Empowering Writers

Spooky Suspense

Boo! It’s that time of the year again. As Halloween looms on the horizon, now’s a perfect time to challenge your upper elementary and middle school students to write a spooky story filled with spine-tingling suspense.

Here are a few tricks to help them create their very own narrative treats

1. Create a dramatic setting for your story and describe it well, like Washington Irving did in his classic Rip Van Winkle. Just look at this excerpt from the beginning of that classic tale: “Whoever has made a voyage up the Hudson must remember the Kaatskill mountains. They are a dismembered branch of the great Appalachian family, and are seen away to the west of the river, swelling up to a noble height, and lording it over the surrounding country. Every change of season, every change of weather, indeed, every hour of the day, produces some change in the magical hues and shapes of these mountains, and they are regarded by all the good wives, far and near, as perfect barometers. When the weather is fair and settled, they are clothed in blue and purple, and print their bold outlines on the clear evening sky, but, sometimes, when the rest of the landscape is cloudless, they will gather a hood of gray vapors about their summits, which, in the last rays of the setting sun, will glow and light up like a crown of glory.” Don’t you just know that something mysterious is going to happen in those mountains? Wondering what that mysterious something is keeps us reading.

2. Let your story unfold at a snail’s pace with twists and turns. While all stories include suspense, the best of them toy with us readers, dropping intriguing hints, taking us by surprise and sometimes even letting the bad guy win! Just think about how skillfully this was done in the popular Harry Potter series. It took seven books to find out whether Harry was able to defeat the diabolical Voldemort and, at times, we all feared the worst for our hero. And that’s another thing about many great stories of suspense: the heroes are really, really good and the villains very, very bad.

3. Keep the stakes high and the clock ticking. Your suspense story will be hard to resist if you give your characters a lot to lose and a looming deadline. Below is a story starter you might want to use in your classroom You can opt to complete the story as a class or have kids work in groups to develop it – either way, it’s a great way to get the creative juices flowing before students get to work on their very own original tales. “Jamie and Julia exchanged a fearful glance. Dr. Batty McFoul’s plan was working! In the just a few moments, their friends would arrive at the patch of enormous, exploding pumpkins and, disappear forever in a mist of fiery orange slime. “I’ve got an idea!” Jamie whispered. “Quick! Follow me.” By the light of a bright, full moon, Julia and Jamie scampered down the country road toward the…