The phrase ‘show don’t tell’ is one I have heard a lot over the years. I understand why this still needs to be said, exposition can be really boring if done badly. But there is more to be gleaned from this sentiment. First, if you’re not dictating what the reader should be feeling you’re respecting their intelligence and their views. Not only does this mean they’re more likely to become invested in the work but also that they won’t throw the book away in disgust, never again to see the light of day. But more importantly the imagination of a reader goes far beyond anything a writer can dictate to them. Leaving descriptions deliberately vague and blank allows the reader to fill the void with their imagination and in a way make the story theirs as well.
While this is particularly important for horror writing it is not an exclusive concept. Foreshadowing and unobtrusive description are, when done well, your friends in creating an emotionally invested landscape for the reader… or in the case of a horror novel a disturbingly unsettling environment that you’re too invested in to put down. If you can create this investment your reader is unlikely to want to pull themselves out of the world you’ve created and putting the book down will feel like an ache or emotional exhaustion. Fiction is a place where the reader can experience thousands of things, hundreds of thousands of things, that they will likely never experience in their lives, from the comfort of their living room. It is a place we can give the reader to explore and to face who they are, what they’d be prepared to do and what scares them most.