October is here and it’s the month for Halloween and all things creepy. I’ve always been intrigued by scary stories. Why does one have you on the edge of your seat and another fall flat?
Authors devote endless hours to creating the perfect villain and a believable plot, but when it comes to writing creepy, success comes from focusing on details.
Stephen King and Alfred Hitchcock made their names selling all that’s eerie. Yet, perhaps their true genius lies in creating perfectly normal worlds. Their characters eat Doritos and drink root beer. Their lives are not so different from our own. So when some small detail changes or something seems out of place, we notice. When they focus on a bird on the fence or the color of a card in a hobo’s shirt pocket, the tension instantly rises.
Last summer, my family visited a tourist town in Tunisia. We spent ten days enjoying the beautiful beaches, touring the ruins of Carthage, and shopping in the old souk in Tunis. The weather was perfect. The sea was calm. On the surface, it was paradise.
Yet, every single person who went on that trip agreed that the place was really creepy. The air just seemed to crackle with conflict. No one was surprised when riots broke out in front of the American Embassy, and an American school in Tunis was set on fire three months later.
I wanted to capture that uneasy feeling in my writing, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what caused it.
Then I recalled my first impression in the Tunis-Carthage International Airport. Mangled bits of suitcases revolved on the creaky baggage carousel. A twisted handle here. A crushed wheel there. A smashed lock teetered on the edge of the otherwise empty conveyor belt.
Ridiculously unimportant details, yet I still remember them today.
Here’s what they said:
“The way the women in hijab whispered when we walked by.”
“That dead kitten lying in the middle of the market.”
“The waiters’ pinched mouths. The smirk of the guy at the Internet café who always told us the Internet had just been shut off right before we got there. The way their body language always said the exact opposite of their words.”
“That guy who made us pay him for directions and then intentionally sent us down a dead end alley.”
More ridiculous details, yet you definitely get the feeling that these people did not like tourists. In a town where the economy is entirely based on tourism, isn’t that disturbing? Aren’t you surprised we came out of that dead end alive?
I would love to hear your stories. What is the creepiest place you’ve ever been? Did it look perfectly normal on the surface? What details made you think it was eerie?