Posts Tagged ‘anime’

Death Note is a franchise I’ve been aware of since high school, and despite some issues I have with the source material (*cough* the second half of the manga *cough*), I’ve always looked at it fondly. It’s clever, has some really memorable characters and scenes, and the themes present in the story are always relevant. When I first heard of plans of an American version of the story, I thought it had some potential, which is why I was disappointed when it fell into development hell. But when director Adam Winguard and Netflix finally started to put the film into production, and despite the troubling news I heard leading up to the film’s release,* I still had hope.

Imagine how I feel now when I find the final result is not what I’d hoped for.

So for those of you who don’t know, Death Note is originally a manga about a Japanese high schooler named Light Yagami who discovers a notebook that kills anyone whose name is written in it. With the help of a death god named Ryuk, Light starts a killing spree of the world’s criminals to end all crime and to become a new god named Kira. He is opposed by L, a mysterious detective who has solved several high-profile crimes in the past, creating a cat-and-mouse game that could determine the fate of the world. The story has been adopted into anime, TV shows, novels, and even a couple of Japanese movies. Winguard’s version is the latest addition to the franchise, and unfortunately, it’s like that one relative whom you invite to family gatherings because he’s family, but you’re not happy about it because he’s an embarrassment to the whole family.

The biggest problem I have with this film is the many changes from the source material. Now, I’m open to some changes, like what the Japanese films did. Those were changes that strengthened the story instead of taking away from it. However, the majority of the changes here were unhelpful. Light Yagami, a handsome, charismatic and intelligent young man motivated by a sense of justice and boredom becomes Light Turner, an outsider who’s only a few degrees away from shooting up a high school, whose intelligence is only hinted at, and who screams like he has no confidence. Misa Amane, a blonde and bubbly airhead whom you actually feel sympathy for, becomes Mia Sutton, a cheerleader with no personality or backstory and too much enthusiasm for killing criminals. Lakeith Stanfield is actually pretty good as L for a while, but then in the last third goes completely off the rails.

Something went very wrong with this transition.

There are a whole bunch of other changes that I didn’t care for. The purpose of the Death Note and the reason why Ryuk drops the Death Note is changed, the default method of death for the Death Note isn’t in this adaptation, Mia isn’t given a good reason to want to use the Death Note like Misa Amane has, so her enthusiasm for using it feels strange, and the way L and his assistant Watari interact feels a little creepy rather than the working relationship they had before, and the list goes on and on. In fact, some of these changes open up plot holes in the story. For example, the change in the way L identifies the first victim of Kira, rather than making some sense like it does in the manga, leaves open some questions in this adaptation. Also, why does L have a false name but Watari is actually his real name, with no last name?

I also did not care for Margaret Qualley’s acting in this film, which felt emotionless and uninvested. It seems like she was trying to channel Kristen Stewart’s Twilight performance, which given all I’ve heard of that performance, explains a lot, but it’s obvious it’s not what we’re looking for in this movie. Also, who’s idea was it to make her look like an Emma Roberts impersonator in every shot?

Ryuk, played by William Dafoe, is definitely one of the better parts of the movie.

There were a couple of things I did like about the film, however. Ryuk looks absolutely terrifying, as he should, and is kept sinister throughout the film, thanks in part to William Dafoe’s phenomenal performance as the voice of the character (that man can do villains like no other). Mia is treated more as a partner in this film rather than as a pawn, which I’m sure many Misa fans, including myself, have always wanted to see (what can I say? You feel for her, despite her flaws and the blood on her hands). And if it weren’t for how bad the rest of the film is, the climax and its twist would actually be pretty impressive.

However, the rest of the film outweighs everything else, forcing me to give Adam Winguard’s Death Note a 1.1 out of 5, possibly the lowest score I’ve ever given anything on this blog. This is just the latest example of how NOT to adapt a beloved manga and anime, with way too many changes from the source material and bad choices on the part the people behind it, and a horrible introduction for newcomers to the world of Death Note.

Trust me, this is a much better movie than what we got.

If this left a bad taste in your mouth and you’re still willing to give this franchise a change, I highly suggest you check out the original manga or anime (the latter also on Netflix), or check out the Japanese films based on those. Unlike the Netflix film, any of these will show you how exciting and clever the original source material, as well as how memorable and even likeable, the characters really are. Believe me, there’s a reason why this story is the phenomenon it is. It’s just the Netflix movie isn’t part of it.

