Creepy Corridors: Why We Love Them In Horror

One of the first films I saw that really brought attention to the dread of walking down hallways by yourself was in The Shining. Little Danny Torrence would pedal along on his toy bike and you would get accustomed to the drumming of the wheels as it moved from wood to carpet to wood again. At first in the film it seems like a cute way for the kid to pass the time. But then as the film progresses, and Danny starts to experience the supernatural activity of the Overlook, that’s when each turn in the hallway makes your heartrate speed up.

Danny Torrence from The Shining

This weekend while doing research on a cruise ship, my family would help to point out particularly disturbing corridors. That is of course one of the benefits of telling your fellow travelers that you are doing research for a horror book. “Oh, Lena, you’ve got to get a picture of that one!” I would hear as they point down a cramped two flights of stairs shoved into a corner of a hallway. Or “Okay, this place just feels like a horror movie,” when we went to find a restroom in a large concrete stairwell complete with exposed ceiling pipes and wiring. I loved it of course, and snapped pictures like crazy. It got me wondering though, what is it about these places that really puts us on edge? Why do we instantly think that these places are ideal for horror scenes?

The first obvious answer is that there’s limited sight. Stairwells are particularly bad about this, and you could easily have someone several floors up following or watching you if the middle of the stairwell is open. In The Shining, little Danny Torrence turns each corner, not sure what he’s going to encounter each time. The tension increases throughout the film even though it’s literally just a kid on his bike.

The second answer is how cramped they are. That tiny stairwell down to the next floor that almost looks like it was forgotten? There isn’t much space to move there, and if you got partway down the steps and saw someone wielding a chainsaw running toward you, there would be little time to get out of the way. When you’re on a ship as well, there’s a very real sense when you’re out on the ocean of how isolated you are. The only way to leave the ship in a hurry is with the lifeboats on board, which is both exciting and frightening.

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See? Very cramped stairwell

Finally, the longer the hallway, the fewer places to run. The first time I went on a cruise I was daunted by how long the halls were for rooms. Staring down the hallway and seeing the length of space you would have to walk just to get to the main section of the ship was surprising. I’d seen ship cabins in videos before, but rarely those long halls. You get a real sense that there’s very little space to run there. There’s either forwards or backwards because every door you pass is locked. Again not only are you isolated, but you’re also very visible.

“Cruise Ship Hallway” by Satanizmihomedog on DeviantArt

Writers and film directors have recognized the innate fear that these spaces carry and have been exploiting them for decades. That stairwell with the exposed pipes and wires that we found could have easily been a filming location for the Nostromo ship from Alien. On the ship it was built for utility, but in the world of writing, it’s a perfect place for an ambush. These hallways don’t have to apply to ships either. I’ve seen plenty of buildings with halls so narrow that turning that right corner could have you running into someone if you’re not careful. Danny Torrence found that out the hard way.

What kind of hallways or stairwells have you found particularly creepy? Do you have any pictures? I would love to see them!

Trains and Sandstorms of the 1890s

While I’ve been working on Camp NaNoWriMo (slowly, but surely is my motto this month!), I’ve come across some interesting research that I thought I’d share! This novel is Book 2 of my Colton Fen series, and takes place in the 1890s. My characters first have to take a train from western Texas to New Orleans, which at the time took 3 days. (If you want to see the detailed research I had to dig up for that calculation, check out my post on Maps and Trains of the 1880s,probably one of the most popular posts on this blog).

Here’s a quick run-down:

  • Traveling on an Emigrant Train, 1879 – Omg, is that David Thewlis I see on the side there?
    David_Thewlis RobertLouisStevenson
    No, it’s just Robert Louis Stevenson, the same gent who penned Treasure Island. (Maybe I’ve been watching too much Harry Potter lately? Nah!) It turns out he also documented his train ride from Chicago to California to be with a married woman ten years his senior who he was madly in love with. He talks about the newsboy, who goes around selling books, fruit, lollipops, and cigars on the trains. He ended up being given the nickname of Shakespeare. Most notably he talks about the difficulty of bathing on the train.

    There he knelt down, supporting himself by a shoulder against the woodwork; or one elbow crooked about the railing, and made a shift to wash his face and neck and hands-a cold, an insufficient, and, if the train is moving rapidly, a somewhat dangerous toilet.

    I was looking for details on how toilets were used on trains, but this was the closest I got. Certainly quite useful all the same, and it makes me glad for the conveniences we have today.

