Coffin Hop '13 - Four Keys To Frightening Fiction - Pt. 1 The Sinister Senses

Hey, gang! We are quickly ticking down the days to one of my favorite holidays, Halloween! This year I'm taking part in an extremely awesome blog tour for horror and thriller authors called Coffin Hop. 

Basically, a bunch of us get together to share scary stories, do giveaways, and generally try to get the blog world into the spirit of the season. (Pun most definitely intended… read further to find out why! :)

As a participant, I can blog on a theme. So seeing as how this is a writing blog, I've decided to share some tips for writing frightening fiction. 

Beginning today, with a look at how to create terror by engaging the 5 senses, I'll cover a different aspect of writing for frights.

My full hop schedule looks like this:

Monday, 10/28 - The Sinister Senses
Tuesday, 10/29 - Oh So Ordinarily Creepy
Wednesday, 10/30 - Mining The Darkness Within
Thursday,  10/31 - HAPPY HALLOWEEN - A Murderous Tension

Also want to mention that the organizers behind Coffin Hop have put together a fantastic collection of horror stories to benefit an even better cause. All proceeds from the Death By Drive-In anthology will go to to promote childhood reading.

*click the image below for more details on the anthology*

As for my giveaway, simply leave a comment on any of my Coffin Hop posts and I'll enter you into a drawing for one of the following items:

- 1 Digital copy of Death By Drive-In

- 1 Paper Copy of Death By Drive-In (US ONLY)

- 2 Digital Copies of Moonsongs, Anthology 1 AND my latest, Dragon's Game, Moonsongs Book 4 (1 set to each winner)

- 1 Signed paper copy of Moonsongs, Anthology 1 (US ONLY)

Lastly, I'll be highlighting one of my fellow Coffin Hoppers at the end of every post--so let's get to it!

The Sinister Senses

If you're going to scare the bejeezus out of a reader, you must put them in the forest fleeing from a machete-weilding-maniac--it's not enough just to tell them about it. They have to live it, or at the very least, be afraid they won't live through it. 

Fear on the page is only as real as fear in the mind. Which sounds like a lot to accomplish with a few adjectives, but if you've ever been the scared kid hiding under the blankets, waiting for whatever  made the scratching sound on your bedroom window to burst through and eat you, you know the mind can do powerful things.

The first (and perhaps simplest) way to do this is by engaging the reader's five senses. Using sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste is creative writing 101, yes. But if you're writing to thrill and chill, it becomes much more important than simply adding color to your prose. It's the foundation on which you're going to create the reading experience.

Hearing the Mothman's menacing garble on the other end of a phone line, seeing a partially severed finger dangling from spaghetti-like tendons, and tasting bitter bile as it stings the back of your throat goes beyond setting the mood. It places you in the story.

More importantly, those sensory elements are the anchor to reality in what are often implausible situations. We're pretty certain Frankenstein isn't real. But when we can conjure the sickly sweet smell of raw meat--just beginning to turn--that his decaying flesh gives off, and run our fingers over the oozing ridges of the crude stitches crisscrossing his face, our minds are no longer quite so sure. 

I'll reference a family ghost story I told recently. You can check it out HERE. This was a very real story for me, and just being familiar with the players in it (my living brother, my dead grandparents) is enough to scare  me.

But the folks reading it won't know my grandparents. They haven't met my brother. So I needed to put them in our old farmhouse with my brother. I needed them to feel cold, watched, and threatened.

Here's the opening passage from the story where I used a few of the senses to try to do those things:

"It’s a mid-winter night on an isolated farm in rural Oklahoma. Inside of an old farmhouse—that was once an even older church—a noise sounds in the dark. A boy stirs, still half-asleep, under a mountain of quilts so thick and heavy he can barely rollover.

His grandmother, who is slumbering in the next room, can’t afford to run the gas stoves at night. There are times the house gets so cold her false teeth freeze in their overnight cleaning solution on the bathroom counter.

The blankets are a practical necessity. But deep inside the child’s groggy mind, they offer something even more important than blessed warmth. They’re a wall of protection between him and the unseen terrors lurking in the void around him."

Come back tomorrow as we'll take a look at turning the mundane into the macabre! (i.e., Clowns and Stephen King's It FTW :D)


Katie is doing a fabulous rundown of each day's Coffin Hop highlights--including notable giveaways! Plus, she's a talented author and blogger, so be sure to hop over and say hey to Katie!

You check the entire hop below:



  1. Coffin Hop sounds like fun!
    Written horror that is truly scary is really hard to achieve.

  2. Loved the small excerpt, EJ... totally agree that all those senses are KEY to created the emotion you want to portray. With the cold, it totally brings on the fear in that piece. You're so good--love your posts and your writing!

  3. Wonderful teaser. Great 'creating' atmosphere

  4. "Spaghetti-like tendons." OMG. That got my attention! Get a teen I read Amytiville Horror while I was babysitting. Alone. Late at night. Sounds like its own horror story!

  5. Terrific excerpt, EJ!

    You'll be busy!

  6. Great post, EJ. Totally creepy!

  7. Fabulous idea for a blog hop EJ. Loved the excerpt.


  8. Those five senses make a huge difference to a story.

  9. Thanks for sharing, E.J., and for Coffin Hopping. Hope you're enjoying it. Thanks for the giveaway opportunities. Have a great week.


  10. Coffin Hop, I love it. And loved the excerpt from your real life ghost story, gave me the chills!


“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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