“Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make!”– Dracula (1897)
I think I could possibly be Halloween’s number one fan (no pun intended:D) and as the leaves change colour and the apples drop ready for a steaming, autumnal pie; it’s the time of year when the ancients believed the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead was so fine; humans could pass between worlds and spirits were able to revisit old haunts in style.
I got positive feedback from my 10 Romantic Creative Writing Exercises to Beguile and Inspire and thought I would do the same with all things creepy. From Christian eschatology to Celtic paganism, Victorian gothic and scary movies; the influences and symbology are vast— all put into the cauldron of history to produce the very thing we know as Halloween.
Ready to make the most of the season? Let’s get our scream on!
1. The Turn of the Antique Doorknob.
A mysterious package turns up on your doorstep. Inside, wrapped in old, greying tissue paper; is a glass doorknob and a piece of paper with a message written in red ink. It reads:
This object has caused much misfortune and I am no longer in a position to keep it safely. I am entrusting it to you; in the hope that you will shield it from public view. In this box, the effects will be contained, but do not use it for any other purpose; and whatever happens, do not fix it to a door.
There’s no signature. You look at the doorknob again, tilt it around in your hand and consider one of three options. Do you:
A) Take it down to the village antique shop (you’ve seen lots of doorknobs just like this one in the window and maybe you could make a bit of money).
B) You give it to someone you know as a present and see what happens.
C) You keep it and decide it would look charming on the front door.
Now you’ve chosen your fate—what happens next?
2. The Tell-Tale Mix-Up.
What do you get if you cross (either fiction or film versions)…
—Psycho with Frankenstein.
—Alien and The Others.
— The Haunting of Hill House and The Omen.
—At the Mountains of Madness and Paranormal Activity.
—The Wicker Man and Misery.
3. Something Gothic This Way Comes.
Gothic fiction (or Gothic horror) began historically with Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764); establishing the distinguishable features that define this genre. It’s now time to honour this literary tradition by writing one of your own. Choose 3 to 4 elements from the list below and do with it what you will.
A vampire, a castle, a candle, a ghost, poetry, a maiden, a shield, a European setting, a family secret, loyalty, a peasant, the Catholic Church, a romance, a cross, terror, a velvet curtain, a werewolf, science, a monk, a penny dreadful, madness, the moors, a highwayman, a novel, a priest, a horse, a churchyard, a nobleman, a tragedy, an old hag, a lake, a stolen necklace, the woods, a hero, an archway, a nighttime journey, a heroine, the mountains, a villain, a spell, a monastery, a storm, a mysterious past, a message, a silk dress, a turret, mould.
If you’re happy with your Gothic tale—cool. If you’d like to try something different, take one or two of the words/themes you chose and turn it on its head. For example, I had:
A maiden, a castle, a European setting and a highwayman.
Instead of a maiden, my protagonist is going to be a self-assured journalist investigating some mysterious activity in a converted castle turned business premises of a major cooperation in Central Europe (wow, that was a long sentence). She encounters a big problem on her journey there, which, let’s say; has some serious complications for the job she’s about to do.
4. Interview with a Celtic Child.
Historians generally agree that the skeleton of the modern-day Halloween comes in part from the Celtic festival of Samhain. Long before this culture predominated in the British Isles, some Neolithic tombs have been found to align with the sun on Halloween morning (1).
Why do you think this is? As a person living in Iron Age Britain and Ireland; as part of your oral tradition, how would you explain this phenomenon to your curious child?
5. Samhain’s Lot OR A Nightmare on Wood Street (The Director Can’t Decide).
Yes, you’re right this does sound like a bad movie. The truth is it is; so bad in fact that the director fired the last scriptwriter. Being the best in the business, naturally they’ve asked if you could help out. This is the beginning of the opening scene. Write the rest to show the director; (and your adoring public) what you’re capable of.
A woman, slightly disheveled, pops a pill and takes a swig of drink from a cup to wash it down. She shakes her head from side to side and looks out of the window at the morning scene outside. Very slowly, almost imperceptibly, her face changes from a relaxed expression to one of sheer terror. She’s seen something run into the woods…
6. The Silence of the Witches.
Splendor, an eighteen year old witch attends a school she wished was Hogwarts. It’s a magical school all right but with a slight difference.
Due to its beginnings as a nunnery, with strict religious observances; when the headmistress chose the abandoned abbey as the location for her new school, she decided that their ‘pagan’ faith would take a leaf from the nuns’ book.
Pupils must respect a vow of silence, every day except feast days and is so strict that if a pupil speaks, they mysteriously disappear; never to be seen again.
Splendor has been charged with making the special celebratory drink that will be presented to the headmistress at midnight on All Hallow’s Eve; the only snagging point is that she accidentally asked a fellow pupil how to administer the dragon’s powder safely.
Nothing happened at first, but then later that evening…
You’re the school news reporter. Write about what happened for the next day’s newspaper. A WORD OF WARNING: Be very careful about what you write—you don’t want to disappear too!
7. The Woman In, Well, Nothing?
Research the supernatural in a different culture to your own and use an element of your discoveries to include in your next piece of fiction or poetry. For example, in Southeast Asian Mythology, the Krasue is a nightly spirit with the face and hair of a beautiful woman. Don’t be fooled, however…below the neck, or rather attached to it, are her trailing internal organs. Super creepy, right? One is alerted to her whereabouts by the presence of a glowing light around marshy areas at night.
The title for this point comes from the bestselling 2014 novel Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix (about unsettling phenomena in an IKEA-like store called ORSK). The cluster part? Well, as a creative writing student, I’m very happy to no longer only associate this word with cheap cereal or headaches; but, rather as an incredibly affective tool to stimulate the imagination.
The technique developed by Gabriele Lusser Rico, apparently works by engaging both the left and right brain and is an essential tool if you’re feeling a little bunged up, creatively speaking. The idea is to really let go, to avoid making conscious decisions about where your cluster goes and to let all those Freudian slips spill out in a controlled environment.
I was suspicious of this technique at first, but now wouldn’t be without it; and we’re going to use it to create the unexpected; using Horrorstör as our inspiration.
Because an IKEA-like store, is not the kind of place we associate with the paranormal and as a result, the concept is surprising and original.
Use one of these words—writing it in the centre of a blank page and drawing a circle around it. Then let your darkest imagination go wild! Whatever the next word/image/theme this inspires, draw a line from the previous circle to connect it until you end up with a tree coming out at all sides. When you’ve finished, highlight the things that are most promising and use it to write your next horror story.
A city office block, a corner shop, a beach in summer, a busy town square, a chic restaurant, a bus stop.
9. The Free-write Project.
Freewriting follows the same ‘rules’ as clustering, except that here we’re going to use a sentence as the starting point:
It was a miracle; I don’t know how she survived the fall…
A cocktail, a snake and a mysterious stranger…
I never liked Trick or Treating…
It was the last time he’d let them play a prank on her…
Something went wrong, awfully wrong…
10. Don’t Let the Wrong One In.
In your culture, bonfires are lit at certain times of the year to appease and keep away bad spirits. All at once, while celebrating with family and friends all the fires burn out and nobody can get them to relight. Bad spirits and perhaps others are coming. As a plucky young hero/heroine, how do you appease them and keep everybody safe?
You have ONE hour.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this list and I’d love to see any creations or inspired ideas in the comments section below.
Which one was your favourite? And which one did you find the scariest? Are you intending to write something spooky for the upcoming NANORIMO next month?
Until next time^^,
References: (1) – Anthony Murphy & Richard Moore. Island of the Setting Sun: In Search of Ireland’s Ancient Astronomers. Liffey Press, 2006. p. 81.