Hopefully in the future, if we have any other American adaptations of anime or manga, they won’t be anything like this.

*To be clear, I will not be getting into the whole issue of the races of the cast. Yes, whitewashing is a problem, and the casting decisions made in regards to this film are extremely problematic, but it’s not one I want to explore here. Why? Because it’s an extremely complicated issue and not something I usually get into in a movie review. I’m judging this movie as a movie, and I’m judging the actors for their performances, not for their racial or ethnic heritage. If you don’t like that, I’m sorry, but that’s just how I do things here. And if you want to voice your anger about this, don’t voice it at me. Voice it at Hollywood, because that’s how you can possibly make some positive change, instead of sending it my way while some corporate VP thinks Zac Efron would make a great Kaneda in a live-action American Akira remake or something (that’s an example, not an actual thing as far as I know).

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Authors, who are usually as human as the rest of us, are as prone to mistakes and insecurity as the rest of us. That said, sometimes authors worry about creative decisions when it comes to their stories. We’ll look at a scene, or a character, or even a whole plot, and think to ourselves, “Is that the right thing to do here? Should maybe we change it?”

We end up second-guessing ourselves.

Actually, some pretty famous names have second-guessed their creative decisions in the past. JK Rowling went back on her decision to have Hermione end up with Ron in Harry Potter, and that Harry might’ve been a better match for her, which still has the fandom in a tizzy (personally, I still ship Harry and Cho and wonder what could’ve happened if they’d actually gone to the Yule Ball together). Stephen King has expressed regret of ever writing the novel Rage, which has been connected with several incidents of gun violence (I’d still like to read it someday). And Anne Rice has actually said she’s not proud of the crossover novels she’s written with her vampires and witches.

And they’re just a few among many.

I’ve been having this problem at a lot of points in Rose, including last night. I’d just finished editing the latest chapter (only nine more to go!), adding over a thousand words of material while I’m at it, and I find myself thinking, “Wow, there’s a lot of just high-tension moments here. Very little time where the readers and the protagonist can just take a moment and breathe. This whole chapter, it’s just boom! Boom! Boom! One thing after another. I wonder if that’s maybe too much excitement in the story. Maybe I should add some more quiet moments, where we can explore the characters?” And then I find myself arguing back that plenty of great horror movies and novels, such as Annabelle: Creation and Gerald’s Game, that are like this, where there’s very little breathing room and just one thing after another of scares and high-tension scenes. And there are scenes that are “quieter:” they are usually exploring the protagonist’s past, which is a mystery to even her. They’re not moments like in It, where the main characters are just building a dam or something, but they’re slightly calmer and do develop the characters a bit more when they happen.

This argument went back and forth in my head even after I went to sleep, making for some interesting dreams.

But it’s not just this whole “are things too exciting?” issue that’s got me second-guessing. I think I’ve mentioned before that there are scenes in Rose that I would like to expand. Most of these are in the final third of the book, and one particular scene, a flashback scene, has me wondering if I’m making the right decision in what I want to do with it. On the one hand, there are about a hundred ways I can push the envelope with it, and I’ve already set up in previous chapters clues that point to the importance of this scene. But at the same time, if I were to push the envelope on this scene in some ways, it might be indulging in certain cliches I prefer to use sparingly at best. Also, I worry that if I were to go in those directions, it might actually take away from the main reason for this scene rather than reinforce it for the audience. It’s something I’ve been worrying about since well before I started this draft of the novel.

So yeah, authors do a lot of second-guessing. And it can cause a lot of headaches, anxiety, confusion, and the occasional burst of anger. Is there any solution for when this happens?

Not really. Yeah, I usually have solutions for stuff like this, but I think it varies on situations and stories and authors. I think every author will second-guess themselves at several points in their careers, sometimes during the writing, sometimes before, a few times after. And sometimes solutions will present themselves. While writing this post, I’ve figured out one of the problems I’ve been second-guessing in this post, which I honestly didn’t expect.

Honestly, I guess the best advice I can give is to try one way. If you don’t like it, try another if the opportunity is available. If you’re still unsure, let beta readers give you some much needed feedback. That’s what they’re there for.

