It’s Scarier Left Unsaid

There are a series of stories going around the internet, which feature nothing but two lines and an overwhelming sense of creepiness. (I am none too pleased with the second part of the title of this particular link ‘[…] that will make you hold your breath especially 6’ as it uses unnecessary sensationalism to gain clicks, but the stories themselves are excellent.)

The pieces are billed as two-sentence horrors. And yes, they are scary, but they are also brilliant examples of what makes a good story.

Good stories allow the audience to write bits of the narrative themselves. By allowing the reader to create suspense and tension in their own mind – as opposed to giving them every detail – the author is providing a horror scene that will be much more terrifying than anything written down.

Hitchcock was the master of providing shock and fear through the absence of image. We do not see the knife enter Marion’s skin in Psycho, only the movement of the knife and the dark blood running down the drain. We, the audience, can fill in the gaps with more vividness than Hitchcock could have provided.

This absence of information to create a story is not limited to horror. Hemmingway famously wrote his six-line story.

For sale.
Baby shoes.
Never worn.

Six lines that denote sadness. That is the story.

So, that is what I would like this post to discuss – using the minimum number of words to create a narrative. While the pieces noted below are fantastic, and we should all take a cue from the authors, I feel that some could be edited a little further. Therefore, I’ve taken the audacious liberty to edit a few of the stories down just a bit more, and then noted why I did this, because – in my opinion – sometimes even less is more.

**Editorial note, I do not know where these stories originated, so if anyone knows the author(s) of these works please feel free to leave it in the comment, and I will attribute accordingly. Also, please understand the edits are merely my opinion. Please feel free to comment and disagree with my suggestions. Final comment, below are only those that I have edited. Check out the original link for all 20 stories.

My favourite and no editing needed: There was a picture in my phone of me sleeping. I live alone.

 

Original: I was having a pleasant dream when what sounded like hammering woke me. After that, I could barely hear the muffled sound of dirt covering the coffin over my own screams.

Rachel Mars Edited: I was having a dream when the sound of hamming woke me. After that, I could barely hear the sound of dirt covering the coffin over my own screams.

Reasons for Edit: ‘Pleasant’ has been deleted because it is not important whether or not the dream was pleasant. Yes, it denotes a movement from a nice situation to a horrific one, but the kicker of the story is the end.

 

Original: I woke up to hear knocking on glass. At first, I thought it was the window until I heard it come from the mirror.

RM Edited: I woke up to hear knocking on glass. I thought it was the window until I realised it was coming from the mirror.

Reasons for Edit: ‘At first’ is superfluous. The protagonist simply woke up to a noise and thought it was one thing, but it was something else.

 

Original: The last thing I saw was my alarm clock flashing 12:07 before she pushed her long rotting nails through my chest, her other hand muffling my screams. I sat bolt upright, relieved it was only a dream, but as I saw my alarm clock read 12:06, I heard my closet door creak open.

RM Edited: The last thing I saw was my alarm clock flashing 12:07 before she pushed her nails through my chest. I bolted upright, relieved it was a dream, but as I saw my clock read 12:06, I heard my closet door creak open.

Reasons for Edit: There is no need for ‘long rotting’ nails. Someone pushing their nails through your chest is bloody unsettling enough. Let us picture the finger nails, it would be much scarier. ‘I sat bolt upright’ is rewritten to ‘I bolted upright’ as the sitting is implied, and ‘only’ is deleted because it is an adverb.

 

Original: I begin tucking him into bed and he tells me, ‘Daddy, check for monsters under my bed.’ I look underneath for his amusement and see him, another him, under the bed, staring back at me quivering and whispering, ‘Daddy, there’s somebody on my bed.

RM Edited: I begin tucking him into bed and he tells me, ‘Daddy, check for monsters under my bed.’ I look underneath for his amusement and see him, another him, under the bed, staring back at me whispering, ‘Daddy, there’s somebody on my bed.’

Reasons for Edit: ‘Quivering’ is unnecessary as the whole scene is really creepy. Whether or not the child is scared or just quizzical to the situation is irrelevant. Let the reader decide if either version of the child is scared or nonplussed, but, actually, a there’s nothing creepier than a calm child in a ghostly situation.

