Talk to Me (3/4): What Makes a Book Scary to You?

What makes a book scary to you?

I had re-blogged an interesting post yesterday (click here to see it) and figured this would be the perfect opportunity to talk about “What scares you?” I get frustrated sometimes when I’m reading a book that bills itself as a horror, but it doesn’t even make the hairs on the back of my neck prickle. I am a complete and utter wuss, so if I can read a “horror” book, and still go down in my basement that same day to change clothes over in the wash or whatever… not scary. Not scary at all.

In fact, ofttimes, even though I might have enjoyed the story, I’ll walk away with a feeling of disenchantment because it didn’t scare me, and that’s what I wanted.

In recent memory, there’s only been one book I read that genuinely scared me. That was:

Oh, my god, did this book freak me out. DeVor throws you in the deep end, and even the ending is enough to keep you off balance. I cannot wait for the 2nd book! Click here to read my full review (it’ll open in a new window.)


Now, in terms of sheer “creeped me out”, there have been a couple. Most notably, these two made me give my basement the stink-eye. The first is just fantastically written. The second scary/gory on a level that only works well by a talent author (though the ending still fizzled!):
 Sixteen-year-old Claire Young is tormented by a recurring, prophetic nightmare and visitations from gruesome, mutilated ghosts. She’s convinced the apparitions intend to harm her widowed father, but there’s little she can do locked away in Saint Thomas Psychiatric Hospital. Her situation is hopeless until a mysterious priest delivers the name of a man who may be the only one willing to help. Claire launches a daring scheme that leads her and her best friend to a former paranormal investigator. …(review here)


House has witnessed scenes of almost unimaginable horror and depravity. Two previous expeditions to investigate its secrets met with disaster, the participants destroyed by murder, suicide or insanity. Now a new investigation has been mounted – four strangers, each with his or her own reason for daring the unknown torments and temptations of the mansion…(review not out yet, sorry.)


Now, there are also books that I happily put in the ‘horror’ section, because that’s where they fit best, but I didn’t go into them expecting to be scared and therefore I guess wasn’t disappointed when they didn’t scare me.

The above are all examples of very well-written books that fit in the horror genre without being ‘scary’.

I guess my buttons for scary would probably be:

1. Possession

2. Haunted House

3. …….*scratches head* Actually, for books, I think those are pretty much the only two where I feel assured of being scared.

What about you?

Talk to me!



20 thoughts on “Talk to Me (3/4): What Makes a Book Scary to You?

  1. There are two short stories united by an architecture that creeped me out: E. F. Benson’s 1912 “The Room in the Tower” and Marghanita Laski’s 1955 :The Tower.” Benson’s wrote quite a few horror stories, and “The Room in the Tower” is a good example of the dread building up through the story. Laski didn’t normally write horror (though what “The Victorian Chaise-longue” should be called is a good question); “The Tower” takes some truly unexpected twists, pun intended, including a very subtle one at the end.

    Benson’s story is now in the public domain and can be found online as well as in numerous collections. Laski’s story, well, you’ll have to hunt for it in a collection: The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories (1984), The Norton Book of Ghost Stories (1994), The Oxford Book of Ghost Stories (1996) are three such.

    And the movie “Alien” made me enter my bedroom very carefully after watching it.

  2. The last book that brought me disturbed dreams was King’s Salem’ Lot. It wasn’t really a scary read, but I did dream about vampires chasing me in this dark house. I forgot the other details but my sis told me I was talking about it in my sleep.

  3. Its rather hard for me to get scared if I’m reading or watching something scary while someone else is in the house. But the one thing that will forever get me is possession. I just can’t deal with it! The idea is so terrifying to me. I’m fine with blood and guts, but have someone be possessed or need an exorcism, and I’m such a coward.

  4. Unfortunately, I don’t find books scary anymore. :/ Maybe I never did.
    I don’t think reading could ever really terrify me or frighten me as movies sometimes can, though even that is rare. The reading aspect of books makes it so far removed from reality (in my opinion) that it’s difficult for me to believe that I can be scared or frightened by words.

    1. See, when I read a good book, a real good one, at some point I lose sight of the fact that I’m reading. It ceases to be words on a page and instead becomes sort of a 3d movie in my mind that can end up scarier than a movie.

    2. Its one of the reasons I love reading. A good writer doesn’t tell you every detail. Instead he or she respects the power of imagination and gives you just enough to set yours free.

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