I’m guessing it’s Tuesday, so welcome back to another installment of Bolts & Nuts!
This is it for the Horror segment we’ve been going through. Seems like a long time, right? Think of this installment as cleanup duty, going over some final thoughts when it comes to horror and things you can do to help yourself when writing it.
Most of the time, when writing horror, you’re more than likely going to want to tell the story from the point of view of the protagonist, or from the neutral position of the narrator. You rarely want to tell the story from the antagonist. You don’t want to get into their head, for a few reasons.
The first reason is that you’re losing the impact of the horror. If you tell the story from the antagonist’s point of view [in effect, making them the protagonist], then you are telling the reason why they’re doing what they’re doing, instead of having the reader wonder right along with the protagonist. What’s so scary about that? Not a thing. Not unless they’re hurting themselves. Then you have an opportunity for horror.
The second reason is what I said in a previous column: you’re writing snuff porn, and most people aren’t going to want to read that. Take a popular character, like Freddy. He’s a child murderer, and was killed by the townsfolk, the parents of his victims. Now, think about telling the story from Freddy’s point of view. Think about the excitement he must feel as he kills. Get into THAT mode, and then tell the story, and see what the reader reaction will be.
It won’t be good. You’re writing porn. Don’t write porn. It won’t sell.
The third reason is overexposure of the antagonist. Horror works well when the antagonist isn’t often seen. They come in, they kill, and then they go away until its time to kill again. That is, until you get to the third act, when they have to be defeated. If you keep showing your antagonist, you lessen the impact of the story you’re trying to tell. Not good.
If you’re going to write a story with the antagonist as the person you’re following around, I suggest doing it from a more neutral position as the narrator. This isn’t getting into their psyche, so you’re not writing porn. I don’t suggest it, but it’s a method that can be used. I feel you’ll still be lessening the impact of your story by overexposing your villain, but that would really be your call.
Again, remember that the heavy lifting of the story is going to be done by the rest of the art team. Close-ups, weird camera angles, and possibly thicker, interestingly constructed panel borders/page layouts will be the staple of the artist doing horror stories. These would definitely be used when scary stuff happens, and not necessarily during the setup stages of the story. If your story is in a haunted house, there’s no use in calling for a close-up with a thick border without something scary happening. It’s a waste. Don’t call for it, and your artist more than likely won’t do it.
One of the big secrets of horror is to give the story an ending, but not actually resolving the issue.
Let’s look at a popular horror movie franchise: Halloween. (Again?!) [Yes, again and again! It’s cathartic.] In the first movie, you think Michael’s dead a couple of times, but not only is he not, he’s still coming for Laurie’s ass. (That’s nasty. That’s his sister!) [Get your mind out of the gutter for a while.] Then Dr. Loomis comes in and empties a revolver into him, and he falls backward off a second story balcony. When Loomis and Laurie go to look—Michael is nowhere to be found. Scary, right? And that’s how the movie ends.
So, the movie’s done, but is the situation resolved? Not at all. Eight sequels later, they’re still going strong. If you’re able to do that within the pages of your comics, you’d be doing well.
Not resolving the issue can be difficult, though. Please, don’t get me wrong about that. I understand that what I’m telling you is difficult. As Americans, we like to have resolutions, or at least the illusion of them. We like things in neat boxes that can be labeled. We like happy endings. Because of that, our natural inclination is to finish the story. Give a resolution to the situation. For horror comics, I feel this is a mistake. Think about how many sequels the people clamor for when it comes to horror movies. Sleepaway Camp had how many?
One thing that most people don’t discuss is the life of the characters after their ordeals. That can be horrific in itself, especially in today’s age where a doctor’s prescription seems to be the cure-all for everything. Personally, I’d find a story like that interesting, but then again, what do I know?
Not resolving the issue, though, is a powerful tool to be used, and can leave you space to write a sequel to your story—if you have one. If you don’t, just leave it be. Trust me on this one.
Now, lots of you have an ‘end of the world’ story to tell. You figured out a way to get rid of most of the population, and then you knew what story you wanted to tell with the survivors, and then, you threw your hands up and were pissed off when Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead hit. No, your story didn’t involve zombies, but it was a story you felt was worth telling—only Kirkman’s doing it better than you are.
End of the world stories have several things going for them. You get to play with isolationism of the characters, you get to throw all kinds of threats to them, you get to play with the simple things we take for granted every day. Pretty fun, right? And best of all, the stories are pretty sustainable. End of the world scenarios are obscenely sustainable, and can go on indefinitely. There is ALWAYS some new threat or different angle you can employ to shake things up for the characters. Always. And in the serialized realm of comics? As long as you’re telling a good story, you can tell that single story for the rest of your life. Kirkman’s doing it for you month in and month out, and is making a mint because of it. He doesn’t have to tell another story if he doesn’t want to. He can just go on telling tales of The Walking Dead for as long as he wishes. He could even do several spinoffs if he wanted to, and still be within that realm. Funtastic, right?
The last thing I want you to realize, basically, the ONLY thing I want you to realize, is that horror is psychological. All of it. What scares you doesn’t scare me, and vice versa. I personally know a Marine, 6’2”, over 200lbs, who’s terrified of spiders. It doesn’t matter the size or type. As long as it’s a spider, he can’t kill it. He has to get someone else to come do it for him. Others are scared of snakes, some of crickets. Lots of children are scared of thunder and lightning.
What is it that we’re really afraid of? How can a cricket hurt us? Or a worm? Generally, we’re bigger than most of the things we’re afraid of, and by taking a little care, the things that can truly harm us, won’t. But it’s all in our head.
Take the cockroach. The general consensus is that cockroaches are disgusting, and seeing one scamper when the lights are suddenly turned on gives us a visceral reaction like few others. We look at the roach, and we have a can of Raid, and we slowly hunt the little bastards, creeping up on it so that it doesn’t scamper away somewhere. And then we pounce! Our arm flashes out, forefinger depressing the button, and we send aerosoled death their way. We then watch in triumph as the roach falls off the wall, legs twitching. Or, let’s say you don’t have any Raid. Let’s say you’re trying to kill it by crushing it with some paper or a shoe. You’re still going through the same actions, the same reactions.
As a writer, your job is to get that across the page to your audience. You can only do what you can to instill that feeling of horrible dread, leaving the rest to the creative team, but you know that you must get it across. You have to get that psychological terror across to your reader and evoke a response in them. That is our first, last, and only job.
Now, there are few unwritten rules when writing horror. Almost anything goes, and I’ve touched on them here and there, but I just wanted to put them all in one spot for easy reference.
We’ve already talked about the snuff porn.
Thou shalt not hurt children. Children, for some reason or another, are seen to be sacrosanct. They can be as evil as Damien Thorn, but you cannot hurt them. You’ll get more of an uproar hurting a young child than you will hurting a grandmother or stuffing your girlfriend in a fridge.
Well, maybe I DO know why. I was thinking I don’t, but maybe I do. And it was staring me in the face. [Told you I’m not smart.]
We deal in both words AND pictures. And to most of us, seeing a child reminds us of innocence, and to see innocence hurt in such a brutal fashion—especially in our imagination—is something most of us won’t abide by. Lots of artists won’t draw it in graphic detail, and LOTS of readers don’t want to see it. Most publishers won’t put it out. The easiest answer is just not to do it.
No animals were hurt during the making of this comic. ‘Nuff said.
For the love of plush toys everywhere, BE GOOD! (That’s cheap!) [No. That’s truth.]
That’s going to do it for horror. Next week, we’ll talk about knitting, and how incorporating comic characters into it is good for the soul and the colon.
Category: Bolts & Nuts