What makes one story give it’s readers a cold chill or makes them leave the light on while another story makes them yawn?
It is important to remember that if your character’s fear is not believable then your reader will not be scared. Your reader experiences the story through your characters, they see what your characters see, taste what your characters taste and fear what your characters fear. If your reader is not convinced that your character is honestly scared, then they won’t be scared either.
Make it believable.
It is hard to instill fear in your reader if they do not believe that whatever your character fears is possible. Almost anything is possible, so if your characters are being chased by rabid, mutated bunnies then that’s fine, as long as you tell the story and the events leading up to it in a believable way. Readers aren’t stupid, and they don’t like to be cheated. It’s worth your while to do research and work on the finer details of how the situation came to be instead of hoping that their imagination will fill in the gaps.
Make Your Characters Act of their own accord.
What your character does when in the grip of fear can either make or break your story. Your characters actions should be believable in that their traits lead them to make that decision, or that they had no other choice but to choose that course of action. Don’t make the terrified cheerleader run straight past the exit and into the basement of the school, she may be a cheerleader but even they can see an escape route.
Leave a Little Mystery…
Who doesn’t like a good episode of CSI or Law and Order every now and then? We all do, because they give us a complicated story that, 95% of the time, is dissected down to the smallest detail and summed up in a neat conclusion. That’s a mistake when you’re trying to get under someone’s skin. Don’t explain away every detail to your reader. Often, when real terror strikes, we don’t know the why’s and how’s, and that is what makes it all a little more horrific.
Give your story to someone you know but who doesn’t know the plot. Ask them to read it and be there to watch their facial expressions. You’ll know by the look in their eyes and they way the hold the pages if you’ve hit that sensitive nerve!