Coffin Hop 2013 - Four Keys To Writing Frightening Fiction - Pt. 2. Oh So Ordinarily Creepy

Hey, gang! I'm back for round 2 of my 4 part Coffin Hop feature on writing frightening fiction!

So what the heck is a Coffin Hop? Basically, a bunch of us writer types get together to share scary stories, do giveaways, and generally try to get the blog world into the spirit of the season. 

Being a writing blog, I've decided to cover what I think are the basics to weaving a little thrill and chill into your stories. 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!

Oh So Ordinarily Creepy

A clown. A little old lady who sits in front of her bedroom window at the same time every day, watching the neighborhood kids play. A caretaker who isn't very sociable and always seems to have something sharp in his hands. A cabin in the woods. A toy monkey playing the cymbals. A kid riding a tricycle…

Nothing extraordinary there. All are pretty much everyday occurrences or items. But, because you know the nature of these posts, I bet the hairs on your arms stiffened just a touch by the time you finished reading that list--particularly if you're a fan of horror movies and books. :)

Why? Because creepy is all about context, and sometimes, the most ordinary things--when viewed from unordinary perspectives--can be terrifying.

Put that clown in a sewer. Maybe that little old lady HATES children. Make that cabin the only shelter in a violent storm, and the caretaker its only inhabitant. 

Put that toy monkey at the scene of a grizzly murder, then have a down-on-his-luck detective take it to give to his son because he forgot his birthday. The kid takes it everywhere with him, and suddenly the boys, the ones who used to torment him while he road his tricycle up and down the sidewalk, disappear. The kid on the trike becomes the harbinger of death!

I've loosely referenced a few Stephen King stories here with good reason: He's an absolute master of turning the commonplace into our greatest fears. And it's all very basic psychology! After all, most phobias are rooted in the mundane.

I'm using a family ghost story I told recently to illustrate a few of the points this week. You can check the entire story out HERE

Here's a passage from the story where a few ordinary things--moonlight streaming through curtains, a recliner, and vaporous breath on a cold night--take on a more ominous quality.

"With trembling hands, he inches the covers downward until he can see. He scans left, toward his grandmother’s closed bedroom door, hoping she’ll be standing there looking in on him. She isn’t.

He looks straight ahead to the dining room, but sees nothing but the swirls of his own breath in the cold and moonlight tracing funny shapes on the floor through the curtains.

At last, he cuts his eyes to the right, where he knows he should see an empty recliner, a coffee table, and a black-and-white television. All is exactly where it should be, except the chair isn’t empty. Grandpa is sitting in it, wearing his overalls, just as the boy had seen him do in so many of the old photographs lying around the house."

Another author who does fantastically creepy things with very simple ingredients is Neil Gaiman. Here's a passage from The Graveyard Book where we're introduced to one of the best villains ever, the man Jack:

"The street door was still open, just a little, where the knife and the man who held it had slipped in, and wisps of nighttime mist slithered and twined into the house through the open door.

The man Jack paused on the landing. With his left hand he pulled a large white handkerchief from the pocket of his black coat, and with it he wiped off the knife and his gloved right hand which had been holding it; then he put the handkerchief away. The hunt was almost over. He had left the woman in her bed, the man on the bedroom floor, the older child in her brightly colored bedroom, surrounded by toys and half-finished models. That only left the little one, a baby barely a toddler, to take care of. One more and his task would be done.

He flexed his fingers. The man Jack was, above all things, a professional, or so he told himself, and he would not allow himself to smile until the job was completed.

His hair was dark and his eyes were dark and he wore black leather gloves of the thinnest lambskin.

The toddler's room was at the very top of the house. The man Jack walked up the stairs, his feet silent on the carpeting. Then he pushed open the attic door, and he walked in. His shoes were black leather, and they were polished to such a shine that they looked like dark mirrors: you could see the moon reflected in them, tiny and half full.

The real moon shone through the casement window. Its light was not bright, and it was diffused by the mist, but the man Jack would not need much light. The moonlight was enough. It would do."

Thin black gloves, shiny shoes, misty moonlight streaming through a window--just brilliantly chilling stuff! 

Have any favorite authors who do simple-creepy well? Favorite scary movies that turn ordinary things into horribly frightening moments? (How about that shower scene in Psycho? I still don't like hotel shower curtains for that reason! LOL)

Come back tomorrow, and we'll take a look at how you can use the things you're afraid of to scare the loafers off of your readers, too. :)


Jeff is an extremely well-read horror fan, and he's throwing out reading recs left and right during the hop. Today, he's talking about books he reads to get in the Halloween mood--including H.P. Lovecraft's "The Rats In The Walls"!

Jeff, like all Coffin Hoppers, has a sweet giveaway going, so be sure to check him out!

You can check the entire hop below:


  1. Clowns are scary in almost any context. Think Poltergeist.
    That passage is effective. Bet the kid is freaked.

    1. Poltergeist! Still a movie that freaks me out! :)

  2. I love Neil Gaiman!
    His Doctor Who stories are some of my favorites.

    1. He's the best! TV, comics, novels, adult, YA--the guy can write it all.

  3. You are so correct. Context is everything. We often focus on the closing lines of a great story that seem to pack so much punch, but the punch really comes from all the lines that came before, the context. Thanks for the feature mention.

    1. A great ending is definitely only possible with a great beginning and middle, Jeff! And my pleasure. :)

  4. You had me at clowns. *shiver*

    1. I know, right? I never understand these pics of clowns in scary makeup, etc. A clown doesn't need any help being freaky! :D

  5. The toy monkey with the cymbals is always creepy!

  6. Stephen King and Neil Gaiman, both awesome! And Psycho made into a person who always has to check behind the shower curtains, and I've never been able to own one I couldn't see through. I've got glass walls around the shower to prevent psychos from finding me when I'm vulnerable. :D

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse

  7. Clowns are pretty creepy, even when they're not hiding out in sewers. Oh Pennywise, I love you.

    1. And don't forget having wicked sharp teeth and taste for children! :D But yes, clowns = creepy in my book.

  8. Clowns didn't scare me until I read It. I prefer my horror with a creature or monster and King certainly gave me a doozy with Pennywise.

    1. My favorites are those with monsters, too, Jeanette! The psychological thrillers, ghosts, and spiritual (Exorcist, etc.) aren't as much fun for me. :)

  9. That passage from The Graveyard Book is pretty good. I wasn't in the mood to read the book when I first picked it up a few months ago, but I think for Halloween I'll give it another go and finish it.

    Good topic for this week!

    1. It's a 'different' kind of read, LG--as most of his books are. I never quite get what I'm expecting going in with his stories, which usually pays off for me by the end. For my money, I don't think there's a modern author who uses language better than Gaiman. He manages to combine art and entertainment in a way that most can't. :)

  10. Dean Koontz. Man that guy knows how to bring the freaky factor. I have a standing issue with monkeys ever since reading Fear Nothing.

    1. Koontz is an awesome choice, Crystal! Night Chills was one of my first thriller novels (think I read it when I was 16…)--just a whole new level of tension for back then!

  11. I can't right fiction. If I can't feel the words in my bones as truth, I can't write them. Some of us are just cut out to be a freelance editor, marketing professional, journalist, and social network campaign manager.

  12. Neil Gaiman is my favourite as well, and Ray Bradbury excelled at making the simple seem spooky.


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

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