Honestly, I’m probably going to encounter this issue throughout my writing career. I’m second-guessing some possible routes for a novel I haven’t even written yet, if you can believe it. And if you’re a writer, you’ll probably going to deal with it too throughout your career. All I can say is, you may argue with yourself plenty. You may have to try more than one way to write the same story so as to see what works. But eventually, hopefully, you’ll work through it, and come up with something great.

And if not, there’s always a chance that people will still like who the characters end up with (I hear Harry and Ginny are great spouses and parents. Especially if you don’t read/see the play. Also, Ron and Hermione’s storyline actually mirrors a lot of anime couples, so I guess if it works in those shows, why not?).

What are your experiences with second guessing? Any tips for fixing this problem?

I wanted to get at least one more blog post out before I go off to Boston (spoiler alert: the trip is imminent), and because I didn’t have time to watch and review a movie I’ve been wanting to see for a while, I thought I’d do another post about romance in fiction. Why? Because my last post on the subject did very well, well enough that a writing blog associated with Columbia College in Chicago listed that post in a Valentine’s Day-themed article last year (that’s staying power!), and because I’ve had some thoughts since then about the subject. And those thoughts revolve around this simple idea: for a romance story to be truly successful and compelling, there has to be a conflict of some sort. Let me explain:

A couple of months back, I tried watching this anime I discovered on Hulu. The idea for the series sounded interesting, it was a fantasy series with a big romance element, and it was loosely based on a popular fairy tale. I decided to try it (I’d found anime and manga I loved on less than that), and settled down to watch a few episodes. It had a good first episode…but then the problems set in. One of the major ones was that after the first episode, when it’s pretty obvious that the two leads are attracted to each other, there’s nothing really to make the romance aspect exciting. They just settle into this rhythm that says, “Oh yeah, eventually they’ll get together.” Nothing that came up really served as a threat to their relationship, and because the story’s main focus was the romance aspect, I kind of lost interest.

Thus this post. Every good fiction story has some sort of conflict, something for the protagonist(s) to overcome and aid them while they grow as people. These conflicts can be outer and/or inner conflicts. In Harry Potter, it’s Harry’s battle to stop Lord Voldemort and protect his friends. In Stephen King’s It, there’s a shapeshifting evil clown and the desire to hang onto childhood wonder while also accepting the inevitability of growing up. In When Marnie was There, it’s Anna accepting that she’s the one isolating herself, and that if she only comes out to people, they will accept her. In romance, it’s often the main couple realizing and struggling with their feelings for one another while something tries to keep them apart.

Every good story has a good central conflict.

I’ve read a few romance-heavy novels (not many, but some), as well as watched a few TV shows and taken in several anime and manga with strong romance storylines. What always makes them good or memorable to me is the journey for these characters to fall in love with each other and get together, and all that can potentially tear them apart. Without them, like in the anime mentioned above, the story quickly becomes boring. In The Mammoth Hunters by Jean Auel, the two main characters start out in a relationship, but they nearly lose it when a new suitor tries to sweep the female of the pair off her feet (the outer conflict), as well as the couple’s vastly different cultures/childhoods and their communication issues (the inner conflict). Part of what made that novel so exciting was watching those issues affect their relationship, feeling the mistrust, heartbreak, and anger this couple went through. It was thrilling, because you really felt for these characters and wanted to see them together in the end. And getting to that end and overcoming their issues in the process was what made the novel as a whole good.

Arata the Legend: great example of how a story can have a compelling romance without that being the main subject of the story.

But this post so far focuses on stories that are mainly romantic. What about stories where romance is secondary? Same concept applies. You see this a lot in manga and anime. Take Arata the Legend by Yuu Watase (highly recommend, by the way), for example. The story revolves around a teenager named Arata who ends up in an alternate universe, where he becomes a messiah figure in the process. Arata ends up traveling around the universe with a band of magical warriors to gather magic items and save both worlds, while also dealing with his own fears and insecurities. These are the main outer and inner conflicts of the story. However, a sub-conflict in the story revolves around a love triangle between Arata and two girls who travel with him, a warrior girl and a healer. Both are attracted to Arata, Arata’s attracted to one of them, and because of various misunderstandings and past experiences, they’re unable to be honest with one another with their feelings, genuinely thinking that one might be better with the other or that one doesn’t like the other. This subplot is a major ongoing part of the story, and one of the reasons I always look forward to new volumes coming out (waiting on #25 since August last year).

