Author Highlight: Heather Elizabeth King- Scaring the Crap Out of Your Readers Pt 1

Author Highlight: Heather Elizabeth King- Scaring the Crap Out of Your Readers Pt 1

Scaring the Crap Out of Your Readers

Hi guys! I’m Heather Elizabeth King and I write supernatural mysteries and paranormal romance. I’ve been a lover of scary movies and scary books since I can remember. By the time I put fingers to keyboard I’d probably seen over a hundred horror movies, so writing scary stories came naturally for me. Almost everything I write has a supernatural element in it, so it seems fitting for me to give advice on how to scare readers.

Like I said, I write supernatural mysteries and paranormal romance. And when I say paranormal romance, I don’t mean sexy lycan and brooding vampires. The paranormal element in my books is always something beastly and scary. I’ve tried to write about happy people living normal lives, but inevitably, a ghost pops up or an undead creature comes sauntering into town. I just can’t help myself. And when a reader tells me one of my books gave them nightmares, I feel it’s a job well done.

You may find it hard to believe that it’s possible, with only words, to scare someone so much that they have bad dreams, but it is possible and not as hard as you may think. If you’re thinking about writing a supernatural mystery or a horror, here are four ways to use DESCRIPTION to scare your readers senseless.


Description is important in every genre of fiction. When I write erotic romance, the description I use is meant to arouse the reader. When I write romance, the description I use is meant to make the reader fall in love with the hero. When I write supernatural, the description I use is meant to scare the reader. But not only that.

A writer who has mastered the art of using description to tell a story is a writer who can transport their readers anywhere. Good description lets the reader feel like they’re in your fiction world. Good description will make the reader feel like she can smell the pumpkin pie your heroine’s mom is cooking, taste the hot tea the heroine is drinking, see the creature that’s partially hidden in the trees, feel the coarse skin of the thing that has cornered the heroine, and hear the heavy breathing of an assailant. Description is one of the most important tools in an author’s arsenal.

  • Use the senses – I touched on this a bit when I talked about Description. A character’s senses are a key ingredient in good description. Unfortunately, this is often overlooked. There’s so much that can be done with a character’s senses. Most authors use the sense of sight, but what about hearing. Does your character hear a sound that shouldn’t be there? Footsteps? The sound of a door closing in an empty house? These things are so simple, yet so perfect in creating the right, scary atmosphere.

Sometimes, the first indicator a character has that something is wrong is because they smell something that shouldn’t be there. In Patricia Cornwell novels, she does such a great job writing about the smells of a crime scene and autopsy suite that the reader nearly gags in disgust.

Using a character’s senses to let the reader know something scary is about to happen isn’t hard, but it’s very effective and worth the extra effort.

  • How do the characters feel? This seems obvious, but writers often forget to let the reader know how your characters feels about what is happening to them? Are they scared? Are they happy? Confused? Tell the reader AND show the reader. It’s vital the reader knows how your characters are reacting to what is happening to them and around them. Why? Because letting readers know how your characters feel is a great tool in telling your readers (without telling your readers) how they should feel.

I’ve read “IT”, by Stephen King about four times and it’s always an enjoying and frightening experience. And we, the reader, never have to wonder how the characters feel; not when they encounter IT for the first time as children, not when they fight IT in the sewers and think they’ve defeated IT, and not when they find out IT’s back. Stephen King tells us how they feel. Not only that, he describes their fear in such detail that the reader begins to feel that fear, too.

  • They’re only human – Remember that your characters (yes, even the heroine/hero) are only human. When I’m writing a scary scene, I ask myself how I would feel in that situation. Sometimes I ask other people how they would feel. There’s a danger, when you’re creating a character, of making that character so heroic that they become unrealistic.

    Real people are afraid of zombies. Real people would be terrified if someone pulled a gun on them. Real people have a hard time accepting something paranormal is happening to them. By giving your characters, especially the heroine/hero, real responses to the things happening in your book, you’re helping the reader stay in the world you created. You’re also helping them to identify with your characters.

One of my favorite scary stories is “The Good House”, by Tananarive Due. This is a haunted house story, but it’s so much more. The main character is a real person, with a life that’s normal enough for readers to relate to, but she’s been put in extraordinary circumstances. Her reaction to finding out her grandmother awoke something evil, decades earlier, is fear. The realization that the entity is still on her property, leads the main character to flee her house.

Of course, she has to go back, otherwise the story would end there, but the response to run away is what any of us would do in that situation. The heroine didn’t thrust her chin in the air and declare, fearlessly, she was going to destroy that entity. Who in their right mind would do that? No, she ran. She had to work her way up to doing what had to be done. And the reader can relate to that.

  • Use your imagination – Remember, you’re writing about a world of your own creation. A supernatural world. One of the best things about writing about your own supernatural world is that you can do whatever you want. As long as you have legitimate reasons why this scary world exists, your readers will go with you on the journey. Your readers want to go with you on the journey. That’s why they bought your book. Your supernatural book. They want an experience that’s unreal. They want to be scared. Most of all, they want to believe. Anything is possible in your world, you just have to create it.

Two of my favorite authors are Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. They wrote “Relic” and the series of books that followed. Relic takes place in present day NYC, but the authors do an amazing job of shifting our world from one that’s normal into one that’s paranormal. They do it with such skill that the reader doesn’t even know it’s happening.

At the beginning of the book, we’re with Nora Kelly, the main protagonist, as she makes her way through a day at work as a curator at the Museum of Natural History. The biggest hiccup initially is that a body has been found in the museum. But before long, we’re happily believing that there’s a large, museum monster chasing people down and eating their hypothalamus. If we saw a headline in the newspaper about a museum monster, we’d scoff, but Preston and Child make us believe.




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