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The Horror!


Horror has changed.

Once upon a time, on a dark and story night, horror was Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolf Man, or Dracula. Or all three.

When I was a kid, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was on TV one afternoon while my mother was ironing. I was able to stick with it until Lawrence Talbot spied a full moon and, well, you know what came next.

abbottcostellofrankenstein“MOM!” I screeched. “Change the channel.”

She dutifully did so, switching to a soap opera. After a while I calmed down and begged her to go back to the movie. I was fine then, at least until Talbot’s next transformation.

“MOM! Change the channel!”

I loved it. Loved getting scared right to death. And I still do to this day.

When I was in my early teens, I discovered H.P. Lovecraft, and immediately fell in love. The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath remains one of my favourite books. How could you not be scared when the Old Gods were after you? Or when rubbery, foul-smelling, ameboid-shaped abominations poked and prodded you as you descended fitfully to the Dream World and left your sanity behind, one step at a time?

As I started to wonder about writing horror fiction, and I read some horror anthologies and sources such as Nightmare magazine, I started to think about what constitutes horror fiction today. It occurred to me that horror has changed. It’s not so much about monsters in the dark any more. There may well be monsters in the dark, but the real horror is what those humans trapped in the house do to each other while the monsters lurk outside.

The classic modern example is TV’s The Walking Dead, a show brilliant in its writing and acting, but so dark and bleak that I stopped watching around the third season. Yes, there are zombies all about, but even as the world falls apart around their ears, people are still hungry for power, for the chance to one-up each other, and as ever, there are romantic triangles.

The idea, I think, is that when horror exists, we discover some truth about ourselves, something we prefer not to think about, a quality better left unspoken. And man, that’s frightening. 

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Protagonist Purgatory

Hi folks,

I’ve added a new, original story to the site. You can find it by selecting “Original Fiction” near the top, then selecting “Protagonist Purgatory“. It’s a sequel of sorts to “Where the Dragons Sleep” and “The Right Time” but can be read independently. It attempts to be light-hearted. Whether it succeeds is for you to decide.

If you’re squeamish about strong language, best stay away. One of the characters drops the F-Bomb pretty much every time he opens his mouth. But we’ve all known that guy, haven’t we?

Here’s a quick excerpt:

“What?” said Dromhiller. “You saw a dragon?”

Michael nodded. “It flew overhead just a little while ago.”

“Well, that’s more like it,” Dromhiller said. “Now I’ve something to look forward to.”

“So there were dragons in your story?”

“Sure. Well, at least until I killed them. You?”

“No dragons,” said Michael. “There was a unicorn, though. And a few other magical creatures.”

Dromhiller laughed out loud and nearly choked. “A unicorn! You’ve got to be kidding me. Didn’t appear until the end of the story, though, did it?”

“Right at the start, actually,” Michael said. “Then again towards the end.”

Dromhiller, doubled over with laughter, stopped. Catching his breath, he said, “A ******* unicorn! Right at the start. Let me guess. Story didn’t sell, did it?”

Enjoy!

He’s Dead, Jim

The thing that most shocks people out of their skulls when they read George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series is the abandon with which he kills off major characters. Characters so major that you’ve assumed all along that the series is about them.

Ask any writer, and I think they’ll tell you that their characters become a kind of family. After all, you come to know them so well that you hear their voices in your head. So killing them is not something done lightly. The question is, why kill off major characters at all?

One reason might be to reflect the times in which the characters live. If you read Charles Dickens, you’ll find it entirely possible in some books to lose count of the number of deaths. But consider: in the 1800’s, one in five children were dead by age five, and those who survived childhood could expect to be dead by forty. Death in those times was very much a part of life.

serenityAnother reason is what I call the Joss Whedon effect. Fans of the TV series Firefly were, to put it mildly, shocked that two major characters were killed in the follow-up movie, Serenity. The reason for this, as Joss Whedon explained in the movie commentary, was to place some doubt in the minds of the audience as to whether or not the remaining characters would survive. After all, in most stories, no matter how harrowing the action, the major characters generally pull through. The only real question is, how will they pull through? By killing two characters, Whedon shook us out of our complacency and really made us wonder not just how, but if our beloved characters would survive.

This line of thinking was prompted by a comment I received regarding one of my fanfic stories. “Western Castle” is an alternate universe version of Castle set in the wild west. In that story, I killed off one of the major characters. Why? Partly to achieve the Joss Whedon effect, so that the reader would wonder who would survive, and partly to resolve a minor plotting problem that would arise later on if the character didn’t die. The comment I received was to the effect that killing that character was painful to that reader. For a writer, that’s a nice compliment, tempered by the fact that I didn’t create the character in the first place, but still.

Regarding the death of major characters, the worst thing you can do is what is so commonly done in comic books: bringing supposedly dead characters back to life. This, of course, completely obliterates any drama around death. Rather, the reader will likely yawn and ask herself how long this time before the character comes back.

