Monday, 13 January 2014

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'm afraid of the dark. So yes, darkness does conjure up fear in me - and if I am moving round the house in the dark, I often shut my eyes because I'm scared - how daft! x

  2. I don't like the dark much. We lived in a house once where, after dark, I used to feel there was some thing else there. I was quite young, but have never forgotten it.

    Pat I don't have your email. could you send it to me. Cheers!! x

  3. They really scare me! Thanks for your kind words, Pat, it becomes harder and harder to keep going when looking after my husband too, but shall try not to give up x

  4. I'm somewhat afraid of the dark. Darkness is the unknown, so it's partly why people have fears of the dark. We can't see what's around us, and every creak and shatter in the dark is cause for alarm.

  5. I'm fascinated by the dark, but used to keep my bedroom lamp switched on as a child. My father talked me out of that in the end, saying that it would put an axe-wielding intruder at a disadvantage if he couldn't see me. I'm not sure if that was comforting or not!
    I always loved the film Wait Until Dark with Audrey Hepburn, in which she turned off the lights to plunge her attacker into the same dark world as her own.

  6. I have never been afraid of the dark and do not have any fears of it, well maybe a few.
    Thanks for the visit and kind words.
    Happy New Year to you.

  7. I use darkness in my stories a lot. It creates such immense tension. I'm still not overly happy in a dark room at night though.

  8. I find fear to be the most interesting aspect of the human psyche. Darkness is extremely attractive to me as a lover of everything horror (and a horror writer) because I imagine it filled of wondrous (and often terrifying) secrets. There's a documentary in the Discovery channel--maybe History or Bio--called either Fear or Darkness. It explores the many reasons why the absence of light has been the root of human fear for centuries. One might say it is in our genes... A fascinating documentary, I recommend you watch it. I think you'll enjoy it!