Literary Jump Scare?

Benjamin Kozlowski

Staff member
So as part of writing this quasi-horror novel, I'm experimenting with the tension/release cycles typical to horror. Personally, I don't think written fiction lends itself to horror: the reader has too much control for a proper "scare" - or at least not the way it works in movies. But that just means we have to work harder for the same effect.

That said: here's an excerpt from what I'm writing - let me know if it "works" as a sort of literary jump scare. Background: Szadek, a police detective, and LeBlanc, an FBI psychologist-consultant, have just met for the first time and LeBlanc's "Superior Officer" snubbed him (hence his bitterness). They are on their way to visit a child who has been left in a police interrogation room by Szadek earlier in the story (lack of manpower at the station). Begin excerpt:

“Hm,” LeBlanc began as they wandered out of earshot. “I’m sorry if Agent Adams comes off a bit, hm, rude.” He smoothed his thin tie. “I’m sure she’s just settling in to her responsibilities here. I’ve seen it many times before. Any time there are, hm, jurisdictional difficulties – questions of proper authority, you understand – she tends to get a little combative. No doubt out of concern for her own standing.”

“I didn’t notice.”

The doctor scratched at his chest. “Yes. No. Of course. Even so, I find it, hm, facilitates the process to know my colleagues, no matter what sort of work environment I find myself in.”

Szadek hesitated. Though the angle of the light was poor, he could see that the interrogation room was empty: the chair – and the undone straps – had nobody in them. He remembered locking the door, didn’t he?

“Is this it, then? Where is the boy?”

“I don’t know,” said Szadek. He rounded the jutting corner and reached for the knob. It was locked.

“I don’t suppose there is any way he could have escaped? Anyone to help him?”

“I was watching the stairs. No one came through.”

“Did you have him strapped to the chair?” asked the Doctor, peering through the glass.

“We did.”

“And you released him?”


“Why, might I ask?”

Szadek levelly met the Doctor’s gaze. “He’s eight. Harmless.”

Doctor LeBlanc straightened his glasses and smiled. “No caged animal is harmless, Officer Szadek. You of all people should know that.”

Szadek retained his gaze a moment, studying the waspish man, then opened the door. He planted one foot into the room and saw, sitting huddled beneath the glass, the small, motionless form of Kyle Rankin.

“Is he there?” the Doctor asked.


“Excellent. Let me see the boy.” He jostled Szadek as he entered the room, then stood, examining the hunched child. At last, he rubbed his thin mustache and crouched down beside the boy. “Kyle?” he said. “Kyle. I’m Doctor LeBlanc. I’m working with the Sheriff’s office to get to the bottom of this whole business. I’d like to ask you some questions, if I may.” The boy did not respond, did not even move. “Kyle?” he asked again, more insistently.

Szadek, too, was silent.

The doctor stood. “I believe the boy is asleep. He may be in shock. It is quite common in these sorts of cases, even if I have no first-hand experience of a situation like this one, specifically.” He frowned. “It is probably nothing, but it would have been better to have someone stay with the boy.”

Szadek lazily arched an eyebrow.

“Yes. I see you’re rather short-handed. Nonetheless.” He bent over the boy, adjusting his glasses to examine him. “Was he injured at all during the, hm, arrest?”

Szadek shrugged. “Maybe.”

LeBlanc straightened. “Then he may have a concussion. I’d best wake him, if I can.” He crouched again. “Kyle,” he repeated gently. “You must wake up. We have some questions for you. Officer Szadek is with me, Kyle.”

He reached out a hand to the boy’s shoulder.


LeBlanc glared at Szadek. “It isn’t a title. Nicholas will do.”

“You sure you want to touch him?”

“Would you rather I poked him with a stick? The boy’s health may be in grievous danger. Kyle,” he repeated.

He took the boy’s shoulder.

Abruptly the boy’s head snapped up, eyes wild, tear-stained, bloodshot, stretched full in fear and anguish and horror and rage. He leapt, wrapping himself around the doctor’s arm. LeBlanc staggered backward; Szadek leapt to his side. The doctor cried out, as much in surprise as pain; Kyle growled inhumanly. With one arm Szadek seized the boy by the nape of the neck – with the other he yanked free an arm and twisted it backward. The doctor freed himself from the remaining limb, stumbling and backing away on all fours. The boy’s free arm held fast to his shirt, fingers entwined in the buttons, tangled in the tie. Blood spattered the floor. Szadek thrust the boy away from the doctor. The free arm bent, irregular, then popped free. The boy howled. Szadek took the limp, dangling arm in the same one that held the other, and pinned the boy against the one-way glass. He released his neck, reached back for his handcuffs, and deftly trapped one wrist. Then, in a blur of motion, he lifted the boy up by his arms, carried him over the table, and dropped him in the chair, snapping the cuff shut on its arm while he held the boy at reach across the table.

Richol Richards

Well-Known Member
I enjoyed reading this. I especially love your characterization and the scene flows well, setting the reader up in proper suspense for the jump moment. One suggestion I would give is to give less information for the actual jump moment, or give your information backwards. Your reader will sit up and think "Wait, what's going on??", and you should show them what's going on, but maybe call to the basic senses first with more elaboration as the scene progresses. Perhaps start it off with something like "And then the boy was moving." Then unravel the the rest from there. e.g. "LeBlanc staggered and cried out in pain amidst the screeching; it had gone after him first", "An unearthly growl filled the small space (how big is the room?) as Szadek fought to free LeBlanc", "Blood splattered the floor, the doctor's shirt ripped open, buttons scattered across the room" (in whatever order)....etc. You don't want to overly confuse your reader but for the purpose of a "jump", leaving out the exact mechanics is one alternative. I hope this helps! Feel free to absolutely disagree if need be. :)

Edit: Did you mean to say Szadek's superior officer snubbed him, not LeBlanc? To me, Szadek seems the more bitter of the two.
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Benjamin Kozlowski

Staff member
Szadek is naturally taciturn, that's why he seems so sullen. That, and he's recently been stuck with the unenviable task of working with LeBlanc, who he thinks is a complete pretentious moron at this point (he's not wrong). Mostly I was referring to LeBlanc sniping at Adams (his SO) in his initial statements.

As for the jump moment - how's this:

Then he was on him, tearing and snarling into his shirt sleeve. Blood spattered. The doctor screeched like an owl, staggered back, fell, tearing fingernails on the porous cement wall. Blur – snap – and Szadek had the boy cuffed to the chair, pinning him with an arm across the table while his chest rose and fell heavily.
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