Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Guest Blogger Julie Anne Lindsey: Writing the Terror Scenes

By Julie Anne Lindsey, @JulieALindsey

Please help me welcome Julie Anne Lindsey to the blog today, to chat with up and scary stuff. Or actually, writing scary stuff. Even if you don't write spooky stories, these tips can help add tension to your own scenes.

Julie is a multi-genre author who writes the stories that keep her up at night. In 2013, Julie welcomes five new releases in three genres including her newest title, DECEIVED, a YA suspense from Merit Press, and her first cozy mystery, MURDER BY THE SEASIDE, book one in the Patience Price, Counselor at Large series from Carina Press (a digital imprint of Harlequin).

Julie is a self-proclaimed word nerd who would rather read than almost anything else. She started writing to make people smile. Someday she plans to change the world. Most days you'll find her online, amped up on caffeine and wielding a book.

Julie is a member of the International Thriller Writers (ITW), Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI), Sisters in Crime (SinC) and the Canton Writer’s Guild.

Take it away Julie...

You know the saying, write what you know? I missed the meaning of that for years. I thought, Who wants to read about a rural Ohio mother of three and her child toting shenanigans? Not me. For sure. So, I tried my hand at different genres and then I realized while I don’t have any specific hobbies like rodeo or synchronized trampolining to write about, I do have something deeply rooted in my soul that others enjoy. Fear. Cue epiphany moment. Light the proverbial bulb. *Taps chin* Many readers love to be scared. I live in fear. Ding! Ding! Winning! This changed everything.

Now I write stories of suspense and give myself nightmares. Often. Living in fear of my own shadow helps me. I know fear. I live fear.

But how do you write fear?

I’m sure there are multiple answers to this and it’s probably subjective, but I begin with the understanding that fear is an autonomic response. Fear triggers our internal fight-or-flight. In other words, when I see a monkey and my heart rate spikes, my muscles tense to spring while my brain makes the decision how to spring. Do I spring into flight ie: away from the danger, or spring into a fighting stance and beat the sucker down? In this scenario I flee. I feel it imperative to tell you monkeys are deadly dangerous despite their little furry facades and at the top of my irrational fear list. Monkeys are killers who want to kill me and when presented with a monkey you should run. If you think that’s ridiculous, don’t get me started on horses.

Unfortunately for suspense writers, not every reader is like this girl. On the upside, no matter who the reader is, fear has some universal attributes, and it’s a biological given everyone identifies with. Every reader might not run when faced with a monkey (but they should!), but if I can describe the physical and emotional responses well enough, any reader can easily put themselves in my heroine’s head. This is what matters. Lock into the emotions, mental stress, physical sensations and other responses incited by fear and use those to illicit the same in your reader. This is the key to writing suspense.

If you’re brave, or an adrenaline junky, this is probably more difficult for you as the author. For that, I’m sorry. Maybe pretend the Kraken has come for you because, you know, it’s the Kaken and no one wants on that thing’s list. If you aren’t afraid of the Kraken, I don’t know where to go from here.

For everyone else, I suggest finding a methodical process that works for you. Devise a system for identifying the things I mentioned and check them off as they are added into your text. Then, run some experiments. I love experiments. Experiments are like little warm ups for writing the scary stuff. I enlist the help of my husband and children, but you could do some of it yourself.

Want to know what it feels like to be grabbed from behind and dragged away? Ask someone to please attack you at some point this week, but ask them not to warn you first. Ever wonder what it feels like to rip duct tape from your lips? Strap some on and give it a yank. I have. It hurts. I’ve had my kids blindfold me, stuff socks in my mouth, tie me to chairs and leave me places….attic, basement, garage etc.

Run your experiments with your scene in mind. Start with what’s happening to your hero or heroine.

  • Is she abducted? 
  • Where are they keeping her? 
  • How does she know where she’s being held? 
  • Can she see? 
  • What does she see? 
If she’s blindfolded, what can she hear, feel or smell.
  • Does the old root cellar smell dank and earthy? 
  • Is the air cool and moist? 
  • Are the walls dry and crumbly? 
  • Or wet and slick? 
My attic smells like old paper and ashes. My basement smelled like wet dirt until we finished it. Now it smells like new carpet, paint and butter lingers in the air from too many movie nights. (Like that’s even possible).

What does your heroine hear?
  • Can she hear distant traffic? 
  • Coyotes? 
  • Children playing?
  • Crickets?
Begin in her head and work your way down her body including the physical responses to her situation. Start with thoughts. First, the obvious ones
  • “What’s happening?” 
  • “Why is this happening?” 
  • “What will happen to me now?” 
Elaborate of course to fit your character’s personality and circumstance. For example: Who or what does she think of in this dire situation?  Hint: This is a great opportunity to give insight into her soul. At gunpoint, does she think of her deceased father, hoping to be with him again?
  • Does she wonder if there’s a heaven? 
  • Wish she ate more cake? Etc. 
  • Then, think about her eyes. 
  • Misty or dry? 
  • Her mouth, dry. 
  • Are her ears ringing? 
  • Heart pounding is so assumed, I will skip that one. 
  • Are her hands, fingers, knees, trembling? 
  • Is she cold with the knowledge of what’s to come? 
  • Burning with desire for revenge? 
  • Hey, is she gassy? 
Some people have that response to fear and stress. I’m just saying. That might add another layer all together.

Consider all the details and layer them in nice and thick, build the scene, increase the stress, bring the reader into her heart and mind. Create the richest scene possible by saturating the text with deep emotional and physical responses. Your reader will thank you.

And in your real lives, please avoid monkeys, horses, strangers, the dark, alleys, stray dogs, oompaloompas and spiders whenever possible. Then, I won’t need to worry about you. Trust me. I have enough to worry about.

About Deceived

Ever since she could remember, Elle has had to hop from town to town to keep up with her dad's demanding career as a corporate insurance agent. Each time, a reoccurring nightmare followed her wherever she went--until the day that the frightening figures haunting her at night became all too real. When news of a serial killer spreads throughout her new school, Elle worries that the Reaper has been leaving her his calling card in the form of cigarette butts on her doormat and an unusual ribbon in her locker. With the help of Brian, a boy she meets at a flea market, she discovers that this isn't her first encounter with the murderer and that her father has been concealing her true identity for the past twelve years. But despite her father's desperate attempts to protect her, Elle still comes face to face with the darkness she has been running from her whole life. Trapped in the woods and with help hundreds of miles away, will Elle be able to confront the Reaper and reclaim the life she lost?

Available September 18th on AmazonBarnes & NobleBook Depository and more.

Find her online:
Tweeting her crazy @JulieALindsey
Soothing her book obsession on GoodReads
Pinning the pretty on Pinterest
Tumbling lamely on Tumblr
Blogging about books and writing at Musings from the Slush Pile


  1. So... your house must be a pretty interesting place to live O_o

    Good tips!

  2. Jo, Stop by sometime! We'll lock you in the basement! *wild applause* I mean, unless you aren't cool with that. :) LOL

  3. Only if I'm guaranteed the sock and duct tape treatment? Lol!

  4. Enjoyed the humour and helpful tips.

  5. Very useful, thank you.

  6. Your methodology for getting us into the victims experience has taught me a lot.

    Very good post, thank you :)

  7. Fantastic post! I love the way you have explained your process; I wish I had thought of this stuff myself! And encouraging your kids to inflict 'indignities' upon you is clever beyond words. Talk about taking one for the team!

  8. Thanks for all the comments and fun feedback! You know, I'm always surprised by how quickly my kids jump at the chance to tie me up and leave me places ;) LOL What's THAT about???