What better time of year for omens, portents, beliefs and superstitions to claw their way into our thoughts and actions than on Halloween? Why is it that on the day when we dress as the things we fear, the day when joke about death, witches, ghost and ghouls, we seem to forget about those superstitions that most of us can’t help but act on?
Halloween is the night when all that’s feared comes alive, so here’s a heads up for those of you who think that Halloween is risk free!
If you hear footsteps behind you, don’t look back as death may be stalking you.
If you wait at a crossroads and listen to the wind, it will tell you what will happen to you in the next twelve months.
A baby born on Halloween will be able to see ghosts and spirits.
By burying animal bones near a doorway you will prevent ghosts and evils spirits from entering your house.
Walking around your house counter-clockwise and backwards three times before sunset on Halloween will ward off evil.
Good writers read. Be it a timeless masterpiece or a trashy novel, every piece fiction has something to teach us. Below I’ve listed five examples of short stories that have something to teach every writer.
“The Lottery” – Shirley Jackson
Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” is a must read for any aspiring horror writer. Jackson’s power comes from her simple and subtle writing that leads to a brilliantly crafted ending. No supernatural elements here, just a look at the power of tradition in society.
“The Monkey’s Paw” – W. W. Jacobs
Jacobs’ story is a classic that will never lose its impact on first time readers. He weaves a twisted tale around a simple, foreign object and leaves a humble family to cope with the consequences. Everything comes at a price.
“The Yellow Wallpaper” – Charlotte Perkins Gilman
This short story is a great example of how fragile the human mind is. Gilman’s use of diary entries creates an intimate and disturbing read as we are shown how quickly a person can descend into madness when faced with a simple fixation
“Green Tea” – Sheridan Le Fanu
Le Fanu is known for mixing the natural with supernatural, and this story is no exception. Is the protagonist suffering from delusions, or are there more sinister elements at work to torture this man.
“Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to you, My Lad” – M. R. James
James is at his best with this ghost story. He mixes in a little humor but that does little to deter the ready from the creepy effect of his narrative, resulting in one of the finest examples of his work.
These texts can be found at:
What is a superstition? Some call it a belief in fate or magic, others a coincidence, but regardless of their origin, there are many superstitions out there, particularly those revolving around death and it’s consequences. Basing your story on a superstition, or placing a few discreet portents of doom can add some depth and a sprinkle of foreshadowing to your story.
SIGNS THAT DEATH IS COMING…
A bat that flies around your house three times is an omen of death.
A dropped umbrella in a house is a sign that a murder will take place there.
A white moth inside a house is a portent of death.
When thirteen people sit down for a meal, one of them will die before the end of the year.
If you dream about birth it is an omen of death.
If you cut your nails on a Sunday you’re sure to see blood the next day.
A mirror that falls and breaks of it’s own accord is a sign that someone will die.
If a picture contains three people, the one in the middle will die first.
If you step on a crack you will break your mother’s back.
Six crows seen together are an omen of death.
If a dog howls three times at midnight, death is on its way.
A clock that chimes even though it doesn’t work is an omen of a death in the family.
Looking at your shadow cast by moonlight means you could be the next to die in the family.
When a robin flies through a window into a room, death is following close behind.
When a ceremonial candles blows out, evil is close by.
If a couple owns a cedar tree on their land, and half of it dies, then one of the couple will die soon.
If rats flee from your house, death is on it’s way.
WHEN DEATH HAS COME BUT NOT YET GONE…
The gates of heaven are left open on Christmas eve, so those who die on that night will go straight to heaven.
When a person dies in a house, all windows should be opened and doors unlocked so the soul can escape.
By holding your breath as you walk past a graveyard, you are stopping yourself from inhaling a lost spirit.
If an owl is seen swooping towards the ground on Halloween, it’s collecting souls.
When a candle flame suddenly flickers blue, a ghost is near.
An albatross that flies around a ship that is out at sea is thought to be the spirit of a drowned sailor warning of bad weather to come.
It is bad luck to wear new clothes to a funeral.
It brings bad fortune for a pregnant woman to attend a funeral.
Weeds growing on a grave are sign that that person was evil.
Funerals on a Friday are bad luck.
A woman buried in black will return to haunt her family.
If you have a corpse in the house, cover the mirrors or the person who sees their reflection will die.
A corpse whose eyes are left open will look for some one to take with them.
Now that you know what signs to look out for, will you give your characters a warning of their impending doom, or let them wander helplessly into the icy grip of Death’s hands?
Looking for a little extra something to add to your character or plot? Phobias are a great character trait for increasing internal and external conflict. A common example is arachnophobia, an intense fear of spiders. But I’m not talking about fear as in ‘ew that’s a gross spider someone grab a shoe and squish it’ type of fear. By phobia I mean a debilitating terror, an inability to function or react as your palms sweat and you struggle to breathe when confronted with the tiniest arachnid.
Another common phobia is acrophobia, the fear of heights. Think of Hitchcock’s film “Vertigo” in which Scottie Ferguson, a former police detective, is so affected by acrophobia that he quits his job and struggles to react appropriately when confronted with heights. Would this character or film have been as interesting if he wasn’t affected by this phobia? No, it would just have been another mystery film.
Phobias are interesting in that they can stem from a specific incident, or have no real rhyme or reason behind them. In the start of “Vertigo”, Scottie nearly falls off a building while pursuing a suspect and watches a man fall to his death in an attempt to rescue Scottie. This sparks his extreme fear of heights. In contrast, Howard Hughes in “The Aviator” has no specific event that initiates his fear of dirt and germs. This fear stems from his obsessive compulsive personality disorder, yet it is just as incapacitating as Scotties.
In short, phobias are a great way to spark off conflict, create primary and subplots and add another dimension to a story that may otherwise lack complexity.
Below is a list of thirty phobias that I find stand out from the rest:
||crossing busy streets
||sharp or pointed objects
||riding in a car
||peanut butter sticking to roof of mouth
||pins and needles
||falling down stairs
||going to the doctor
||contamination or dirt
||hearing a certain word
||being stared at
||opening your eyes
||Children or dolls
||being tickled by feathers
||looking in a mirror
Imagine what it would like to fear such a simple thing as stairs. Ever noticed how many stairs there are in the world? What happens if your character hears their child scream in terror on the third floor of the house, but they can’t bring themselves to climb the stairs? Or what about Hierophobia? Would could cause such a fear and how would it affect your character?
With these sorts of phobias you can let your imagination run wild and lead you to create some amazing, bizarre and terrifying plots.