I was trying out some weird new ideas I heard online for my Ectocomp game and had no idea if they’d work out well or not at all. Since it worked better than I expected, I thought I’d share the horror-writing advice I heard online that affected my game development:
1 “Show them 90% of your secrets but make them think its 50%.” (from someone at Failbetter, can’t find exact quote).
My original idea was a doppelganger that kills people then takes over their lives before ‘moving away’, diverting suspicion from the enormous number of murders.
So I tried to reveal as much as I could but making it vague so it looked like more (the bathroom dream reveals the nature of your enemy, for instance). It was a little too vague, since my beta tester (a student at my school) said they thought it was just a story about anxiety from people growing up and moving out. So I added a more explicit hint with the part where it says 'why did I see so-and-so’s face in the water that night.
2 (From romance writing advice) ‘Lead up to big moments but pull away at the last second.’
This is supposed to be about slow-burn romance, but I thought it could work for horror. That’s why I introduced the duck originally; by leading up to really gory moments like seeing decayed corpses but replacing the actual horror at the last second with a duck, I thought it would increase tension.
3 (Also from romance) ‘Describe the way your character is feeling to make your reader feel this way’.
Now this was the advice I trusted least, and was surprised it worked. I always heard ‘show, don’t tell’, so I thought it was better to just imply that your character is in love/scared/etc instead of telling you. But this method has you say how scared the character is because readers like to identify with the characters so it makes them scared, too. That’s the theory, at least.
4 ‘Horror works better when it’s mixed with other emotions’.
That’s the second reason I included the duck. If I was going to pull away from scary moments with anything, I thought I’d make it funny/reassuring. A lot of the scariest stories I ever read do this (Stephen King has lots of jokes in his book, the French film ‘He Loves me/He Loves me not’ has funny/charming parts, Agatha Christie’s thrillers always end in a marriage)
5 ‘Horror stories usually end with hope being taken away at the last moment or the heroes winning at the last second.’
My first draft had the hero dying no matter what, but my tester asked for a way to let you win, so I added in both possibilities. Not sure this point matters that much.
6 ‘Naming things makes players more attached to them’
Third reason for the duck.
7 (something I’ve noticed over time) ‘Having a pattern or rhythm in Twine choices makes the game better’.
That’s why I split it between dreams and daytime (modeled on Birdland, which coincidentally also involves bird-related dreams, I just realized).
I used Grimoirtua’s twine grimoire: https://www.grimoirtua.com/grimoire.html
It was great, and really helped me know how to style better!
The therapy exercise at the end is one that I actually used a lot during my divorce as part of CBT I found online, and was actually pretty helpful!