• Prompt: Write About a Scare

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 37 comments

    Discussion questions: Write about a scare. What has been the scariest moment of your life? Have you ever had a near-death or near near-death experience? A medical scare? A particularly creepy visit to a haunted house? What’s the scariest piece of literature you’ve ever read? The scariest thing you’ve seen on a screen? Go to the comments to share your scariest moments.


    A few weeks ago we had an excellent and intense discussion in the post “Write About A Scar.” Some of us came by our scars in horrific fashion. And then, somehow, in the post “Write About a Scent,” a few of us wrote about some of the car accidents we’ve been in.

    Now, with Halloween approaching (and the Yak Babies starting our annual Halloween Spooktacular), I think it would be fun — and by “fun” I mean not fun, but hopefully vivid and spirited and emotional — to tack an -e at the end of “scar” and to write about a scare.


    This week, what I want to know is:

    What has been the scariest moment of your life? Have you had a near-death experience, perhaps, or a medical close call? A particularly bumpy plane ride or ugly car wreck?

    Or if you’d prefer to keep it lighter:

    What’s the scariest piece of literature you’ve ever read? The scariest movie or TV show? The spookiest haunted house you’ve ever visited?

    Or if you want some middle ground:

    What scares you the most about the current climate (political or environmental or viral, or choose your own)?

    Let us know in the comments!


    As for me, my nearest-death experience happened before I was conscious; umbilical cord wrapped around my neck, I was yanked out with forceps just in the nick of time. I… don’t remember it.

    Here’s one I do remember:

    Denver, 1998, I ran a red light against the fiercest sunset I’ve ever seen and was T-boned by an SUV. If I’d had a passenger, that passenger would probably be dead. My car spun a few times and came to a rest on the shoulder. After shaking off the daze, or some of it, I approached the SUV to see if the driver was OK.

    Upon reaching the SUV, I caught a peek into the back. In it was an empty baby seat.

    I started scanning the ground surrounding the accident, looking for a baby amidst the broken glass and metal.

    The driver, still strapped into her seat, didn’t seem concerned, and slowly I came to my senses enough to realize she was traveling sans baby. She looked at me, gave a crooked smile, and said, “Light was a little red, wasn’t it?”

    We both had a little whiplash, and I was sore for days. If she’d built up just a little more steam, it could’ve been a much different story — I probably would’ve plowed right into her. And by “her” I mean her, not her car.


    Here’s a scary moment of a different stripe:

    My parents are out to dinner, leaving my sister and me alone. I’m guessing we’re around nine (her) and eleven (me) or so, which puts us around 1988-1990. All is going well, until our dog, a little schnauzer named Lucy, begins barking. Creepy enough, I suppose. But when my sister and I locate Lucy, she’s standing in the front hallway, howling at the door.

    And no, not the front door.

    The closet door.

    A coat closet definitely large enough to hold a human being of any size. Or most types of monster. After a quick committee meeting, we agreed that I’d fling open the door, definitely scaring the hell out of whomever or whatever was inside.

    Meanwhile, Lucy kept at it.

    After probably peeing my pants, I grasped the knob, turned, and whipped the door open.

    Of course nothing was inside but coats and umbrellas.

    And Jeffrey Dahmer!

    That’s a joke, of course, but loyal readers might recall that Dahmer was running loose in my city in those years, though we didn’t know it at the time, and in retrospect he makes for an easy bogeyman.


