Welcome to Friday Fiction Facts: sciency things that fiction writers need to know.

Got some characters spending the night in the woods?  Want to scare the hell out of them? For this special Halloween edition of Friday Fiction Facts, here are some real-life spooky things you can throw at your camping characters, all guaranteed to bring on trembling legs or a good scream.

Spooky Sights

Now you might not think that glowing fungus would add much to a scene, but imagine this: a spooky dark forest where suddenly glowing green orbs hover 6 feet off the ground or a whispy white light seems to leak out from behind a tree’s bark. Woooo….. cue the spooky music.

Armillaria at night ( Flickr User: Bruce McAdam (CC))

Armillaria fungus at night ( Flickr User: Bruce McAdam (CC))

In an earlier post I talked about Foxfire, a common name for several glowing fungi. I also wrote about Armillaria, the glowing fungus in the above image. Read more about those HERE.

In addition to glow-in-the-dark fungi, there is another thing that will quickly creep out your characters, and that’s eyes in the dark.

Nocturnal animals (especially) have, what is called, tapetum lucidum, a layer of tissue behind the retina that reflects light back into the eye and provides superior night vision.

Tapetum lucidum also has the effect of bouncing light back out, in what is called, eye shine. So you get this effect when there is even the smallest amount of light present:


By Jplm (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jplm (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0  via Wikimedia Commons

"Raccoon red eye" by w:User:Bowlhover - English Wikipedia. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Raccoon_red_eye.JPG#mediaviewer/File:Raccoon_red_eye.JPG

Photo User:Bowlhover – Public domain via Wikimedia Commons –


Spooky Sounds

I also talked about some weird, unexplained sounds in a previous post

If you are looking for a real-life mystery to incorporate into your novel, one of these might just do the trick.  And besides, don’t they have fabulous names?

They do! Like Hum, Julia, Upsweep and Mispouffers.

But there are some explained sounds that can be pretty spooky too.  Sure everyone knows about howling wolves, screeching wildcats, yipping coyotes, and hooting hoot owls. All cliche in the world of fiction. So how about some new ones you might not know about.

Foxes do this:

And angry frogs do this:

And do you know what these are?

Answer is at the end of this post.

And that creepy crunching crashing sound near your characters’ creekside tent?

Spooky Night Creatures

Finally, there are a whole menagerie of animals that walk, run, slither, climb and fly at night in the forest. Commonly known, and used frequently in fiction, are owls, bats, bears, wildcats and wolves.

But there are some that are just a bit more creepy. Like, how about having an 8″ Great Grey Slug slime across your main character’s face while she sleeps?

"Limax maximus 5" by Michal Maňas (User:Snek01) - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Limax_maximus_5.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Limax_maximus_5.jpg

“Limax maximus 5” by Michal Maňas (User:Snek01) – Own work. CC 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons


And some are more startling than creepy. Sure, it’s unlikely a bat will fly near anyone, but what would happen if this giant nocturnal moth flapped into someone in the dark? Ghost!

By Organic (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Polyphemus moth By Organic (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

No! Don’t run away! It will follow the flashlight beam. Your poor terrified character just has to stand there in the pitch dark and wait for it to leave…if he dares.

Answer to mystery sounds: Barn owl and Eastern Screech owl, courtesy of The Cornell Lab of Ornithology