Copyright 2011 by Gary L. Pullman
To make a setting real to his or her readers, a writer must make the place come alive, as it were, make it present and believable. Most writers have learned various techniques by which to accomplish this purpose. I use the one delineated here. If it works for you, adopt it. If not, devise an approach that works for you.
- Using your favorite Internet image browser, view “scary” (or “horrific” or “frightening” or “terrifying”) images; pick one to consider.
- If you can enlarge the image, in Paint, Photoshop, or on your monitor, do so; you want to be able to see details and to project yourself into the photograph (or the illustration or painting--photos, I think, tend to be best).
- Jot down your initial impressions. (I am considering an image of “Spooky Steps,” which I accessed on Flickr.) Here are my initial impressions: the rails are rickety; the steps are merely short planks set into a hillside; the steps ascend a fairly steep, long slope, through a woods; the woods are monochromatic--grays accentuated with white and black--and look desolate; the steps, ascending between the rickety rails, seems to guide, or even channel, whoever would use them; and a question presents itself--why are there steps here, anyway? Not many hills are homes to steps, especially hills in woods!
- Project yourself into the picture. Where are you? Is anyone with you? Is anyone else here or nearby? Why are you here? Why is anyone else here? What is your purpose? Why did you come here--or were you brought here, possibly against your will? When did you arrive? How long will you stay? Feel your environment: Is it hot? Humid? Arid? Overcast? Raining? Snowing? Windy? Mild? Do you hear noises or sounds? If so, what is their source? Can you tell? If not, why not? Any rustling sounds? Squeals or snarls? Growls or howls? Moans, groans, sobs, or whimpers? Grunts? Any smells? A stench of some kind? Decay, perhaps? A burnt smell? Maybe a burnt flesh smell? The scent of something unknown and nameless, but sickening? The smell of blood, maybe? Is there a dreadful taste in your mouth? If so, why? What is its origin? How do things look? The sky behaving itself--or shifting and pulsing and turning weird colors? Maybe there are clouds and they look like bulging bubbles, about to break, or like persons, places, or things you know--or don’t know. Is there something running along a ravine or over the rugged terrain, through the dense and twisted underbrush? Get physical with your environment. Grasp the rickety handrail. Feel its roughness, maybe pick up a splinter or two. Does the rail sag or sway beneath your hand? Is it raspy against your flesh? Does it creak under your touch? Test one of the steps with your foot. Creak? Sag? Break? What is the hard-packed earth between the steps like as you step on it? When the soil between the steps is disturbed as you ascend the steps, does it crumble? Does it produce dust? Feel the stress in your knee joints and the weight upon your feet. Feel your leg muscles flex as your legs stretch and bend. Is your heart beating fast? From exertion--or fear? Can you hear it? Are you breathing hard? Sweating? Does perspiration make you cold? Does it sting your eyes? Is your brow furrowed? What do you see along the way, as you ascend the steps? What do you see at the top of the hill? What do you hear, feel, smell, taste?