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Fantastic realms: Feel the fear

Understand how fear works to keep your readers on the edge of their seats, says Alex Davis

Two of the finest books of horror non-fiction remain – undisputably – Stephen King’s On Writing and Danse Macabre. Not only are they penned by an established master of the form, but they are books that show a great understanding of what it is that frightens people. King is a writer with a superb imagination, but it is possibly this innate knowledge of how to exploit human fear that built him such a successful career.

Now, we can’t all be on a par with Stephen King – those sort of long-lasting bestsellers are almost a phenomenon – but there’s a lot to be said for a solid grasp of what it is that makes people afraid. It’s not as simple a question as it may appear, and horror in all its forms – TV, film, books – is fundamentally designed to play with your mind, reaching in and forcing you to feel a sense of dread. So how can we make the most of this as a writer?

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