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Monday Creative Writing Exercise because it’s a good way to start the week: psychological horror

PSYCHOLOGICAL HORROR can take a magnifying glass to the conflict that exists within us – the battle between good and evil – as in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or explore emotions like superstition, prejudice and paranoia. In Henry James’ The Turn of The Screw the reader has to decide  whether the protagonist is haunted by the supernatural or is living on the edge of madness.

The internal battle between good and evil

In this poem Emily Dickenson explores the danger that can come from the dark workings of our own mind.

One need not be a chamber to be haunted,
One need not be a house;
The brain has corridors surpassing
Material place.

Far safer, of a midnight meeting
External ghost,
Than an interior confronting
That whiter host.

Far safer through an Abbey gallop,
The stones achase,
Than, moonless, one’s own self encounter
In lonesome place.

Ourself, behind ourself concealed,
Should startle most;
Assassin, hid in our apartment,
Be horror’s least.

The prudent carries a revolver,
He bolts the door,
O’erlooking a superior spectre
More near.

In the great Edgar Allan Poe’s  story THE TELL TALE HEART we are not left to wonder. We know that a wild, irrational idea prompts the main character to murder and we also know he is betrayed by his own conscience. Part of the horror lies in the trivial “reason” for the murder and I’m reminded of the chilling line  in Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues.

“I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.”

Cash said he tried to think of the worst possible reason for killing another human being…in the same way the odd appearance of the innocent victim’s eye in Poe’s story is such a random prejudice that we are frightened by the casualness of the violence. But, of course, the real horror comes from the way Poe wrote  the story, building tension – imagine the old man lying in bed knowing someone is in the room.

Here’s Vincent Price at his  Gothic best in part I of The Tell Tale Heart


Write your own contemporary version of The TELL TALE HEART. Put it in a new setting: a tower block in Newcastle, a pebble dashed semi in Swansea, a hostel in Nebraska… Find a new “reason” for the murderer’s behaviour and perhaps something other than a heart to trigger a confession…be inspired by Poe but make the story yours.

For more horror writing exercises here’s an earlier post on the same subject.

2 comments on “Monday Creative Writing Exercise because it’s a good way to start the week: psychological horror


  2. Pingback: International Spine-chilling short story competition | BRIDGET WHELAN writer

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