Kenneth Oppel: “What’s Really Frightening”

Today, we’re delighted to have This Dark Endeavor author Kenneth Oppel guest blogging … and with Halloween just a week away, this is a very timely topic! Thanks Ken, for stopping by!

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What’s Really Frightening

Since Halloween is practically upon us it seems a good time to have a little chat about what’s really frightening in books and movies.

As a general rule, the unseen is always scarier than the seen. In two of my favourite thrillers, Alien and Jaws, you see very little of the actual monster.

Apparently, during the shooting of Jaws, the mechanical shark kept breaking down; and in Alien, the latex alien suit looked like cheap crap.

While hugely upsetting to the directors at the time, it forced them to rely much more on techniques of dread — showing little details (the alien’s mulltiple jaws, a bit of goo), people’s reactions, or the aftermath of the monster’s power. And these techniques are, in the end, much more successful at creating real horror and dread in the audience.

We will fill in the blanks with our own fertile imaginations — and what’s more, each of us will personalize our terror with our own various worst fears. Let the audience do the work for you.

My stories are filled with all sorts of monstrous creatures — I just finished one for Such Wicked Intent, the sequel to This Dark Endeavour,  and it’s a very tricky thing, deciding how much to show. Because once you see something scary right before your eyes — it loses some of its power.

It might have multiple jaws and claw like hands and gills and oodles of slime (like most standard issue Hollywood monsters of late) but it’s still a physical creature and can doubtless be defeated in some clever way. But the things that inhabit our nightmares are much harder to vanquish because they are inside us, and even a part of us. So the monster within is always scarier than the monster without.

Just a few thoughts as you prepare for Halloween

3 thoughts on “Kenneth Oppel: “What’s Really Frightening”

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  1. Thanks for the interview, Ken! This Dark Endeavor is going straight to the top of my Kindle-list!

    I’m a long time fan of your Airborn series. Last year, I read the book aloud to my fifth grade class, and there was nearly a fist fight over who was getting the sequel Skybreaker from my classroom library.

    And it may take a teacher to understand this victory, but I’ll share it anyway. The moment I closed the book on the last page, the lowest reader in my class held out his hands for it. He’d reserved it with me, wanting to take it home and read it all over again as soon as I’d finished reading it aloud. Normally, it would have been too hard for him, but since he already knew the story, he could piggy-back on his prior understanding to make it through the difficult text.

    His mother thanked me in tears (and bought the next two books, btw).

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