Saturday, 18 August 2012

In The Dark of the Night...

“With light is coupled warmth; with darkness cold”

I guess there is something so old and primordial about using night-time or darkness to enhance the fear factor in thrillers. It strikes me that the dark can be a source of so many fears that in and of itself it could be something to explore in depth in a novel.

An old favourite of mine, Dennis Wheatly,   once wrote that existence is dominated by two powers – light and darkness. When life is devoid of light all progress is halted and if darkness continues unchecked death and decay will follow. So light is therefore associated with powers of good and darkness with evil.

Everyone is familiar with the notion that everyday familiar non-threatening things in the day time can take on a strong aura of menace at night. I know this can be attributed to something as simple as not being able to see well but God (or whatever you believe created us!) has equipped us with a certain amount of night vision. But there again, maybe it’s the fact that one can see in the dark to a certain extent (especially in good moonlight) but not with full acuity. This allows the imagination permission to come into play to fill in the bits our senses are not able to pick up. And no matter how hard you try to neutralise imagination it will have its day!

Many children are fearful of the dark as night-time/sleep-time is a time when they have to cope on their own, without the reassurance of others around them. No small wonder then, that they imagine bogeymen in the wardrobe and things crawling under the bed! 

So it is a well-used vehicle in many horror/thriller stories where one wants to create an unsettling fearful atmosphere or simply to enhance the tension and fudge what’s real and what is not. There is always a feeling of relief for the reader when night turns to day and the plot can roll merrily along without the uncertainty of the dark interfering.

Dastardly deeds are also often committed under cover of darkness and it is easy to see how darkness is associated with evil and how day (light) with goodness. All extremely subjective, by the way, but that is how it is generally perceived.

I feel the dark is a very useful tool to use in supernatural, thriller stories and I use it frequently. In fact my latest book has ‘dark’ in its title and I notice that many more thriller/horror stories use the word in their titles too. It signals a certain kind of story to a read, does it not?

What do you think? Do thriller stories set in darkness conjure up feelings of fear and tension in you?


  1. I think using darkness can be very effective in creating tension. Especially because in darkness it is hard to make things out--was that just a shadow or not? It's creepy!!

  2. I'm reminded of the film, Wait Until Dark. If I remember it correctly, a blind woman manages to make it an equal fight with her pursuer by turning off the lights and plunging him into the same darkness that is all she has ever known. In this way she can take the advantage over him.
    I love using darkness in my writing. It stretches the imagination beyond limits.

  3. I definitely use the darkness as a device for tension and full-on scares. Perhaps it was remiss of me to read this post at night though, with the curtains open...