  • 3 Ways to Survive a Dust Storm or a Sandstorm – Now you might think that sandstorms don’t happen in western Texas, but you would be very wrong. In fact there’s video of one that just happened a couple of years ago.

    Oh and here’s a photo from one rolling into Midland, Texas in 1894. It’s terrifying just seeing it from inside a building with glass windows. I can’t imagine what it must have been like back then.
    Sandstorm_MidlandTexas_1894Either way, it can’t hurt to know how to survive one of these things, right? Oh and those people driving in the sandstorm still probably didn’t read the section about how to survive when you’re in a car. They’re a rare occasion in Texas at least, thank goodness.

These are just a couple of teasers on the sort of things I’ve been writing about!

Writing in the Weird

(All photographs copyrighted by the Estate of Diane Arbus)

My current book in progress is about an urban explorer with a penchant for dangerous locales and getting the perfect shot. She chooses to take photos in decrepit factories or homes throughout the city where she lives. So my research of late has been engrossed in crawling inside the mind of photographers and urban explorers. Specifically ones that have to put themselves out there in order to get those shots.

Let me take a step back and explain what I mean. To go out on a regular basis and do photography at decrepit, abandoned, often condemned locations takes quite a bit of courage. You are sometimes risking your life for a few incredible shots of a place most people wouldn’t dare enter. Some places require masks so you don’t breathe in the mold, others may have dangerous people, and others may be dangerous just to reach. You have to really believe in your work in order to take these kinds of risks. My protagonist is only a teenager, but she loves the challenge. She’s starting down the path to become a professional photographer someday, and I want to have a strong grasp of her motivations.

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© Estate of Diane Arbus

If you’ve read any of my writing, then you know I’m keen on the weird. I’ve had several stories take readers by surprise with weird twists and turns. So I guess it isn’t surprising that I came across Diane Arbus’ work. Arbus was a photographer before my time, but her eye is incredible. She took simple, square, black and white photos of marginal people who were sometimes seen as either ugly or surreal. In the quotes you read of hers, you can feel her love for it pour through.

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© Estate of Diane Arbus

Here she talks about textures within the photos:

“In the beginning of photographing I used to make very grainy things. I’d be fascinated by what the grain did because it would make a kind of tapestry of all these little dots and everything would be translated into this medium of dots. Skin would be the same as water would be the same as sky and you were dealing mostly in dark and light, not so much in flesh and blood.

But when I’d been working for a while with all these dots, I suddenly wanted terribly to get through there. I wanted to see the real differences between things.

I’m not talking about textures. I really hate that, the idea that a picture can be interesting simply because it shows texture. I mean that just kills me I don’t see whats interesting about texture. It really bores the hell out of me.

But I wanted to show the difference between flesh and material, the densities of different kinds of things air and water and shiny. So I gradually had to learn different techniques to make it come clear. I began to get terribly hyped on clarity.”

People do strange things when they find out you’re a photographer apparently. Perfect strangers would invite her into their homes, invite her to dinner, then allow her to take photos. She would stop people in the street to get a particular shot. It takes quite a lot of gumption to do that sort of thing.

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© Estate of Diane Arbus

I stumbled upon an excellent article about Arbus’ photography and a bit of her method:
11 Lessons Diane Arbus Can Teach You About Street Photography

Although these lessons are for photographers, we can easily apply some of these to writing as well.

Go places you have never been.

I’m going to say just live life. Experience new things, explore new places, and don’t be afraid of making a mistake.

The camera is a license to enter the lives of others.

Or rather… the pen! (Or the keyboard…)

Gain inspiration from reading

Really this is a given, right?

Utilize textures to add meaning to your photographs

Since we’re talking about writing here, use all the senses to add meaning. The more unique sensations the more engrossed your reader will become. Not that we need a play-by-play of temperature changes in a room, but you get the idea.

Take bad photos (aka Write bad stories)

This. Write inconsistent characters. Get all of that out of your system on stories that will never see the light of day. Make these mistakes so that you will be able to recognize them later.

Sometimes your best photos aren’t immediately apparent (to you)

This has taken me a while to understand and to really appreciate. Sometimes I’ll have an idea for a novel, I work on it straight for several months, I finish it or get mostly through with it, then I realize that it’s not what it needs to be. The story is too choppy, the plot is all over the place, or my main characters aren’t interesting. Even though the entire package is ultimately scrapped, there are pieces there that I can use elsewhere. Maybe you made a really interesting group of characters that you can pick up and take with you to another story, maybe there’s an old building in another book that is actually the one you came up with in the scrapped novel, or maybe your boring characters don’t quite have the personality they need to handle the plot they deserve.

