Archives for October 2011

Deliciously Scared


When I grew up, Halloween didn’t exist. Not for me, anyway: I was born and raised in Sweden. The closest I came to trick-or-treating was dressing up as a witch and knocking down doors for money and candy during Easter.

Come to think of it, that sounds a lot like a six-months-early Halloween. Except, I actually offered Easter cards in exchange for the money and candy (should I feel cheated?)

What did exist in Sweden, and still does for that matter, is “Allahelgonadagen” (All Saints Day): a considerably quieter affair that entails visiting gravesites of passed-on loved ones. I don’t know if most Swedes take the time to do this anymore (or if they ever did). One thing I do know, however:

In the almost 12 years since I moved to the U.S., the “American” version of Halloween has skyrocketed in popularity in Sweden. And I’m certain it has elsewhere, too.

What’s the appeal?

Something fun to do? An excuse to dress up and/or throw a party? Certainly.

Candy? YES!!

Regardless of the reason for Halloween’s spreading appeal, I can’t help but think of the oddness of this holiday that essentially – despite costumes and candy – is rooted in one basic human emotion:


Now, I’m not going to go all psychoanalytical or anthropological on you.

But I still find it interesting. Could it be that there’s a sliver of our biological make-up that thrives on fright?

I would think yes. And no. My one-year-old is the perfect example. On the one hand, there’s the thrill of being chased by mom and dad. (I’m gonna get you!!) On the other, anxiety spikes when the vacuum cleaner cuts a little too close for comfort…

Hm. Maybe what we humans are drawn to is controlled fear. I guess suspense is a good one-worder of what we seek at Halloween and even in day-to-day life.

So I ask myself: how does this concept apply in writing? What do you think (as a reader or a writer): isn’t an element of suspense necessary in any good story? Though some predictability is probably acceptable and even desired (who really wants perfect chaos?), not every detail and plot turn should be completely expected. Right?

Megan Follows’ fabulous portrayal of Anne in the Anne of Green Gables TV series guides us here. Picture Anne and Diana walking through the dark forest, sharing overheard ghost tales. Diana tells Anne she is scared. What does Anne respond?

“So am I. Deliciously scared.”

Yes! Deliciously scared! As writers, don’t we want our readers to be deliciously scared? Even if we don’t write in the horror or suspense genres, our stories certainly need tension and conflict. In some ways, one of our ultimate goals is to make the readers care about what happens to the characters in our story – to make them concerned about our characters’ fates, to make them “scared” on our characters’ behalf.

Note to self: make the reader deliciously scared.

So thank you, Halloween and Anne, for making a point about the scary dimensions in life.

And fiction.



You can find this particular door in Ribe, Denmark.

The thing about doors…sometimes you open one and it leads you somewhere entirely different than you imagined. Maybe the door is a castle-worthy door with wrought-iron details, but then the inside is just…disappointing. Like a foul-smelling locker room or a sterile doctor’s office.

Or maybe its the other way around: humble door, breath-stealing inside. Or maybe the door turns out to be a trick door, leading into solid brick or a slab of gray concrete. Or maybe the door is bolted or you don’t have the key to unlock it (or for the life of you, can’t pry the lock open). Or maybe pesky guards shoo you away, telling you no visitors are allowed or that opening hours have passed (sometimes, permanently). Or maybe what you find makes you run away screaming. Or maybe you’ve been standing in front of the wrong door all along.

But even if you are able to open the door and the inside matches the door’s promise, you don’t see the inside all at once. Maybe the door needs oiling and takes its sweet time to swing open. Maybe your eyes need time to adjust to dimness or brightness. Maybe you feel overwhelmed at the grandeur (or the lack thereof) and need time to digest. After a while, new details emerge. You can enter the room, explore nooks and crannies, see, feel, smell, listen (don’t start licking priceless artifacts, though…). Maybe you decide you don’t want to spend as much time on the inside as you thought. Maybe you’re more comfortable in, and more inspired by, a comfortable inside rather than a grandiose one: a snug nursery rather than a hollow grand hall.

Today it struck me how writing is a bit like opening a door. Writing this post makes me realize it’s *a lot* like opening a door. You draw the parallels. The promise of a shiny new idea that quickly falls on its face. The realization that the story world you’re working on is not where you (or your characters) want to be. The discovery of a quirky doorstop in a dull character’s apartment that makes you realize the character really should be your story’s hero (or villain).

Writing this post, however, also makes me realize the metaphor of the door is extremely well suited to life in general. A life door sometimes carries so much promise, looks so shiny and new, but once we open it, the inside severely underwhelm us or perhaps even proves dangerous to our souls. Or the other way around. Perhaps we overlook modest doors because they can’t possibly lead anywhere exciting. Or maybe the thought of opening any door paralyzes us (It will lead nowhere! I won’t find my way out again! What if I get lost? Eaten by monsters?) and we miss out on opportunities to grow, to help others, to love.

Doors and what hides behind them: frightening, thrilling, surprising, disappointing…Pretty much embodies writing and life, don’t you agree?

Plus, doors – kind of the same idea as book covers, no? Don’t judge a room by its door!

What are some of the doors in your writing and/or life? Any unexpected surprises after opening the doors? Ever run out screaming? Done the best with the mess you found inside, later realizing that the door, despite the mess, was the best one you could have taken?