi Chrys!! I love your idea of giving the darkness a life of its own. Your writing tips always amaze me!

Unknown said...

I love this, Chrys. The first chapter to my novel actually contrasts the darkness with light (good vs. evil). But it's the darkness which draws the readers in to actually fear what lies ahead.
Your idea about giving the dark a life of its own is absolutely intriguing. Now I'm getting ideas in my head=) Thanks for the spark of inspiration!

Kelly Hashway said...

I love the tip to give the darkness a life of its own. :)

Lisa Thomson said...

I was definitely afraid of the dark as a kid. Sometimes as a big person, too :). I love your idea to use the darkness to build suspense and fear in the character. I associate the dark season of winter with fear & melancholy.

Slamdunk said...

Oh gosh yes, as it is something we can relate to. I think everyone can remember a time in getting the shivers and almost always darkness is a factor. Encourage those imaginations to run.

Chrys Fey said...

Thank you!! :D

Chrys Fey said...

I love using the dark and light as metaphors for good vs. evil.

You're very, very welcome, Gina! :D

Chrys Fey said...

Thank you, Kelly! :)

Chrys Fey said...

One can never go wrong with using the dark in a suspense story. :)

Chrys Fey said...

Winter is definitely a great season for fear, and a perfect setting for a horror story.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I like the eerie darkness in movies and books. I've been writing paranormal lately and I've been using the darkness.

Chrys Fey said...

Thank you, Medeia. I like eerie darkness, too. So chilling and so good.

Anonymous said...

Darkness is indeed a powerful element for mysteries to unravel..The eerieness and the unpredictability makes the genre all the more thrilling and worth reading about!!

Chrys Fey said...

I agree, Jassie!