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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.