When you’re writing something scary, a very useful trick-of-the-plot is what’s called dramatic irony. Actually, lots of different types of plot can use this, you often find it in comedies as well as horror stories!
Dramatic irony is any situation in which we, the readers or the audience, know something that the characters in the story don’t.
An example in a comedy plot might be: Fred comes home, not realising that the dripping tap in the kitchen has now become a gushing fountain which is starting to fill the room with water. We know it’s gushing, he doesn’t. He potters about, doing this and that, going nowhere near the kitchen. All the time, the room is filling up. Then, finally, he opens the kitchen door, and a giant wall of water whooshes out.
An example in the plot of a horror story might be: Fred comes home, not realising that there’s a mad axe-wielding murderer in the kitchen. We know the murderer’s there, sharpening his axe, but Fred goes about the house, having no idea what danger he’s in. Finally, he goes to make a cup of tea and arrrgghhhh!
The movie director Alfred Hitchcock used dramatic irony all over the place. In Psycho, for instance, you get lots of shots which remind the viewer that there’s an incriminating object sitting there, waiting to be found (e.g. the rolled up newspaper on Marion’s bedside table). Hitchcock used to say that it was far better to show the villain lurking in a dark corner ten minutes before he jumps out and scares the hero, instead of just having him jump out and go “boo”. Why? Because by using dramatic irony you get ten minutes of unbearable tension while the audience waits for the “boo” to arrive, rather than one second of fright when the “boo” actually happens!
The Red Eye Halloween blog tour continues over at YA Yeah Yeah where you can find out more about Lou Morgan and Alex Bell.