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    How to create suspense and fear in ghost stories

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    The main purpose of any ghost story is to scare the reader. There are many techniques used to accomplish this in both ‘The Darkness under the Stairs’ and ‘The Red Room’. In this essay I will compare the ways in which the two writers create suspense and focus on how they communicate fear. Their stories were not written in the same period and were therefore aimed at audiences with different ideas of what scares them. This makes many of the techniques the same but they are used in different ways to suit the audience.

    The main similarity between each story is that the plot involves a mysterious room that compels the main character to discover the room’s secrets. They both use tension before the character enters the room to keep the reader guessing what is going to be in the room and ultimately what will happen at the end of the story. This use of suspense is what makes both stories successful but it is accomplished through various techniques. The main difference between each story is the ending. In ‘The Red Room’ the main character survives and in ‘The Darkness under the Stairs’ the main character dies.

    The ending of any story is important but more so for a ghost story as it is what the whole story builds up to: a dramatic climax. In the ‘Darkness under the Stairs’ Andrew, the main character, is the only person who knows about the room’s mystery therefore Salway makes it more frightening because Andrew is facing the problem alone. His reasons for entering the room are more understandable as he wishes to settle his peace of mind. Salway uses the repetition of the phrase “… he had to… ” to help the reader understand Andrew’s reasoning.

    It is this feeling which is frequently repeated and it creates fear and suspense as the reader is waiting to discover what is in the room and why Andrew has this feeling of intrepidation. In ‘The Red Room’, the speaker is going into the room to prove a point and share the knowledge of the room with the people at the beginning. On the one hand, this makes it less frightening because he doesn’t have the fear, as Andrew does, of going mad as if he is imagining it all. On the other hand, he does, face the room alone and so experiences the fear of the room by himself, which creates a sinister atmosphere.

    In “The Darkness under the Stairs” Salway uses the suspense, tension and a series of climaxes right up to the last paragraph. From the moment the story begins there is a tense atmosphere: “As soon as he stepped into the hall, Andrew knew at once that something was wrong. He couldn’t tell what it was… ” By using “… as soon as… ” and “… at once… ” the story starts immediately with suspense as the reader wants to know why Andrew is feeling like this but has to wait until the last few lines to find out. This gives the whole story continuous tension. At the beginning of “The Red Room,” Wells uses a different technique.

    He begins the story with speech that allows the reader to predict the end of the story, “… it will take a very tangible ghost to frighten me… ” This makes the reader think that this character will almost definitely be scared by the end of the story. Wells doesn’t describe what is happening in the story from the beginning, the situation is very unclear, “I half suspected the old people were trying to enhance the spiritual terrors of their house… ” This sentence is used very early on in the story when we don’t know who the characters are, what the house is like or what “terrors” there are in it.

    This technique is used to make the reader read on to find out these things. It is a different technique to “The Darkness under the Stairs” but creates the same effect. Throughout “The Darkness under the Stairs” the feeling of unease in the hallway is repeated: “… icy blast of fear… ” “… dark wave of dread… ” and “… dark wave of panic… ” These are all references to the fear that Andrew experiences when he is close to the cupboard, describing how he is nervous but he doesn’t know what of or why he feels this way.

    This builds up towards the ending by focusing on the mystery of the cupboard, “Andrew stood… paralyzed with fright. Yet the hall looked harmless. ” Wells uses a similar technique in ‘The Red Room’ as the speaker says, “… I was in a state of considerable nervous tension, although to my reason there was no adequate cause for the condition. ” This technique is used to intrigue the reader with the feeling of apprehension but not knowing why he feels it. It is human nature to fear things we don’t know about or understand.

    Salway and Wells both concentrate on this aspect of fear throughout each of their stories. Both main characters are afraid of fear itself. Especially in “The Red Room” as it is the main theme of the story. “It would take a very tangible Ghost to frighten me,” seems to be the attitude of the speaker towards the room so it builds up excitement until he enters the room as it sets him up for the true “ghost” inside the room. “There is no ghost in there at all; but something worse, far worse-… Fear in that room of hers- black fear… The source of the speaker’s fear is made more harrowing by the fact it is not “tangible” at all. We are all afraid of things we don’t know or understand.

    In “The Darkness under the Stairs” this technique is used differently because at first Andrew is afraid of what he thinks is something “tangible”since it has a voice. However, eventually we discover he is afraid of a premonition of his own death and the fear of being trapped. All the way through the story the suspense continues. Andrew comes close to entering the cupboard on two occasions but is stopped, once by Mr. Sharman and a second time by Daniel Sharman. These series of anti-climaxes are used to set up the dramatic final climax at the end. Each time, when Andrew gets close to the cupboard, short sentences are used to increase the pace of the story such as Andrew’s train of thought and fast heart beat. “Then Andrew heard it again. He heard someone crying. There was someone in the cupboard. ” and then the second time “He had to find out. He had to help. He had to-” This is the point where Andrew is interrupted as he is just about to open the cupboard.

