The other day I watched a rerun of an old Dick Cavett Show. His guest was Alfred Hitchcock, and it was a wonderful interview.
I’m probably one of only a few who’d never heard Mr. Hitchcock interviewed. He had an understated and droll wit, and I found myself laughing at his comments. I love a dry humor.
What amazed me is the insight he had into people and what makes them tick. For instance, he talked about fear and that people love to be frightened. He was right. He used a roller coaster ride as an example. People ride up and down at extreme angles and scream throughout the entire ride. When they get off? They’re laughing and giggling.
Yes, people love to be frightened. Why else would they enjoy reading about haunted houses, ghosts and monsters, and secret rooms? Why else would they watch a horror movie and find themselves talking to the television, saying, “Don’t open that door!” “Don’t go outside alone!”
One time my mother was home alone and there was a scary movie on TV that she wanted to watch. So she called me on the phone and had me turn it on, and then she wouldn’t hang up until the movie was over. I had to laugh at that one, and so did she.
We write mysteries. We’re not directors or actors. However, we can write scenes that will keep the reading audience on the edge of their seats. Interestingly, we can write suspenseful and frightening scenes that will make the reader laugh, regardless of whether it’s nervous laughter or humorous giggling. Our characters can feel the fear that makes them giggle, just like real honest-to-goodness people, and we can include this trait in their reactions.
Like many people, I have a fear of spiders. I once lived in a very old house with a black widow issue. I was cleaning the entryway floor and wearing slippers, and all of a sudden a black widow dropped from the ceiling onto the toe of my slipper. I kicked, trying to throw it off, but as I backed up it followed me. I was being stalked by a black widow! And I started to laugh. I laughed so hard that I cried. Maybe it was really hysteria. Anyway, I finally realized that the spider had attached itself to my slipper with a web, and when I moved, it moved with me. That poor ol’ spider ended up as nothing but a grease spot on the floor. After all, I had two slippers. Maybe it’s not a good idea to mess with someone who’s scared.
Mr. Hitchcock also explained how certain scenes were filmed in his movies. I guess you’d have to call the procedure early special effects. We can include special effects in our books, too, through descriptions.
Remember the shower scene in Psycho? I know a couple of women who, to this day, won’t take a shower. Hitchcock knew how to terrify viewers.
Years ago I read a book written by an author who happened to use the area where I lived as her location. Because I recognized the places and streets she described in her book, it frightened me. It was familiar and scary, and it was about a serial killer who was stalking the small town where I lived. Maybe that’s one of the keys – using a location people can relate to.
Scenes that are too graphic generally don’t make me laugh. It’s the anticipation leading up to a frightening event that can make me chuckle nervously. I have to admit that I’ve read stories in the newspaper that were so bizarre and terrifying that they made me laugh.
How about you? Does fear make you laugh? Did Alfred Hitchcock know how to push your buttons?
Until next time, I hope you have a carefree week with no black widows or monsters to worry about.
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