I’ve been thinking a lot about spooky, creepy and eerie settings this week. In part, my preoccupation comes from reading an article that claimed only certain settings can be used to write spooky stories. You know – cemeteries, abandoned mansions and the like.
Stop. Just stop. That’s absolute nonsense. The spookiest, scariest book I read in 2020 was The Only Good Indian by Stephen Graham Jones. Was it set in a cemetery? Nope. Did the main character live in an abandoned mansion? Not even close. He lived in a modern ranch-style home with track lighting. This leads us to step #1.
Don’t rely on cardboard settings
A scary story can take place anywhere. I’m not going to tell you how Jones pulls it off but he isn’t the only one to use a modern setting. The house in You Should Have Left with Kevin Bacon is unforgivingly modern. Unforgivingly? That’s more a reflection on my taste than anything else. But the movie does not rely entirely on shadows and dust, dank and damp. You can set a scary story anywhere. After all it is a spooky story because . . .
Spooky things happen
What do I mean by spooky things? It depends on your story. It could be objects or even people disappearing when your POV character’s back is turned. Or they find a warning scrawled on a scrap of paper or the wall. Oh, be creative. Leave a spooky message on a banana. There are noises in the walls, flickering lights, and doors that open and close.
Careful word choice
When setting a spooky tone, an awful lot can be in the word choice. Is the light bright and cheerful? Or stark and harsh? Images in photographs can be good-humored or shadowed. It isn’t so much what objects you describe as how you describe them. A carnival glass pitcher can be oily or iridescent depending on the tone that you want to set.
Some settings will be easier to use in a scary story but I’d seriously consider erring on the side of originality. Sock monkey shop? Fairy floss stand? You decide.