    This immediately ends the fast pace and lowers the level of suspense. However, the tension does still continue and through repeating this technique Salway builds up for the shock at the end of the story. The plot of “The Red Room” is different and so required Wells to use a different technique to suit his story line. The level of tension is constant from the moment the speaker enters the room until it is released at the end the story once he is knocked out and then talks to the other characters. This ending allows Wells to explain the events in the story.

    In “The Darkness under the Stairs” there are periods of rest from the tense atmosphere. For example, when Andrew is denied access to the cupboard for the first time, the event ends with a dramatic revelation in the story that Andrew knows he has heard the voice before but “He couldn’t for the life of him remember”. This adds more mystery and suspense by providing another clue to how the story might end.

    However after this sentence, Salway writes a paragraph which slows down the pace and level of expectation,”It was a week before Andrew was able to return to the house next door. This is an anti-climax from the previous build up of suspense. Once again, Salway begins to build up the uncertainty again as Andrew prepares to re-enter the house. The same technique is repeated again the second time that Andrew fails to enter the cupboard. This technique creates a lot of excitement as the reader is forever guessing what will happen. We are thus given breaks from the suspense to make the story less heavy and of varied pace. Tension in “The Red Room” also has different levels.

    At the beginning we don’t know very much about the story or the plot so there is little uncertainty. More tension is created when the candles are being blown out because it is a mystery which hooks the reader to discover why it is happening. Another way in which structure is used in both stories is the ‘person’ it is written in. “The Darkness under the Stairs” is written in ‘third person’ and “The Red Room” in the ‘first person’. This is one of the main differences of the two stories because it creates a dissimilar effect on the reader.

    The Red Room’ is more personal and subjective because is the actual account from the person who experienced the red room. This also makes it more believable and realistic to the reader as if it is coming straight from the word of the eyewitness. Although “The Darkness under the Stairs” is written in third person, it still creates tension in the line as it can describe the order of events and thoughts of other characters more easily. However, it is more objective and, in my opinion, less effective because it is not as direct to the reader.

    Another main difference between the two stories is the way they end. For any ghost story, the ending is crucial. It is the climax that the whole story works up to. A twist at the end is often used to make the story less predictable and so add more interest and shock the reader. The ending of the story is the last thing that effects the reader’s opinion of the story and so can influence greatly the success of it. At the end of “The Darkness under the Stairs” all the clues given throughout the story fall in to place and the suspense ends with a chilling climax.

    Andrew gets locked into the cupboard and realizes his fate is unchangeable and he will die alone, trapped with no one knowing he is there. This ending is effective because Salway doesn’t have to explain what the story has been about or what Andrew has been afraid of. It allows the reader to realize conclusions for himself or herself. The ending of “The Red Room” is very different because not only does the main character survive, the ending is explained in a conversation between him and the other characters.

    The suspense in the story reaches its peak when the speaker falls down the stairs “… as I darted to and fro, of a heavy blow at last upon the forehead… my last frantic effort to keep my footing, and then I remember no more. ” This is the most exciting part of the story. The level of stimulation for the reader then drops considerably as Wells uses the conversation to explain the fear in the room: “I opened my eyes in daylight. ” The ending has to be explained because unlike “The Darkness under the Stairs”, Wells doesn’t leave clues to the truth about the mysterious room.

    I prefer Salway’s choice of ending because it ends on a climax and gives me the opportunity to use my imagination further once I have closed the book. Wells tries to give me all the logic and reasoning behind his story which seems a little disappointing, almost tedious, after such a clever build up of suspense. The setting of a ghost story is very important as it creates atmosphere that surrounds the plot line. Both stories describe the settings differently but there are some similarities. A mysterious atmosphere helps to create tension and suspense as it adds intrigue to the story.

    They both have old houses in them; “The Red Room” especially uses the setting of the old house to have a frightening effect on the reader. Wells writes that the speaker “… looked up at the blackness of the wide chimney, and tapped the dark oak paneling for any secret openings. ” This statement describes how the house’s old appearance gives the speaker the idea that there is something hidden. The house is also lit by candlelight, which creates a spooky atmosphere as candles flicker and leave shadows. Wells’ description of the house makes his readers’ imaginations’ race.

