Just to be clear, I don’t do horror. Being a writer, I have a despicably overactive imagination and it makes monsters out of shadows often enough as it is, even without adding fodder to it. I once accidentally read (yes, it is possible) a gothic horror novel and didn’t sleep for two days afterwards. But, even in genres other than horror, there are still sections that involve a little suspense and a little terror. Some writers do them well. Some not so much. This is what I’ve noticed about them.
If something’s really gone and shook your puddin’, you aren’t going to be calm, cool, and collected. Yet, in a disturbing number of books, the characters go right on with their adventures, even after supposedly being terrified moments beforehand. I was in my first car accident last week, and, despite it being minor with no injuries, I still didn’t stop shaking for a good hour afterwards. Though, that was partially because the first responders were rude and rather scary, but I digress. If you’re really and truly scared, the feeling doesn’t just evaporate once the danger is past. Granted, you can’t take it too far, or it will throw off the rhythm of your story, but it’s still something to think about. Also, it depends on the character you’re writing. Some are cool through the crisis and fall apart later, some bawl throughout the duration, and some lock up like clams. Whatever works for your story.
As I’ve mentioned before, I am aware that adjectives aren’t exactly cool in the writing world right now. And I understand why. They can be a real nuisance if used incorrectly. But when you’re attempting to pull off a good scare for your readers, mood is everything. And without adjectives to describe it, there is no mood. You don’t have to use a lot (In fact, you shouldn’t use a lot–bad form. Very bad form.), but a few well-placed descriptors can work wonders.
This can be a major issue. If it drags on for too long, you lose the sense of urgency that makes suspense and horror what they are. If you cut it too short, there isn’t enough time for the reader to become invested in the scene and therefore become frightened. The age-old writers’ advice of reading aloud really helps with pinpointing areas where the action is either too choppy or dragging. Also, having a disinterested party (who has a decent ear for words) read through and highlight areas where something feels off can be a lifesaver, since we all know how blind we writers can be to the failings of our own works.
According to Google, that really is a word…It still doesn’t sound right. But I digress. While trying to write something capable of keeping your readers up that night, the tendency is to go overboard. If a little is good, a megaton is better, right? In writing, no. Definitely not. With blood, gore, monsters, and the abilities of said fictional monsters, it seems to work better to keep it realistic. Well…as realistic as you can while writing about fictional beasties. If the terrors you describe in your tale are too out of the bounds of reality, then it may very well pull your reader out of the story long enough for them to put the book down. If your monsters are too powerful, then your readers are going to hate you for writing a perfect character, evil or not. And I’m going to stop here, because doing more would be…excessive.