As you can see, a story with a romance but no challenge to that romance is more often than not less exciting than a romance with challenges to it. The exceptions, in my experience at least, would be stories where the romance is a minor element in comparison to other issues in the story (the anime Code Geass definitely comes to mind in that aspect. Also highly recommend that one), but if that’s the case, then the romance probably isn’t a big part of why you’re into this story, right?

But when a story’s romance is a major aspect of why people would want to check the story out, having a conflict would definitely make it a more interesting aspect of the story. Otherwise, all you’ve got is an anime where you’re just watching and waiting for these two obviously-attracted-to-each-other people to take that first step and kiss each other and that’s about it.

I love manga and anime, but I often have trouble getting my hands on horror manga and anime that is actually scary. I’ve found plenty with ghosts, zombies, homunculi, serial killers, and death games, to name a few, but often they’re mixed with other genres to make them more palatable for non-horror fans. Other times I have heard of a scary one, but I can’t get my hands on it (still trying to get my hands on Corpse Party), and other times I just don’t know of some series that I should. So when I actually hear and find some manga or anime that is actually scary, I rejoice. Case in point, Uzumaki by Junji Ito, who is considered one of the greatest horror manga artists from Japan, and it shows in this series.

Uzumaki literally translates into “spiral,” which is the essence of the manga. The story follows Kirie Goshima, a teenage girl living in the town of Kurozou-cho. One day, her boyfriend Shuichi tells her that his father has become obsessed with spiral shapes, to the point that he is losing his grip on reality. This leads to a gruesome series of events that reveal a curse upon the town and the surrounding area, a curse involving spirals, spirals that hypnotize and entrance, spirals that terrify and excite, spirals natural and unnatural. And once the curse sets in, it doesn’t let go.

From the very beginning, Uzumaki is quite extraordinary. Ito illustrates with  incredible attention to detail, which in a horror manga  is necessary if you really want to convey a sense of terror. I mean, look at the imagery below.

Holy crap, that is both well-drawn and scary! You can see every detail, how much  work is put into each stroke of ink to make the imagery look realistic despite being an illustration. And the best part is, Ito is not concerned with aesthetic beauty. You look at most animation, and it’s meant to be pleasing to the eye. To be cool, or pretty, or adorable. Ito doesn’t concern himself with that. He’s concerned with just making you squirm, and he does that so well with his illustrations.

And on top of that, his storytelling abilities are great. Unlike other horror stories, the horror is based on abstract concepts. A geometric shape, the spiral, is what we’re supposed to be afraid of. You’d never think a spiral shape like the one below would be scary, but Ito uses his illustrations, storytelling, and the turn of a page to weave this frightening tale where we’re forced along to find out what happens, fining stranger and stranger things on the succeeding pages. And best of all, Ito just takes things in the most unexpected directions, inserting the spiral into strange places we normally wouldn’t see it. I won’t say what happens, but things like snails or pregnant women get matched with the spiral, and it becomes terrifying. It’s made even better that you don’t actually get a lot of explanation. With ghosts or vampires, you get a mythology on how they work and how to deal with them. In Uzumaki, Ito leaves it up to the imagination as to what’s happening. It’s very unnerving in a Lovecraftian sense to see how this town becomes part of some strange curse around a geometric shape, and never get an explanation.

Doesn't look scary at first. Wait and see.

Doesn’t look scary at first. Wait and see.

If there is one criticism I have, it’s that the people of the town don’t really come to terms with what’s going on as fast as they should. At a certain point, it becomes impossible not to face what’s happening in the town, but up until then, there are plenty of signs that something’s up, and not one of the main characters realize they have to get up and get out before it’s too late. Even the guy who’s constantly saying they should leave doesn’t. At least make an attempt!

But other than that, Uzumaki is a terrifying story of cosmic horror that takes something harmless and give it a weird, disturbing form that will surely stay with you for a while after you finish reading it. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Uzumaki a 4.8 out of 5. If you enjoy horror and don’t mind visual reading like comic books and manga, definitely check out Uzumaki. I’m glad I did, and I will try to track down the move version as soon as possible. Because after seeing these sorts of pictures, I’m curious as to how they’re translated into the cinematic world.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear. Pleasant nightmares.

From the moment I heard about this film, I wanted to see it. It’s horror, it takes place in Japan, specifically Aokigahara (one of the places on my first list of haunted locations I’d like to visit), and the trailers made this thing look awesome. I was excited.

