Thursday, October 24, 2013

Top 10 Things That Terrify

In honor of All Hallow’s Eve, I decided to make a list of the top ten things that make my hair bristle and chills erupt on my arms. I love horror movies, the suspenseful kind, not the gory kind. Unfortunately, they leave a lasting impact.

1. Things that go bump. 

I once heard footsteps in the house when I thought no one was home. I froze, petrified, until I realized school had ended and it was just my daughter rolling out of bed at a time when she should have been at school. Unexplained sounds are guaranteed to up the adrenaline. I can’t count the times I have searched the house with my flashlight/taser or a big knife because I heard a strange noise.

2. Faces in windows.

When my sisters and I were teenagers, our friends thought it was hilarious to show up outside our bedroom windows at night. It was not so funny, especially after reading a chapter of Stephen King. Seeing a face you don’t expect staring at you through a window is always terrifying. The apprehension of possibly seeing a face is enough to keep the blinds drawn at night.

3. Finding something out of place.

It’s one thing to realize you have misplaced your keys. It’s an entirely different thing to enter a room and know that someone has been in there disturbing things when no one should have been there. It can be a chair askew, a throw pillow in the wrong place, or a stack of papers knocked to the floor. It can be a door ajar when you know good and well it was closed before.

4. Entering a dark, unfamiliar room. 

Whether I am in a room at a four star resort or a Motel 6 in the middle of Kentucky, I always have to turn all the lights on when I enter an unfamiliar room. I don't have to sleep with a nightlight on, but I thoroughly investigate the room and keep the door locked before lights out.

5. Dark, deserted spaces.

I once went to a movie theater alone at a mall in a Chicago suburb at night. I didn’t realize the entrance I parked near would be locked after the mall closed at 9:00 p.m. The movie let out at 11 p.m. I had to exit on the opposite side of the mall and navigate the dark, deserted parking lots and a grassy ravine in the rain to reach my car. Parking garages and lots, hallways, basements, and deserted buildings all give me the creeps, day or night.

6. The void under the bed.

This fear probably stems from being told as a child there was a boogie man that would get me if I wandered from my bed during the night. I have always had vague notions that something could be lurking underneath the bed. I no longer check, but I don’t leave a hand or foot hanging over the side, just in case.

7. A closed shower curtain.

As a young girl, I saw the movie Psycho where a killer pushes the curtain aside and hacks the hapless, screaming victim to death. If you enter my guest bathroom, the shower curtain will always be in the open position. I make sure my hotel curtain stays open as well.

8. Something springing out at me unexpectedly.

As kids, we thought it was hilarious to jump out at each other and shout "boo." Nightmares are a side-effect of the medication I'm on for a rare, incurable autoimmune disease (as if that isn't nightmarish enough). Several times a night I wake up after seeing something/someone reach for my face. I wake up silently screaming and deflecting, an instant adrenaline storm. It could be the cat suddenly darting from under a table or a person standing just outside the door as you open it. The element of surprise ensures a startle.

9. Mirrors at night. 

Mirrors don't bother me during daylight hours. However, I don’t like looking into a mirror at night. I’m always afraid I’ll see something. We had a mirror in the entry hall. I’d look up as I passed it. For a moment, my own reflection would startle me. That mirror had to go. This probably stems from the childhood scare tactic of standing in front of a mirror reciting the words "Bloody Mary" three times to invoke her ghostly presence. It never actually worked, but I carry the residual apprehension that she might appear.

10. Scary Pictures.

A friend of mine had a painting and the eyes of the portrait seemed to follow you as you moved around the room. It was an optical illusion that freaked me out. A portrait like that would have to go.

The best horror stories prey on our primal fears of being alone, in the dark, stalked, watched, and detecting a threat you worry is there but can't see or locate. Manipulating fear is far more effective than all of the gory special effects that artists can come up with.

The moment when the character is hiding, heart pounding, fear rising is where the tension lies. The moment deflates after the "boo!"

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. I can relate. Sometimes I forget laundry in the dryer, and I have to go downstairs into the basement before going to bed. For some reason, that scares me.

    Morgan Mandel

    1. Morgan, I have horrible memories of going into our basement when I was a kid. Had to go under the stairs to get canned goods and there were always lots of spider webs. I was always terrified of spiders, and I get chills just thinking about that.

    2. Basements fall under those dark, deserted places. My grandmother's basement was unfinished and smelled damp and had a big scary furnace. I hated going down there.

  2. Things that go bump in the night are always sounds that scare me. If I can identify the sound that wakes me, I'm okay, but if I can't I'm never sure if I should investigate with my trusty baseball bat, or just hide under the bed.

    1. I always yell at the movie heroines when they do that, even though I do!

  3. What I hate, I just discovered, is leaving the grocery store at night and as you push your cart through the door, you think, "The entire lot is empty except for my car. This is creepy." And then a rag wearing homeless man pops out of the shadows, growling, "Happy Halloween." That my friends, stopped my heart.

  4. Wind against the windows.. and zombies.. yes, things that really go bump in the night. :) GIRL Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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