 

Oh The Things You’ll Research!

It’s funny the crazy things you come up with to research when you’re writing. I’ll admit when I’m doing Draft 1, especially during NaNo, I’m not really paying much attention to really in-depth detail. Unless I’ve really planned ahead and done the work ahead of time. I’m just trying to get the info down. So when I can do a quick Google search and find what I’m looking for in a nice, easy-to-use bit, that just makes my day. I can get back to writing and not have to waste hours researching.

That is, after all, a constant threat to productivity. All it takes is one or two searches, and suddenly you’re off on research for the next 2+ hours, wondering why your word count isn’t going anywhere.

Well not this gal! (At least not today…)

Here are some of the amusing things I’ve had the pleasure of researching the last few days, and what I’ve learned.

 

Archaic Medical Terms

I never had an appreciation for just how many words meant ‘alcoholic’ until I looked over this list. It includes everything from Brandy Face and Brandy Nose, to Blue Devils and Barrel Fever. It’s really a good example of how different practitioners in different areas of the world came up with multiple terms for the same affliction. You take for granted that everybody calls it the same thing today.

They say that the number of words you use to describe something in a language symbolizes just how important it is to that culture. If that’s the case, alcohol was incredibly important.

 

Gambling in Japan

Did I mention I’m working on a Yu-Gi-Oh! fan fiction piece for Camp NaNo this July? I don’t want to give too many details, but the job for one of the characters was to work as a dealer in a casino. Unfortunately I found out that casinos are illegal in Japan. Who knew? It apparently keeps coming up as a possibility to get passed, and has a good amount of popularity, but it keeps getting struck down. So I had flub my story a bit so that it would work.

I wanted to make sure that the world was plausible. It doesn’t have to be 100% accurate, but I didn’t want the reader to have to stretch too far to see that it could happen. What I thought was interesting was this:

On April 4, 2011, Shintaro Ishihara, the current Tokyo Governor, have spoken against the pachinko parlours, arguing that the popular game together with vending machines eat up about 1000kWh. He said that following the consequences the earthquake of March 11, 2011, the government asked people to reduce energy consumption, but asking wasn’t enough and the government order should have been enacted.

 

(Pulled from Wikipedia. I know not the best resource in the world, but I thought the idea was interesting.)

I guess I never really considered just how much energy a casino would waste. I don’t really live near one, and have never visited one either, but I can guess that Las Vegas is probably an enormous power house. Especially when you consider that it can be seen from outer space.

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Seriously that is Vegas at Night. It looks like it’s surrounded by ocean instead of desert.

So I can totally understand why the current Tokyo Governor is not wanting them put in.

(But I can do what I want in fiction, right?)

They Rocked into Germany

I’ve wanted to post about this for a little while, simply because I’m a big fan of history, and an even bigger fan of fighting battles without drawing blood. This whole story epitomizes that:

When an Army of Artists Fooled Hitler

speakersOnTanks

I like to feel the base when I ride to battle!

I know what you’re thinking: you can’t simply rock your way into Mordor, but that’s totally what they did. Just with the sound of an army instead of amazing guitar riffs. Oh and the tanks they had with them on this super dangerous & secret mission? Inflatable. These folks must have had the nerve of steel to do this, and they carried it out without a hitch for a full year.

I can’t even imagine the guts that would take. On top of that, their 20 operations throughout the war are estimated to have saved 15,000 – 30,000 U.S. lives, not to mention the lives of other nations.

There’s just so much I love about this concept: a high-stakes situation being played on a bluff. I know there are plenty of stories like this in history, including the fake movie in the Iranian hostage crisis, the cleverness of spies during the Civil War, among countless others; but it’s great to see what a mixture of ingenuity, artistic talent, and guts can accomplish. It’s a testament to the fact that big problems can be solved with a little bit of smoke and mirrors. Sometimes I think it feels easier to take the obvious action instead of betting on a dangerous side-route, especially when you’re dealing with something as big as World War II.

In plenty of stories that I write, I tend to lean toward characters that are not at all what they appear to be. I’ve made a werewolf pretend to be the victim of a vampire to fool an old man, and turned a cute baby into a coarse detective’s worst partner. It’s important to see that there are plenty of things that shouldn’t be taken at face value in life, but it’s also necessary to imagine: What if?

You never know if you’ll be cherry picked to paint the super top secret project of creating an inflatable tank.