    What about my scariest book? Pet Semataryof course. Listen to last week’s Yak Babies to find out why.


    david blogWriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is fiction editor at the Texas Observer and co-host of the Yak Babies podcast, and has written about books for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2020 writing project you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coachingprivate instruction and writer’s block counseling services. If you have a manuscript that’s ready for some editorial care, check out our various critiquing, editorial, and proofing servicesJoin our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”

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    If my dog was barking at the closet, I’d be bugging out as well. 😅

    Bonnie West

    My scariest moment was on a walkway at night under a railroad track hundreds of feet above the Mississippi River where NO ONE was allowed, and no one but maybe stoned very in the sixties kids dared to go. I was with my friend, who now is a pretty famous character actor (Twin Peaks, Saving Grace, Any Day Now and hundreds of other shows.) We were in college and he, in acting school decided to test his acting mettle. Halfway across the river, on the dark walkway he said to me in the calmest, coldest voice, “You are the third… Read more »

    Bonnie West

    I don’t know… he’s out in Hollywood now… but I have seen him and am friends on Facebook. I should ask him… It was railroad property… hundreds of feet above the river and just under the tracks. and cabled off, but you could sneak under the cable. Scary and stupid as hell. but you know, typical 20 something behavior…at least for me!! I live now only a couple blocks from the trestle and I was terrified my kids might do it.. so I I told them I did it, figuring it wouldn’t be cool to do something their mother did…and… Read more »


    When I was 15 years old, I had a scary dream. In the dream, I was looking out my bedroom window at my back yard and saw it filled with blackbirds. Two of the birds (looking like the Heckle and Jeckle cartoon characters) sat on either side of my window with pissed-off looks on their faces. I was berating them for “trying to take over the world.” All the while, an animal-like sound that went from a low growl to a high screech, repeated in the background. The growl-screech was what made the dream scary.  At daybreak, I was awakened… Read more »


    Aye. Reality enters our dreams. Maybe vise-versa. Never heard the sound again, nor any seen any animal that might produce such.

    Sid Kemp

    Well, there was the time I fell off a cliff. That didn’t last long. Fortunately, I did. It was just after I’d graduated high school a bit too young. A last hurrah, a state park upriver from Washington, DC, climbing on off-limit cliffs with three friends, all of them 18, while I was still 16. I was shorter, too, at 5’8. We climbed the forbidden cliff down to the river and were headed back up by a different route. We got to a spot where I couldn’t reach the next handhold. Geoff, karate blackbelt, the strongest, dropped a hand for… Read more »

    Elissa Malcohn

    I’m glad you survived! Not only the fall itself, but the sequelae. Your reading of airplane disaster novels reminds me of a PhD student I worked with as I studied for my master’s. We were putting together a grant proposal to the FAA (we didn’t win, but it was fascinating material). His assignments made him a frequent flyer. He had memorized every plane disaster, and before each trip you could see him pacing the hallways, bespectacled eyes staring blindly ahead, muttering over and over, “I’m gonna die, now…” Have you read John Varley’s Millennium? When I read it decades ago, I got a… Read more »

    Sid Kemp

    When I was flying a lot, I was grabbing novels at airport counters. The funniest moment was when I finished Final Approach by John J. Nance just as my plane landed – and the novel was about the investigation of the crash of a commercial airplane – you guessed it – on landing. (That’s a great novel to start with, if air crash investigation is your thing. I also have read and watched a tremendous amount of NTSB aircraft investigation non-fiction. I enjoy it and it sharpens my mind for both my professional work and my writing. The objective search… Read more »

    Jerry Schwartz

    I’ve always liked to sleep in total darkness. When I was a kid, I kept my bedroom as dark as possible; but there was a streetlight that cast a dim shadow—just outlines, really. My parents moved an overstuffed armchair into my room and put it in front of that window, so that all I could really make out was the silhouette of the chair’s back. Then I read The Island of Doctor Moreau. I was probably twelve, and it gave me the creeps. That night my mother left a pile of laundry atop the back of the chair. I didn’t… Read more »

    Jerry Schwartz


    Barbara Mealer

    It was 2005. I was on my motorcycle. A ’98 Ultra Glide. Black and all chromed out with lights everywhere. It was after dark. Dec 5th and I was on my way to the kickoff party for the Ft. Lauderdale Toy run. A friend was to meet me there. The light to turn left off of Sample road to get to the venue went to red. A car was in front of me, driven by a young lady. I was watching the cross traffic, not paying attention to what was behind me. I had both feet on the ground and… Read more »

