Psychological Curses: Are They There or Not?

From Yu-gioh

A way of using a curse that I’ve mentioned previously is having it be more of a legend than something cast in real time.  I wanted to look more into this because it requires a lot more psychological work.  You need to build things up and move then in the right direction to have a curse trick strike home.  So, what is this exactly?

Say your heroes entire an area and find out that there is a local legend.  There’s some kind of curse, but the story isn’t really consistent when you push for more facts.  All you know is that the people are afraid even if they have never seen it in action.  It dictates a major aspect of their lives either by them avoiding something or having a ritual that is supposed to keep it at bay.  The heroes may believe the curse is real or fake, but this is where you begin to build the psychological aspect.  Regardless of how true the legend is, you put it in the story for a reason and need to have at least one moment where the heroes or reader considers it is real.

Now, you may be wondering how to build tension even if there is nothing truly to be tense and worried about.  Here are some tips:

  1. Have strange events happen.  This works best if the curse is vague in some fashion such as bad luck or a demon in a specific spot.  You can have these things happen to the heroes and gradually ramp up in severity.  For example, the first thing could be a missing belonging from the room.  That may be a thief or forgetfulness.  Later on, a companion vanishes without a trace.  Maybe even while in view or from a spot that is, at least at first glance, impossible to disappear from.  That’s a big jump, so I mean to other events between those two.
  2. If the heroes are doubtful or worried then have them act accordingly.  They have to choose an opinion and stick to it until evidence grows.  This confidence increases the psychological crumbling that you can create as they begin to doubt their initial instincts.  If the hero is mentally jumping all over the place then it hurts the suspense and impact of the curse story.
  3. Can’t go wrong with locals retelling the origins of the curse.  It doesn’t even have to be consistent.  Having them argue over the details can help explain why the heroes are doubting its existence.  You also allow yourself to have a bigger variety of events for when the whole thing is either proven or disproven.
  4. Now, say you are going to make the curse a local hoax.  Figure out why and who is behind it from the start.  You need to have a motive as if you’re writing a Scooby Doo episode.  Pulling in a random person who has never been seen before and is doing it for giggles is weak.  There needs to be a payoff for a curse that is aimed at causing psychological turmoil.

I did stick with stationary curses for this, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to use this tool.  A character can be afflicted with a curse that alters their mind under certain situations or be made to believe it will happen.  You can pull from psychological disorders and mental illness, but that’s a risk.  Personally, I would say phobias are the furthest you can go with this.  Cursing someone with dissociative identity disorder will rub some readers the wrong way.  Although, I guess possession by another entity works, but that isn’t the type of curse we’re working with here.  Even without going for disorders, you can come up with something.  Bad luck, loss of a sense, etc. can be curses that are created by the mind instead of magic.  You’d be surprised what a person could do if they are tricked well enough.

Not sure I hit where I wanted with this post.  Feel free to add, disagree, or voice your opinion on this one.  Maybe I’m off on the concept entirely.  They can’t all be good blog posts.

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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9 Responses to Psychological Curses: Are They There or Not?

  1. I like the idea that a bump in the night might be all in the mind. Good post, Charles.


  2. L. Marie says:

    I really like the localized aspect to this. Does it mean that if they fall under the curse but leave the area the curse will still be with them or would it leave if they leave the area? Maybe the curse still follows them? It would be interesting to explore this.


    • Depends on the curse. If it’s connected to a region then it shouldn’t follow, but that’s up to the author. This also isn’t about curses that afflict a person directly, but ones that can cause a general issue or turns someone else into a problem. For example, Chucky being a cursed doll or Jason Voorhes being a cursed person. Both of them are limited to the areas that they can get to.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think it’s a great post. Like I said, I’m going to be working on some of this stuff relatively soon. One question I want to explore is this: Is the hat an entity from another dimension, or does Lizzie have a dissociative identity disorder? I already know the answer, but it’s a fertile ground to play in.


  4. This is definitely one way to up the suspense and keep readers guessing.


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