Sadly, the trailers were better than the movie itself, and I will explain why:

First, the story. Natalie Dormer plays Sarah Price, a woman with a cliched psychic connection to her troubled identical twin sister Jess, also played by Dormer. When there’s a disturbance in the Force, Sarah learns that her sister, who was teaching in Japan, has gone into Aokigahara, a forest near Mount Fuji that is a common place for suicides and has a reputation for being haunted by the extremely angry spirits trapped there. Sarah heads to Japan to save her sister, and ventures into the forest, which in turn brings all sorts of hell upon her and unearths inner darkness Sarah never wanted dredged up.

I had a lot of problems with this movie. First, there’s the protagonist. Sarah Price is not a very interesting character. It’s no fault of Dormer–I’ve seen her in other stuff, I know she’s a great actress–but beyond the psychic connection and a reckless love for her sister, the character is rather flat and dull. She does border on interesting when talking about her past, but that’s it. In fact, most of the characters are rather boring. Probably the only one that peaks your interest is Aiden, who helps Sarah look for her sister, but that’s mostly because you’re never sure what his motives are or if he can be trusted. And Sarah’s husband? You really could cut him from the film and it wouldn’t affect a thing.

Next, the storytelling and the mood. The movie moves rather slowly through most of the first hour, establishing exposition and introducing us to the relationship between Sarah and Jess. Important, but not particularly interesting. It isn’t until they’re already deep in the forest that the story actually tries to scare you, but even then most of the scares are jump scares, and even the best of jump scares are meaningless if they’re not tempered with other stuff, like a tense, suspenseful and horrifying mood, which the movie only really does just the once. By the end of the movie, when the film tries to surprise you with a few twists, one feels forced and awkward, while the other you saw coming a mile away. Just not very effective in terms of storytelling or making you feel scared.

Finally, there’s the effects. Now, I know on a budget of ten million dollars you can’t do much in the special effects department, but the effects they use in this film are for the most part pretty stupid. There’s a scene where a ghost is revealed in a cave, and I was expecting like out of The Ring or The Grudge (originally Japanese stories, if you didn’t know). Instead we get a goofy fanged monster-girl that looks more like a carnival attraction monster than a real ghost, and in the last few minutes of the film we get some CGI ghosts, which are about as scary as a frying pan. There’s one shot in the last few seconds of movie with such a ghost, and I felt more contempt than fear when I saw it, because it was so obviously fake. They might as well have had an actor put on a sheet with eye-holes, save a few dollars on computer-rendering, because that’s how lame it was.

So did The Forest have anything I liked? Actually yes: besides beautiful shots of Tokyo (always nice to see Tokyo when it’s not animated or hand-drawn), the film does a great job of making you question what’s real. Once Sarah is really trapped in Aokigahara, you find yourself questioning everything: river directions, people’s intentions, whether anything you’re seeing is real or all in Sarah’s head. You even question for most of the film what is the real source of the hauntings Sarah experiences: is it ghosts or a living forest? Or is it maybe psychological or even an infection from some bug? The movie makes a good case for all four throughout the course of the story, and even now I’m not really sure what the true answer is. Not that I’m spending a lot of time thinking about the answer, mind you.

Another thing that the movie has going for it is that when the jump scares occur, you really do jump pretty hard. One woman in the theater even cried out after one particular jump scare. That’s not enough to redeem the film, but it does work in its favor. And finally, the film’s got the wheels in my head turning, looking for stories that could come out of it. In my opinion, inspiring me and other writers and creative types is always a good thing, especially if it leads to good stories.

On the whole though, I find The Forest below average, earning a 2.6 out of 5. It’s premise is promising, and it tries hard, but on the whole can’t deliver. You’d be better off staying at home and renting The Ring or The Grudge if you want Japanese-inspired horror. At least this film didn’t ruin my desire to visit Aokigahara (only to see it and sate my horror author’s interest in creepy stuff, though. I would not visit it for the reason other people do).

And if you would like some good horror, consider some of my work. Right now, all my books are on sale until Thursday from Amazon, Createspace and Smashwords. Check them out now and pick up a great read for an even greater price. Trust me, this is an opportunity you do not want to miss.

anxiety

What is the trouble with psychological horror? Actually, there’s not much trouble to it. It’s just very hard to do well.

