Guest Post: Haunted House Rules by Tonia Brown

Today it is my honor to play host to the fabulous Tonia Brown. Now, I know you are all fed up with me waffling on, so I will waste no more time and shall saw… take it away Tonia


Hello there! My name is Tonia Brown and I am the author of several novels ranging from humor to horror to steampunk. My latest horror novel, Sundowners, just hit the interwebs. It’s a backwoods southern horror, all about the importance of family, the dangers of gossip and the nature of the artistic muse.


The season for haunting is upon us again, and nothing says Halloween like a good old-fashioned haunted house. Though, these days I find myself disappointed with haunts more often then not. It’s not that I am some kind of expert. I’ve done my share of haunts and to be honest while it does take a lot of work to throw one together, it doesn’t take much to make it good. Yet, something has gone awry in today’s haunt market. As far as I am concerned there are far too many chainsaw-wielding jerks trying to rush me through a half assed excuse for a haunted house, and not enough quality scares. Are you haunted house owners listening? Good, because I have some suggestions I learned from my old man. Through the years our dad taught us the trick to pulling off a good haunt isn’t so much the quality of the props or the believability of the haunt, as it is three essential things: atmosphere, timing, and good gaffs.

Atmosphere is the most important thing on the list, yet it is both the easiest to achieve and the most forgotten in homemade haunts. A scary atmosphere doesn’t have to come at the expense of thousands of dollars worth of makeup and props. A little music and a little darkness goes a long, long way.

One of our local haunts always starts with the same distinctive entryway into their haunted house, and it is the most effective use of atmosphere I have ever seen. When you enter the house proper, you are shuffled into a completely dark room. Some spooky music plays softly in the back ground. You don’t know if someone is going to jump out or if the lights will suddenly come on or what is going to happen. Then, a pinpoint of red light shines into the room from the far end. A laser pointer perhaps? No way to tell. A voice in the darkness commands you to follow the light. Follow the light you do, because you have little other choice. And there you are, bunched up against your husbands back, choking him to death by yanking on his shirttail as you shuffle toward the pinpoint of blood red light in the otherwise total darkness. Atmosphere set. Frightened mood achieved.

The second thing dad always said was important was timing. Horror, like humor, requires a delicate balance of timing to make it work right. Screams and spooks and general jumping out of the darkness are all well and good, but useless unless done at just the right time. Setting up cues for your audience to expect a spook is a good idea for pacing the timing. Verbal cues or other aural cues like tense music or sudden silence lets them know a spook is on the way. Then you can really screw with their senses. They begin to rely on the cues and when they don’t get it, they jump twice as high when someone scares them.

The third thing relies on both a good atmosphere and well-paced timing, and that is a simple but effective gaff. Gaffs are the tricks of the haunted house. The coffin with the person hiding inside and jumps out as you pass by. The hole in the wall that someone pokes their hand through to grab at you when you draw near. These days, too many folks are relying on buckets of blood and elaborate scenes to scare folks when all it really takes is just a two dollar baby doll made into a puppet and manned by someone hiding behind a sheet of black plastic.


We did that as our main gaff for our last four haunted houses. Winston was his name and he was glorious! My twin sister took one of those plastic headed, soft bodied babies we got from the Goodwill, slit its back open to make a puppet out of it, and then ran a tube through its head and out of its mouth. The moment that baby started growling and whining and calling the audience his nom-noms, well, the looks on the audience faces were priceless. But not as priceless as when it started vomiting blood at their feet. Lordy, you have never seen grown men move so fast to get the hell away from that demon baby!

So there you have it. A few simple ideas to make your haunted house better. And feel free to make a Winston of your own. Just remember he needs his nom-noms, or he gets fussy.

Happy Halloween, and happy haunting.


Tonia Brown’s short stories have appeared in a variety of anthologies. She has cranked out several books, including Sundowners, Badass Zombie Road Trip and the weird west series Railroad! Tonia lives in North Carolina with her genius husband and an ever fluctuating number of cats. When not writing she raises unicorns and fights crime with her husband under the code names Dr. Weird and his sexy sidekick Butternut.

You can learn more about her at:

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All five of us – Tonia Brown, James N Cook, John O’ Brien, Armand Rosamilia and Mark Tufo – hope you have been following along on the Haunted Halloween Blog Tour 2012. We love to see comments after the posts, and we also love to pick a random commenter and give away a free eBook or even a signed print book, so maybe you’ll get lucky!

We have centralized all the upcoming dates and blog posts on a Facebook event page. Feel free to join us there and see what is coming up next!

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