 

Original: I always thought my cat had a staring problem – she always seemed fixated on my face. Until one day, when I realised that she was always looking just behind me.

RM Edited: I thought my cat had a staring problem – she seemed fixated on my face. Until one day, I realised she was looking just behind me.

Reasons for Edit: ‘Always’ is implied and not needed, and ‘when’ and ‘that’ slow the sentence down.

 

Original: I awoke to the sound of the baby monitor cracking with a voice comforting my firstborn child. As I adjusted to a new position, my arm brushed against my wife, sleeping next to me.

RM Edited: I awoke to the sound of the baby monitor cracking with a voice comforting my child. As I adjusted to a new position, my arm brushed against my wife, sleeping next to me.

Reasons for Edit: By adding ‘firstborn’ it insinuates that if this had happened to other children in the family it wouldn’t have been upsetting. In fact, the addition of ‘firstborn’ makes me think that the story could read like this, ‘I awoke to the sound of the baby monitor cracking with a voice comforting my second born child. As I adjusted to a new position, my arm brushed against my wife, sleeping next to me. I rolled over and went back to sleep as I really didn’t care what happened to that kid, I already had an older one I liked better.’ It really doesn’t matter which child the voice was speaking to, it’s the existence of the unknown voice.

 

Original: In all of the time that I’ve lived alone in this house, I swear to god I’ve closed more doors than I’ve opened.

RM Edited: In all of the time I’ve lived alone in this house, I’ve closed more doors than I’ve opened.

Reasons for Edit: ‘I swear to god’ is unnecessary. You (the author) is telling the story. We believe you.

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8 Responses to It’s Scarier Left Unsaid

  1. Diane says:

    I’ve had a go at some of these. They are fun.
    Original: I woke up to hear knocking on glass. At first, I thought it was the window until I heard it come from the mirror.

    RM Edited: I woke up to hear knocking on glass. I thought it was the window until I realised it was coming from the mirror.

    Reasons for Edit: ‘At first’ is superfluous. The protagonist simply woke up to a noise and thought it was one thing, but it was something else.

    I would edit that even more

    I woke to hear knocking on glass. I thought it was the window until I looked at the mirror.

    Like

    • Rachel says:

      Diane, good edit. What you’ve done is you’ve adjusted the perspective. Now the reader will imagine what the protagonist sees in the mirror, where the other version created a scene in which the protagonist figured out it was coming from the mirror from (potentially) sound.

      What you’ve done shows that editing isn’t just about shortening, but reductions can change the scene.

      Well done.

      –R

      Like

  2. Cate says:

    I’ve still got problems with “….dirt covering the coffin over my own screams.” It sounds clumsy to me. I’m thinking of how periodic sentences save the best bits for last. In this case, the kicker is that she’s in a coffin, so we should save this for last: “I was having a dream when the sound of hammering woke me, and then I was screaming, almost loud enough to drown out the cascades of dirt hitting my coffin.” 🙂

    Like

    • Cate says:

      Ooops, meant to make that two sentences—should be a full stop after “woke me.” 🙂

      Like

    • Rachel says:

      I like what you did with this. You put the reader into the coffin without resorting to an unwieldy second person POV. Much more active. Although, now wondering. What happens when cutting even further. “I was having a dream when the sound of hammering woke me, and then I was screaming, almost loud enough to drown out the dirt hitting my coffin.” As an exercise in editing, do we need “cascades”?

      Like

      • Cate says:

        I’m not completely happy with “cascades” either, but I wanted a word that suggests the “sound of” dirt falling as well as the weight and repetitive nature of it, if that makes sense, without having to repeat the phrase “sound of” from the previous clause. What word suggests that sound? The other solution I tried was onomatopoeia, (“screaming almost loud enough to drown out the thud-thud-thud of dirt hitting my coffin.” That might work?) To be honest, the picture of “drown out the dirt hitting….” is not making me happy either……See why I never get anything finished? I’m like that centipede, lying “distracted in the ditch/ considering how to run.” 🙂

        Like

  3. Cate says:

    As for the last one: “I swear to God” might signal an untrustworthy narrator in some contexts and thus would be crucial to the narrative, but assuming this was not this particular writer’s intention, you’re right to edit it out.

    Like

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