This is a guest post by author Marianne Spitzer
Stephen King is a master horror story writer. What I love most about his works is how he uses average everyday items to bring realism to his stories. My favorite is Christine. Who would imagine a 1958 Plymouth Fury could be possessed and the basis for a terrifying book? Mr. King did and he wrote a brilliant story.
There are many ways to bring normal into the paranormal: superstitions, scent, colors.
Superstitions are interesting and while most seem unreasonable, many people believe in them. One common superstition is a broken mirror. Many of us have broken a mirror in the past and some believe that part of an evil spirit remains in the reflection when the mirror breaks. The superstition goes back as far as glass was available and the punishment of a servant who broke such an expensive item was severe. Taking these ideas into consideration, let’s take it one step further. Perhaps evil does exist in the medicine cabinet mirror most of us have in our bathroom. It breaks and you observe your reflection in the cracked mirror. In that split second, less than a heartbeat, a portal is open that not only allows the evil spirit to escape through the mirror’s crack but enter the person through the crack in the reflection.
Other superstitions can be used in any story to turn everyday objects into frightening scenes. A sweet, tiny black kitten, an owl hooting late at night, or a mourning dove cooing on a damp gray morning all seem harmless until woven into the middle of a horror story. Not all superstitions are rooted in bad luck. Catching the bridal bouquet brings good luck to the young woman catching it unless someone placed a curse on the bouquet.
Saying God bless you when someone sneezes dates back to the Black Plague. The first sign you were infected was a sneeze. It became commonplace to bless anyone who sneezed. A sneeze could also be the first sign of the zombie apocalypse or other frightening worldwide disease.
Candles play a part in everyday life. White candles stand for purity which is why you see them at First Communions and Weddings. The superstition for white candles is they can help ward off evil. Placing a burning, white candle under a mirror will keep the spirits residing beyond the mirror from seeing out. Truly? Perhaps in a well-crafted story, they take on more abilities to see beyond the protection of the white candle. Black candles are believed to be used in evil spells and for every color of candle there is a meaning.
Springtime decorations will fill homes with colorful candles. Yellow, pink, green, peach and purple are springtime favorites. Pink represents love, yellow represents creativity and success. Peach promotes restoration and rejuvenation. Purple represents power and desire. Green represents prosperity, fertility, and success. For each of these positive beliefs, there can easily be an evil belief and the candle can be used against another. Pink to force someone to believe in a perceived love for the wrong person. A purple candle lit to help an evil spirit gain more power or a green one to help the spirit succeed in wreaking havoc. Red candles represent love, but love can go wrong and grow into a hateful emotion. The ideas for simple, pretty candles in a paranormal story are endless.
When authors write stories, they need the reader to experience everything their characters are experiencing. To bring the reader into the story, it is important to use more than sight and sound.
Using scent can be a subtle yet powerful sense for the character to experience and a way for the reader to connect with the character. Common scents are the easiest to use to convey to the reader what the character is experiencing, but if the writer uses exotic scents and describes them well, it can pull the reader into a new experience.
In paranormal writing, scent can play a large part in the experience of fear. If a character is lost in a cemetery at night, he or she may experience the scent of freshly mowed grass, fresh earth from a newly dug grave, rotting leaves, or dying flowers. The scents mixed with the character’s growing anxiety can quickly grow into terror.
A subtle way to add a touch of terror to your character’s life is to add a scent that surprises them or brings back a terrifying memory. A mother witnesses her small child taken by a hideous monster. When she walks into the child’s room, she is bombarded by all the scents that remind her of her child. That is a very natural reaction. To add that touch of creepiness, place your frightened mother in a very typical situation and place, but have her catch a slight whiff of a fresh box of crayons. They were her child’s favorite toy, and she begins to feel his presence. Each small episode of a scent experience can draw the mother further into the paranormal mystery of the monster and pull the reader along.
A husband rolls over in bed and snuggles with his wife. He wakes or perhaps he was never asleep when he remembers that his wife has been dead for weeks. If she is dead, why is the scent of her gardenia perfume still lingering in the room? The entire story could be written around that one scene.
Ghosts can be attracted to scents. Imagine a woman who buys an old house. She has redecorated and moved her things into the house. It is just what she wanted and loves living there. Everything is fine for months. The holidays arrive, and a friend gives her rose scented bath oil. The scent is mesmerizing, and the warm water in the tub helps to lift the scent until it fills the room and drifts down the hall. As the woman sinks into the tub, she glances toward the door to see a filmy young girl standing there. Was this the girl neighbors told her haunts the house? The young girl loved the rose garden. She might have been attracted to the scent of the rose scented bath oil. I see a mystery growing out of a scent here.
Adding scent will enhance your story. Scent brings out emotions. It triggers memories. Lavender oil can help you relax. It can do the same for your character and draw your reader into a better understanding of the scene.
When normal objects or situations turn into paranormal terrors a frightening realism follows. The reality adds to the story and reader’s enjoyment.