    In “The Darkness under the Stairs,” although the house is described in a similar way, less focus is made on the house and so the image is less extreme: “Below lay his Father’s garden, the neat paths and borders etched in the moonlight… the Sharmens’ garden, dense, tangled and mysterious. ” This gives a contrast of what we see as acceptable and what is mysterious. We know there is something different about the house next door but the picture of the house is less vivid than ‘The Red Room. ‘ Many ghost stories follow a pattern of a stereotypical setting.

    An old house is often used as a setting for a ghost story as there are many plots that can be developed from it. “The Red Room” follows this stereotype as it involves an old house that has a mysterious room. “The Darkness under the Stairs” also involves a house but there is no reference to it being old or threatening to any one but Andrew. This means that no one else can see there is anything wrong with the house accept Andrew and the reader. Through using mysterious settings both writers create an enigmatic beginning which ofcourse adds to the suspense of the story.

    Another stereotypical component of a ghost story is that they are usually set at night because it is considered scarier in the dark. “The Red Room” is set at night so it yet again follows another stereotype of a ghost story. Darkness creates mystery, a fear of the unknown, a sense of intrepidation. We can’t see in the dark and people are afraid of what they don’t know about. In the main fearful event of “The Darkness under the Stairs”, at the end, Andrew is trapped in the cupboard during the daytime when the Sharmens are preparing to go on holiday.

    This again isolates Andrew as every one else is having a normal day whilst Andrew is going to die alone in the darkness. Ghost stories are always better if they are original because it makes them more interesting to read. In my opinion, this is a point which Wells failed to take advantage of. However, he may be forgiven for this oversight because of the fact that “The Red Room” was written in the 19th Centuary therefore it appears to be less original to us than it would have done at the time it was written.

    The language used by each author also effects the suspense as the words chosen by the writers effect the whole story. Language chosen to describe the feelings of the main characters is what tells us what is going on in the story. In “The Red Room” the speaker says, “My candle was a little tongue of light in its vastness, that failed to pierce the opposite end of the room, and left an ocean of mystery and suggestion beyond its island of light. ” These metaphors are used to describe the light of the candle and creates suspense by using so much detail because it gives the reader such a realistic feeling of the atmosphere.

    In “The Darkness under the Stairs” a similar technique is used but not in as much detail as “The Red Room”. Salway doesn’t describe things as vividly as Wells does. He uses adjective rather than long metaphors and similies “… blind desperate panic… ” and “… icy blast of fear… ” Salway chooses to do this to make the story less complex and therefore easier to read and understand. Both stories also contain a lot of irony. This technique is used to ‘drop in’ clues for the ending of the story.

    In ‘The Red Room’ the most ironic line is “… it would take a very tangible ghost to scare me. ” This stsatement is obviously proved wrong by the fact that it isn’t even a ghost that scares him in the end. In “The Darkness under the Stairs,” Wells says how Andrew’s “luck was in” when he discovers the door was unlocked. It is ironic because if the door had been locked he wouldn’t have died. Irony is used in both stories to add to the suspense because there are statements that the reader somehow senses are going to be proved wrong.

    Both stories have a main character that experiences the main events that scare the reader but other characters also affect the atmosphere of each story and so affect the suspense. In “The Red Room,” Wells creates suspense by not introducing the characters at the beginning of the story. He describes the way they look but doesn’t give names “… the man with the withered arm… ” and “… the man with the shade… ” This adds mystery to the characters and consequently the atmosphere increases in tension because we want to know more about these characters.

    In “The Darkness under the Stairs,” the characters are described as being normal. There is the Sharmen family who live next door and Andrew’s family. Both are described without mystery accept for Andrew, the main character and the main creator of the suspense. Also, Danny Sharmen is the son of the Sharmen family and is described as having “… eyes as cold as stone. ” Danny is a character used by Salway as a red herring; to keep the reader guessing and wondering if he will have any thing to do with the out come of the story and so again adds suspense. There are many factors in each story, which effect the suspense and tension.

    Both Wells and Salway use techniques to try and create the most effective level of excitement to suit their story and their audience. “The Darkness under the Stairs” seems more original because it is written in a time when many ghost stories and horror movies have been made so it has to be different from things done in the past in order to captivate the reader and it does this very well. The book is full of intriguing twists which the reader finds facinating. When “The Red Room” was written it wasn’t as important to be non-stereotypical because society didn’t have as much experience of horror as they do now.

    In fact some statements written in “The Red Room” seem cliched and slightly humorous to us today only because our ideas of what scares us haves been influenced by more dynamic forms of communication such as film and television. Understandably, times and social ideas have changed since “The Red Room” and so the techniques chosen by Wells don’t have as great an impact on us as they would have had on a audience of his time. Both stories create emotion inside the reader and therefore have used suspense very successfully.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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