In a book I'm writing at the moment I have created a world with a day and night cycle. I have created a veil of mystery over this madman and this machine he's made, however, every event to do with the machine has happened at night. This machine is meant to be utterly horrible, but it's more of a psychological machine than one that physically does something.

How can I create horror events about this machine in the day with increased effectivity? During the morning and afternoon my characters are awake and ready, but at night they get nightmares. Furthermore, at night it is dark and my characters cannot concentrate well.

  • Welcome to Writers, Daniel! After posting my answer, I reread your question. Are you having difficulty making the machine frightening to your characters or to your readers? Those are two completely different questions. Oct 16, 2015 at 19:04

3 Answers 3


Your goal with any tale of horror is to inspire just that in your readers: horror. In order for them to feel it though, the people they care about - the protagonist and main characters - must also experience that horror.

Are your events frightening to your protagonist, regardless of when they occur? Good. Focus on what makes them frightening, why the protagonist is scared. If you can convey what makes your hero frightened, your reader will be too. Don't rely on the time of day to inspire fear. Rely on your characters.

Explore why your characters are frightened; convey what they think and feel, and your reader will think and feel the same thing.

  • 1
    Great answer. Evoking horror in a reader doesn't have to happen in a night time setting. Put the reader in the character's head and it should translate well.
    – Josh
    Oct 16, 2015 at 21:30
  • @Josh Precisely. An excellent way to put what I was trying to say into words. Oct 16, 2015 at 21:44

The scariest thing I've ever read occurred in the daytime.

In Stephen King's The Shining,

there is a scene where the dad is out in the hotel's garden, and another where the son is out in the playground, and they both get separately stalked by the garden's hedge animals (which only move when the character isn't looking at them). The reason that it is scary is because the characters cannot rely on their sight to help them. They understand what is happening but the fear comes from the unknown, and not being able to see the animals moving. They know the hedge animals are moving behind them, and in their peripheral vision, but when looking directly at them they are stationary again.

The reason most scary things happen at night is not because it is night, but because of the things that happen at night. These include being in places alone as fewer people are awake, and not being able to see things clearly in darkness. The scene from The Shining recreates these conditions (loneliness, sensory deprivation) but in the daytime.

Put into simple terms, seeing an axe murderer at the end of a hallway is scary, but not seeing them and knowing they're somewhere nearby, maybe round the corner, or maybe behind you, is much scarier.

Therefore if you're wanting to build fear in a reader, you need to recreate these conditions, but in the daytime. There are the obvious cliched scenarios like being alone in a forest in the fog, but you can also be creative, like the protagonist is trying to look outside a window through some shutters in late afternoon, so they have the double obscured vision of having the sun in their eyes, and also only being able to partially see through the shutters. If they can see a figure moving about but can't make out who (or what) it is, you can create tension this way.

Other than that, the previous answer covers that fact that the character should be scared in order for the reader to be scared.


There's a common pattern in storytelling where you get to see the terrifying thing in action before your hero has to face it. For example (in Return of the Jedi), Jabba the Hutt drops a slave into the monster pit - so we can see how horrible and powerful the thing is - before Luke gets thrown in.

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