Thursday, 9 March 2017

What adverts for flats can teach us about writing horror

Hi there, I’ve been looking at finding somewhere to live recently. I noticed that adverts for rental properties tend to follow some of the rules of creating a feeling of horror, so I thought I’d break it down with a nice little article for you all.

Mystery lets the mind conjure up its own details

Lots of adverts for terrible flats feature very few photos of details. In fact, a lack of photos tends to inspire dread. It’s so easy to procure a picture nowadays (thanks to mobile phones) - the only reason you wouldn’t show rooms to people is because they feature non-euclidean geometry that hurts the eyes; that the walls are made of bone and lined with muscle; that strange faces can be seen trapped in the wooden flooring throughout.

Juxtapose the normal with the out of place.

Introducing strange details into an otherwise normal sentence throws off your expectations: why is this toilet listed as a "flushing toilet," why is the view from the window "exciting," how is the property “perfectly quiet?" Why is it important this flat is located between three different graveyards? What does it mean for humans that “no animals have been slaughtered at this flat?"

Things are not as they should be.

Something that appears to be one thing is, in fact, another. By the time you read the description, it’s already too late: the advert for a nice, self-contained, one-bedroom flat is actually a flatshare in a house with 15 other occupants. The “delightful family home” is actually a shed in someone's garden. That taxidermied animal may be dead, but that doesn’t stop it getting out of the case and clawing your door every night.

Present a harmless situation, and then escalate.

Adverts for rentals often show prices that do not at all relate what prospective renters will be required to pay- with hidden admin charges and prices listed as “per person, assuming multiple occupants”. Harmless situations like these cause one to willingly enter a position where they later realise the price is much more formidable and indicative of a greater evil. This kind of situation can work in horror: the things asked of us start small, and build into great obligations. It starts as just one drop of blood, a request for a forgotten secret, a name extracted from your memories. It ends as a body stolen, nightmares unleashed, or destruction of your very soul.


Rental advertisements teach us that vagueness allows the mind to conjure up its own terrors.
They teach us to be wary and unsettled by strange, out of place information in this sea of mystery.
Usurp expectations to create a situation where you begin to doubt the very nature of the universe.
Lure people in with innocent situations which then turn out to be the tip of an iceberg of horror.

Stay spooky!

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