    Barbara Mealer

    That is what the cop said. He ended up with multiple tickets, lost his insurance, lost his car, lost his job. The excuse that he didn’t see me, then that he thought it was a trailer didn’t get him off the hook. I was going to accept what my insurance covered until they told me that I had to pay the deductible for my bike since his company wasn’t paying. I ended up suing for recovery for my insurance company and then for my medical expenses that ended up being almost $20K when done with the physical therapy and the… Read more »

    david lemke

    I have fears, but my fears are weird. I of course can be startled, frightened, panicked, and tons of worried. One fear that for most of my life was nonexistent was fear of be confined. This is different than being claustrophobic. An example that I can remember was when I was 12ish, playing football and I was gang-tackled. People were taking their time getting off of me. I almost when into panic mode; outside big field, no enclosed space; just me at the bottom of a pile unable to move, eee. In the Navy, I was in submarines, no problem.… Read more »

    Elissa Malcohn

    I wrote the following 15 years ago. This is an excerpt from a longer blog entry about my near-death experience. June 6, 1966 — Second grade is almost over. I wear shorts, run in the after-school heat after sticks I’ve shot from an air gun. It is a thick black thing, feels powerful and fun in my hand when I pull the trigger. I load a stick, shoot, take off in pursuit, retrieve. A black picket fence encloses our front yard, and I have been polishing my climbing skills. The points motivate me to lift myself clear, but my sneaker catches… Read more »

    Elissa Malcohn

    Everything was “normal” speed, though there are points of blackout, like flying through the air. I remember the moment of impact and next becoming conscious on the ground, but nothing in-between. I also remember being in the ambulance, but not actually being moved into the ambulance. Then I’ve got nothing until I’m out of surgery. That time just after surgery was agonizing because I was horrifically thirsty and wasn’t allowed to drink anything.


    This is not the scariest thing that ever happened to me, but it is probably the scariest one that is also one of the funniest. One year some friends and I went to Summerfest. My friend Calvin and I somehow got separated from the rest, and we had no ride home. We took the bus. It was past midnight. Calvin got off well before I did, and I was the last person on the bus. I wasn’t looking forward to the fact that my stop was about five blocks from my house and I’d have to walk home alone. About… Read more »

    Elissa Malcohn

    I love this. Well told, too. You had me right there with you.

    David Duhr

    Yeah, seconded. How long ago was this? I’d like to imagine we were on the same bus. Those post-Summerfest bus rides could get ugly; I saw a full-on brawl once, where even people not involved got involved, just drunken thrashing and fist-throwing.


    Thank you, Elissa!


    It was dark outside. We were setting up to serve coffee and muffins, Mark and I. He was tall and blond, an out-of-work actor. I was a dancer, slight and dark with long shiny hair, also unemployed except for this early-morning job. When hired, we were each told we had been chosen for our looks. Investment bankers couldn’t buy coffee from the plain or the elderly back in 1986. The shop door opened. I made my face bright and pleasant and prepared to say good morning, but this man spoke first. “I need a present for my wife,” he said.… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Thanks for sharing this, Shyamali. I can’t imagine the terror I’d feel with a gun on me. Did you find yourself trying to spot the guy in the neighborhood for weeks or months (or years?!) after?


    I never thought about seeing him again, which now that I think of it is strange. I guess the most helpful thing the police did was to point out that he was probably in the subway and out of the neighborhood before they even got to the store. I pictured him gone forever, which helped. There was a lasting effect, though. I panicked a few times when men reached for wallets in their breast pockets. It wasn’t every time, just when they happened to go for it a little more slowly or deliberately than most. That was a trigger that… Read more »

    David Duhr

    I can see that. Have you ever written at length about this incident and how it affected you?


    No, but I’m gradually realizing that it might be a good idea. Thank you for getting me started on this!

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x