In The Avengers, Joss Whedon did it again, killing off a major character to better motivate the remaining heroes to come together. Painful, but forgivable. Less forgivable was bringing that character back to life in the TV series, Agents of Shield. From now on, any death in any Marvel Universe movie will be greeted by yawns, not tears.

If you use death, make it matter. Use the death to achieve a plot goal or to shake up readers’ expectations. And keep your characters dead once they’re dead. After all, you can only toy with your readers so long before they decide they don’t want to play any more.

The Fan Writer Hugo, and Pros

Whatever

Over at File 770, Mike Glyer takes aim at pro writers who have won the Best Fan Writer Hugo , me included, on grounds that we tend to minimize the Fan Writer Hugo on our professional resumes; as Glyer puts it, “People who are building careers as writers do not want to identify their brands with anything that hints of the amateur.”

I have a direct response to him in the comments there, which basically is, no, actually, I’m really proud of my Fan Writer Hugo, it’s important to me for all sorts of reasons, and I mention it here not infrequently. At the same time I’m careful how I advertise the win in my professional life because I recognize that a fair number of fans would be spiky about me using it there. In my case it’s not about worrying that it’s an amateur award, but trying to…

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FanFiction

Do you read or write FanFiction? Do you care about it? If so, then there’s an article that might interest you at Wired.com.

keep calmWikipedia  defines FanFiction as “… a broadly defined fan labor term for stories about characters or settings written by fans of the original work, rather than by the original creator.”

Again according to Wikipedia, FanFiction.net is the largest FanFiction site, hosting some millions of stories. I post stories there myself based on characters created in Doctor Who, Castle, Firefly, and others.

The Wired article makes the case that FanFiction has generally been looked down upon by the writing community, but that this may be changing. They note that a new publisher, Big Bang Press, having successfully completed a Kickstarter campaign, will be publishing original works by FanFiction authors. Just as interesting as the article are the comments.

Normally I shy away from the comments section of Internet articles. They all too often have the intellectual and emotional maturity of eight-year-old miscreants on speed. Not these comments, which are well written and thought-provoking. They make some excellent points.

The key point is this: the world is full of derivative works of art. (If you want to impress your friends, talk about intertextuality, my new word for the day. You can look it up at Wikipedia.) Would you turn up your nose at AMC’s The Walking Dead because it’s based on a series of comic books? (Sorry, graphic novels.) Then there’s Robert Jordan, author of the beloved Wheel of Time series, who wrote a number of books based on Conan, created by Robert E. Howard. By Crom! And the list goes on.

Let’s be honest. Part of the reason FanFiction has its reputation is because of the quality of the writing. But come on. Lots of FanFic authors are kids. How often have you heard adults wringing their hands at how seldom kids read these days, and blame it on the Internet and (gasp!) Social Media (the source of all evil). But at places like FanFiction.net, you’ll find lots of kids, university students, and young adults who not only read, they write. They deserve to be cheered on, regardless of whether or not their prose is a match for Alice Munro.

Which isn’t to say you won’t find some great FanFiction stories out there. If you are skeptical, just check out “Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality” by Eliezer Yudkowsky. You’d be hard pressed to find any commercially published work that was funnier or more thought-provoking. I’ve seen some FanFics that were painful to read, and some that were a joy. You can explore what-ifs, alternate universes, and the further adventures of your favourite characters. And all for free. Really, what’s not to like?

Writing FanFiction is fun, you see, and FanFics can be fun to read. Once you find some authors you like and start to follow them regularly, you’ll find the experience more and more rewarding.

Feeling spontaneous? Here’s some spontaneous FanFiction for you.

“Wash, we seem to be getting a might close to that sun,” Mal said.

Wash held the flight controls tightly and grimaced. “Afraid we’re going to get a whole lot closer, Cap’n. We’re caught in its gravity well. Got a plan though,” he said.

“Please tell me it doesn’t involve turning my boat into a molten puddle.”

“Can’t promise anything, but I think I can slingshot us ‘round the sun if I increase the speed,” Wash said.

“Sorry, did you say you wanted to fly us into the sun faster? That’s your plan?”

“Here we go,” Wash said, and keyed in the course and speed.

Mal picked up the intercom. “Um, this is the Captain. Those of you who like your meat extra crispy are in for a treat. Hang on to something.”

Some time later, he wasn’t sure how long, Mal picked himself up off the floor in confusion. Then it came to him. The sun. Slingshotting. Glancing out the forward window, they seemed to be in orbit around a planet that he didn’t recognize.

Mal shook Wash by the shoulder. “Wash! I need to you come ‘round, figure out where we are.”

But as Wash struggled to regain his sensibilities, Serenity received a voice transmission.

“This is Captain James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise. Please identify yourself.”

Mal and Wash looked at each other.

“Oh, crap,” said Wash.

Oh, didn’t I say? You can write FanFiction crossovers as well. Feel free to take the above as a writing prompt and finish the story.


The image is from http://keep-calm-and.tumblr.com