I’ve been experimenting with horror/monster fiction lately as I wander through the vast fields of literary options, seeking to settle myself into a comfortable niche. So far, I kind of like it here in Scaresville, finding its sweet spot between the need for fanciful creations and tried and tested settings a very appealing one.
Without even noticing it, I’ve realised that most of my last few half-written stories in the last few weeks have been steering towards that direction. More importantly, I also come to see that I’m to focus on the story from the get go instead of trying to describe or make up the world. I can express my fiction beyond the limitations of natural laws, yet have a grounded setting that can be typical without being branded as overly cliche.
It’s just something that the reader has come to accept and expect in this genre, that it is ok for Regular Joe to have a couple of coffee in the morning, run into some weird monsters in the afternoon, and save the world in time to have dinner. Rinse and repeat. In fact, if you take the same story, change up the monster/ghost/murderer, it will usually still work without any need for lengthy explanation.
My Journey towards Horror
I originally wanted to go with fantasy, but my beef with it is that it’s become boxed in to a expected set of creatures and myths. E.g. a clean-shaven dwarf who wields a mean bow, prancing through the forest and enjoys strawberries immediately breaks the mould, and you have to try to justify it, i.e. he was raised by the elves etc. Wide universe, but extremely boxed-in.
Then I tried my hand at Science Fiction. Immediately, I found it unsuitable for the shorter kind of fiction that I like. The best ones need to be grand, need a lot of believable science or nonsense leading up to the big reveal and are generally one trick ponies as I have mentioned in my Michael Crichton article. If you read those that succeed like Philip K. Dick (Minority Report) or H.G. Wells (World of the Worlds), they’re actually thrillers / war stories with a sci-fi setting.
My last attempt was actually peeking into the realm of superhero fiction. Maybe it’s just me again, but I kept facing the same issues as in Sci-Fi, while basing my characters off popular ones, so that people already have a picture in their head when I mention them. A crutch I eventually felt that I did not like.
So yea horror. Smooth going so far, though my problem now is the climax. Just a series of smaller battles leading to the big one ala Godzilla, or hold off the violence and make the violent erupt as a build up to the climax ala King Kong. I’m not going to try Stephen’s King arbitrary-in-your-head sort of horror for now. Just going to go with something physical first to muddy the waters.
My thoughts about the Genre
– The best ones all play tricks in your head. They don’t always need to be unexpected, as long as it’s screwed up enough such that the twist that eventually comes still feels satisfying enough. That’s the sweet spot I mentioned earlier. People already know what to expect, yet you still have the liberty to throw a few bones at them and make them crave for more. Readers who complain about typical plots / writing shouldn’t be reading books on murder and monsters anyway while still complaining about the plot. That’s like complaining about Dwarves are cliche in a fantasy realm.
– The monster isn’t important, the story is. Like superheroes, people already expect the monster to be just that, a monster. It kills people, they know. A man with a knife, he’s going to kill someone. I’ve tried to make my creatures sound or scary, and tried to make my setting more fascinating. But in the end, at the meat is still going to be the story. Origins is an extremely popular topic that readers love, followed by the typical agendas on why it does what it does. Whether the freaky clowns nose is red and round or green with snot doesn’t really matter beyond the initial visualisation. Oh, and the gimmick that your creature does, makes the story interesting, but doesn’t make the story.
– Always start with the mundane. A fascinating monster in a bombastic setting sort of takes away the focus from the appearance of a monster/killer. Stick with the mundane or a concept that can be easily understood to make your creature and the story around it stand out.
The Midnight Snack.
Peter walks into the kitchen, looking for a snack. In the dark, he notices the carton of chocolate milk sitting on the counter and his eyes perk up. One of the kids must have left it behind while they were packing for their sleepover. Without so much as a thought, he unscrews its top off and chugs it straight from the carton, wondering where the hell his wife is. She was suppose to be back from her book club at eleven.
In the dark, he fails to notice that the red liquid trickling down his chin.
This milk tastes a bit salty, he thinks to himself, smacking his lips as he wipes the dribble off with a hand. Probably just another one of those new fangled flavours that the kids love. Satisfied now, he walks back up the stairs to prepare for a good night’s sleep.
Halfway up though, his stomach starts to gurgle and churn. Not feeling so good, he sits on the steps and rubs his tummy. Wait what’s that bump? Lifting up his shirt he stares at his flabby skin and the tiny lump thumping vigorously at him from the inside.
If anyone of you noticed, yes I took the same plot from my earlier story and just plonked it here with a different setting. Still sort of works.
Other great posts about Horror on WordPress
- Ronald Malfi: The Macabre, the Monstrous and the Malevolent (horrornovelreviews.com)
- Demons, Monsters, and Mayhem (dawnall.wordpress.com)
- Scary…to me (tracikenworth.wordpress.com)