What do I mean by this? Well, let’s look at the definition of psychological horror: “a subgenre of horror fiction, film, and video games (as a narrative) which relies on the characters’ fears and emotional instability to build tension”, according to Wikipedia (I know you’re not supposed to rely on that site for information, but I couldn’t find a better website for a definition). It’s a sub-genre that, rather than relying on a traditional monster that’s out front and center for all to see, the monster is restricted to quick glimpses and shadows. If there’s a monster at all: sometimes the true villain is a character’s own brain, their fear, distrust, paranoia, suspicion, isolation.

I’ve used psychological horror before, particularly in the stories in my collection The Quiet Game (which if you haven’t read, I wish you would) and in the short story “Buried Alive”, which was published in the Strange Portals anthology last year (again, I wish you would read it). And I’ve come to the decision that while it isn’t as difficult as physics or writing comedy, it is walking a very fine line. Almost like a tightrope. And if you fall off, you can wind up veering either into the realm of the comedic with how obvious that it’s all in the character’s head, or it’s just so confusing that you find yourself losing patience with the story.

Let me give some examples (and it’s my blog, so you have to let me give some examples): have you read “Buried Alive”? I’ll keep the spoilers to a minimum for those who haven’t, but like I said above, I use quite a lot of psychological horror in that story, and for the most part, I think that I use it well (so do most of the readers I hear from on this one). For the rest, though…it’s pretty obvious that the circumstances of the main character are taking a toll on her mental state. I don’t think it gets to the point of comedic, but it is obvious, and the point of psychological horror is to make you guess whether it’s all in their heads or if it’s real or…who knows?

Perfect Blue. Trippy, has its moments, but also has its problems.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s the anime film Perfect Blue, based on a novel that I wish was available here in the States. The film is about a singer-turned-actress who starts to confuse reality and fiction when her first acting job takes a turn for the traumatic. It’s a good story, but it’s not a perfect story. There’s a good section of the movie where they spend time trying to confuse both the protagonist and the viewer, and it gets a little difficult to not only what’s going on, it gets difficult to pay attention or be patient with the movie. While I admire the visuals of the movie, and I get what they were going for by showing what the protagonist is going through mentally, and I recommend checking it out if you’re interested, psychological horror shouldn’t get so strange or trippy that the reader gets frustrated with or loses interest in the story.

A great example of a psychological horror story though, manages to toe the line very easily and keeps you guessing as to what’s real or what’s mental delusion. A good contemporary example of this is The Babadook. If you read my review of that movie last year, you’ll remember that I noted that the movie kept you guessing as to whether the film’s protagonists were dealing with an actual monster or a shared psychosis, and I eventually settled on a bit of both because…I’m mostly human, and humans need to categorize things to make sense of the world. And I still say that I don’t know for sure which it is, and that’s one mark of the film’s greatness. You’re never quite sure what’s real and what’s in the heads of the characters, it stays interesting throughout, and it never gets to the point of ridiculous or obvious. All told, it’s great psychological horror.

This movie will surely get you on so many different levels. I’m getting chills just thinking of it.

So how do you psychological horror well? How do you toe that line?

Well, I’m definitely no expert on the subject. I usually deal in traditional horror, the monster is out front and is usually either some twisted form of human or a creature not easily defined by our standards. I dabble in psychological horror, usually making it part of a bigger story. But I can try, and I think–beyond reading/viewing as much psychological horror as possible, both good and bad, and practicing like you want to get to Carnegie Hall, of course–I’d suggest trying to write a story where you’re not sure what’s really happening. Create a scenario where strange things start happening to your character or characters, and you can’t tell what’s real or what’s just in the minds of your characters. Keep it interesting, don’t get too ridiculous or obvious, and just see where the story goes. If you can do that but still be unsure for most of the story of what’s real or not, then it’s likely your reader will be the same and want to know more.

Another marker of psychological horror is that there’s usually a twist somewhere along the way, and if it’s good it’ll change how you view the entire story (a great example is the Korean film A Tale of Two Sisters and its American remake The Uninvited). Characters are also often driven or plagued by powerful internal battles: am I doing the right thing? Is this right or wrong? Are they really out to get me? It doesn’t have to be full-blown persecution belief or fear of some unknown. It can be something as simple as a growing suspicion that something’s off or that our desires are actually evil. Again, A Tale of Two Sisters is a great example of the former.

