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.

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