Not a fan of the movie, but even I admit it shows Jack’s breakdown very well.

And finally, psychological horror is often not the main focus of a story, but part of a bigger story. Take a look at The Shining by Stephen King. Obviously that hotel is actually haunted, and the kid and the cook are both psychic. But a good deal of the story deals with Jack Torrance trying to sort out what’s going on for himself. Is he just dealing with a powerful desire to get wasted again? Is he going insane? Is the hotel playing tricks on his mind? There are scenes where you really can’t tell, and that’s part of the terror. Part, but not the whole thing. After all, there’s all the stuff the hotel is doing to them, right?

Unless Jack, Danny, and the cook are all sharing some sort of shared delusion, or folie a trois, in which case…wow. New conspiracy theory right there.

In any case, it’s something to experiment with yourself. And for me to experiment with more often. Just try and see what happens…or does it happen? You’ll never know until you try.

How do you feel about psychological horror? Do you have any good examples in film or literature you’d recomend? What are some tips for effectively writing in the subgenre?

I just recently finished the second draft of “Gynoid”, a sci-fi love story novelette. During that time, I thought a lot about romance in fiction. Have you noticed that it’s everywhere? In fiction, you find a lot of time devoted to find your one true love, and in real life, you find people not just actively looking for their one true love(s), but even measuring themselves by fictional couples! Our music is rife with love songs or how love is betrayed (the so-called “Song of Songs” in the Bible is one huge erotic love song), and if you go back in time, some of our oldest stories involve love and lovers.

Heck, it’s in a lot of my fiction too! And I write fiction where “love” is more likely intense adrenaline and a shared peril being mistaken for attraction. Snake has a love story that’s central to its plot, Reborn City has a bit of romance in it here and there, and..well, you saw the description for “Gynoid” above.

But rather than speculate on why romance and finding it is such a big thing (I think we can all guess at the answer, right?), I think I’m going to share some of the trade secrets I’ve gleaned over the years from other writers and from my own romantic experience, both writing it and from experiencing it (do not ask me which I have more of. I wouldn’t want to upset anyone) on writing romance in your stories. Why? No particular reason, it’s just on my mind and in my stories so much I feel like talking about it. And I know I might not be the most qualified person to talk about the subject–I know I’m not a romance writer–but I know a bit, and since when has not being an expert ever stopped anyone from talking about anything? (*cough* climate change deniers in Congress *cough*)

So let’s begin on my tips for including romance in your stories:

  1. Give the characters personalities, make them fully-rounded and three-dimensional. I feel like often times some of our most celebrated romances involve people who are just good-looking nice folk and not much else. Romeo and Juliet were a sad emo guy with a thing for teenagers and Juliet was a teenager, Cosette and whatever her guy’s name was were good-looking and nice but they weren’t much else, and Katniss Everdeen…okay, Katniss was at least well-rounded. You knew who she was, what her problems were, what she stood for, and what she was willing to do to overcome those problems. Her love interests, on the other hand, just seemed there so as to add something to the story that the story might have done fine without. I mean, Gale is just handsome and angry with the Capitol, and I can’t tell what Peeta is besides sweet. One minute he’s skillful enough to manipulate the hearts of the whole Capitol, the next he’s too naive to tell that Katniss is using him for survival. Make him one or the other! Seriously, if you’re going to bother putting love interests in the story, I’m going to need a reason to ship either of them besides their attractiveness and professions of love.
    And that brings me to my next point:

    It took a long time, but these two became a wonder couple.

  2. What’s the reason they fall for each other? Please don’t say, “Oh, they’re good-looking”, it’s got to be more than that…or heroin-flavored blood. Take one of my favorite anime of all time, Sailor Moon (yeah, I’m a huge fan of that even so many years on. Moonies forever!): all of the main characters are good-looking. So why does Sailor Moon end up with the male lead, especially when in every adaptation of the story they start out fighting and disliking each other and in some he’s already seeing someone else? Leaving aside backstory exposition, I think they just grow comfortable with each other over time. They realize they can be honest with each other and that their faults are just part of who they are. Cute parts too. And it helps when they find out each other’s secret identities, which shows how courageous and reliable they are to one another, to the point they make a pretty good partnership, in love and in combat.
    Another example I’d like to use is Captain America and Peggy Carver in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which is my only reference point, I was never much of an American comic books reader for some reason). Heck, at the beginning of their relationship, Cap’s a scrawny guy who doesn’t seem like much of a hero, while Agent Carter is…well, Agent Carter. What forms the basis of their relationship is that Carter likes that Cap wants to help out despite all the barriers facing him, and his sweet and loyal personality, while Cap likes that she’s a unique and confident woman who doesn’t need a man and who also doesn’t look down on him for not being tall and buff. Over time and numerous battles, their relationship grows closer and they fall in love, which ultimately doesn’t end well but I’m sure that if things had gone differently, it would have been a different story.
    Speaking of which, here’s point 2a. Shared experiences, especially combat experiences, can bring a relationship closer. Unless of course you and your supposed lover work really horribly together, in which case fighting will just highlight it and you’ll fall apart at the seams.
  3. There is no point where the relationship becomes perfect. Work is involved. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about relationships in the real world, they’re always a work in progress. Why? Because we’re all works in progress, so our relationships are too. There’s going to be rough times, where the characters struggle or worry that something or someone will come along and the good thing they have going will be ruined. Back to Sailor Moon for a second. Fans agree that the heroine and her man are a strong and stable couple (though whether or not it’s a good coupling, I find people disagree on the subject more than you’d think), but they do have to work at it. Besides enemies that threaten to pull them apart for whatever reason, they have the normal couple troubles: people who seem like better matches coming along, occasional misunderstandings, an unexpected child. Heck, they even broke up for a time during the anime’s second season. Just goes to show that even great couples have ups and downs.
    And the best part is, you can extend these meetings, character explorations, falling-in-love scenes, and ups and downs over several books. In fact, half of the fun of the TV show Scandal is watching the heroine Olivia have an on-again, off-again relationship with the (married) President of the United States. You never know how that one is going to work out. And as long as you can keep it going, the more you get to explore these characters and their relationships (provided fans don’t start to get bored, of course).
    And now that we’ve discussed what makes for a relationship, let’s discuss some content.
  4. Sex is not always necessary. Yeah, I know we live in a hyper-sexualized society where everything has a sexy component to it, and I know I included a steamy sex scene in Snake, but seriously, sex isn’t always necessary. In fact, some people prefer romance stories without anything racier than a kiss or two. There’s actually an entire sub-genre of romance like that, it’s called sweet romance, where the characters don’t have sexual relations before marriage (or commitment too, maybe) and it has a big and loyal following. Besides, some authors aren’t comfortable with sex scenes. I know I wasn’t at first, though I later got more comfortable with them. So if you don’t want to do one, there’s no law saying you have to.

    Love the relationship dynamics of this show!

  5. Also, you don’t have to just have one person love only one other. I know there are a couple of Buffy fans reading this blog. One of the best parts of that show is the characters had many different relationships over the 7 seasons. Buffy herself had three major relationships over the course of the series.  The writers could’ve had her with Angel, her first love, through the whole series, but they allowed her, Angel, and many others to explore other relationships and really mature through that. Same with Teen Wolf, which had two main characters being “meant to be forever and ever”, but gradually changed things up over time. So if you want to, you can have characters wait a long time and go through several relationships before finding the right person.
    Especially with love triangles. I hear there are quite a few series out there where a good dose of fun is trying to find out who the main character will end up with in the end, especially when there’s two really great, fleshed-out characters to choose from (though usually from what I hear it’s whoever the protagonist meets first).
    And this brings me to my final point.
  6. Don’t do it because everyone else is. And no, that’s not a drug PSA (though you shouldn’t do those either. Not even weed, that stuff will mess with your system). Yeah, you see people putting all these different things in their stories–love quadrangles, the other man or woman, unexpected pregnancies, even some sexual exploration. Only put those in your story if you feel they’re what the story needs, not what others say you should put in or what others are putting into their stories. Believe me, that’s how I avoided something really unnecessary romance-related stuff in Reborn City, and that worked out great for me.

I’m going to end it right here, but I have to say, there’s a lot more that I could include in this post. Suffice to say, there are a lot of intricacies to writing romance and love stories (point number 7, a romance has a happy ending, a love story doesn’t have to. Learned that a romance writer friend of mine), and you learn these things over time. But hey, in the end they can lead to some really great stories, and maybe melt a heart or two while you’re at it.

What romance writing tips do you have? Do you feel romance is important to your stories or not so much?