Posts Tagged ‘character tropes’

Pour the drinks! Start the party music! Feed the dragon bats a little extra blood and meat with their dinner tonight! I’ve had two acceptances! That’s right, you read that correctly. Two. And I am so excited that the editors loved them enough to include them in upcoming publications, let alone that you will get to read them.

So, the first acceptance actually came last week, but I only just got permission to start screaming from the high heavens. A short story I wrote is being accepted by “The Jewish Book of Horror,” an anthology from the Denver Horror Collective coming out this holiday season in time for Hanukkah. That’s right, a book emphasizing horror from a Jewish slant. When I first heard of that, I knew I had to write something for it, which I did: a short story called “The Divorce from God.”

I’m adding to Jewish literature! It’s not typical Jewish literature, but I’m not complaining!

“The Divorce from God” is a story that was inspired by the New York divorce coercion gang. For those of you who haven’t heard, the New York divorce coercion gang was a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews who forced men into divorces. Yeah, even the Jews have our fair share of fanatics, and they do bad things sometimes. In this case, they meddled in divorces. In traditional Judaism, divorce has to be granted by the husband, and occasionally that’s held over the wife’s head to hurt her. Normally, non-violent means are sought to encourage the husband to grant a divorce, but in this case, the gang members went to violent means. It’s pretty sick and twisted stuff and I encourage you to read up on it if you’re curious.

Anyway, I took the case and put my own fictional spin on the story. After letting some beta readers give me some feedback, I made some edits and submitted it. And I’m happy to say it’ll end up in the anthology! Woo-hoo! I get to be part of a big contribution to Jewish literature while still being scary! I’m sure my parents and teachers and rabbis are proud of me.

Also, apologies that I didn’t write a blog post for this story like I usually do. The subject matter and the targeted anthology was so specific, I didn’t want to post about it only for it to maybe get rejected. But I’m telling you now, so it’s all good, right?

And today, I got some more good news! I wrote an essay recently on a character trope I call “the broken child.” What is that? Well, you’ll have to wait till August to find out. It’s going to be published in the August edition of House of Stitched magazine (don’t you just love that name?). They were looking for articles on the craft and process of horror writing, and I’d been turning over some article/essay ideas in my head, including an examination of the broken child. I wrote it and sent it in, keeping my fingers crossed. And today they sent me a contract. I signed and now I’m on cloud nine!

I mean, wouldn’t you be? Last year, I was only able to release one story. But two months ago, I was able to get an article published on Ginger Nuts of Horror and release a new scary story. And in just one week, I was able to get a short story and an article accepted as well! It’s very encouraging and makes me hopeful for what’s to come.

I’ve been writing up a storm lately. Glad to see it’s been worth it.

A big thanks to the Denver Horror Collective, who will be putting out “The Jewish Book of Horror,” for accepting “The Divorce from God.” And an equally big thank you to the team of Stitched Smile Publications, the publisher of House of Stitched magazine, for accepting “The Horror of the Broken Child.” I’m so excited to be working with both of you and I hope your readers enjoy my contributions as much as I hope you did.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope you’ll pick up a copy of the August issue of House of Stitched magazine and “The Jewish Book of Horror” once they’re released. I’m off to enjoy a walk in the nice weather. I’ll probably also have a beer or two tonight in celebration as well. And I’ll be working on my next short story as well. Gotta keep up the writing and submitting so I can get a few more stories out there.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear, stay safe, pleasant nightmares, and don’t approach my dragon bats! They may be cute, but they’re alpha predators for a reason.

So this past week, I watched an anime series that turned out to be pretty bad (I swear, this is related to writing and isn’t another anime-themed post). There were several reasons why it was terrible, but a major reason was that the main character was the reincarnation of a guy who died in our world and was reborn into a fantasy world with most of his knowledge and memories intact.

As we’ve discussed on this blog before, anime where characters from our world end up in fantasy worlds are called isekai anime. Because the main character(s) are from our world, that usually plays a large part in their character. The audience can’t watch the show without remembering that this character is from another world and the original world influences their personality and decisions in a hundred different ways.

And this anime…didn’t really do that. Like, the protagonist used some of his scientific knowledge from his previous life to make his magic stronger and invent new devices. But other than that, I often forgot he was from another world. At one point, I found myself thinking, “You know, they’ve already established this guy as a quirky magic genius. They could have written out the isekai element, attributed his knowledge of oxygen and the theory of folding space to his unusual brain, and the show would have one less problem. It wouldn’t be great, but it would have one less problem.”

And that long-winded intro leads into the subject of today’s post. How do you find a story element that’s actually hampering the story rather than improving it? What prevents a writer from creating the sort of pitfalls, be it an unnecessary character or adding an isekai aspect to the story when it serves no purpose? Or if they do, how do they find it and get it out before the story is published?

I had to make a lot of these decisions during the editing of “Rose.”

Well, part of it is experience. Namely, as we become more experienced writers, we get used to figuring out what elements work and what don’t. It’s like a voice in the back of our heads is asking, “Does this work? What does it bring to the story? Would the story suffer if I removed it?” This happened a lot when I was doing major rewrites of Rose. Rose’s fiancé Mark had a slightly larger role in earlier drafts, but during the rewrites, when I was taking the plot in a different direction, I realized that Mark couldn’t fulfill that role anymore. He still had a part to play, but the part he’d played previously made no sense in the new direction. If I kept it, it would have not served the story. Thus, Mark’s role was reduced to what it is in Rose now.

Something similar happened while writing The Pure World Comes, but that will have to wait till it’s published.

But if you do miss something, that’s where beta readers and editors come in (and why it’s important to use them before you try submitting/publishing a story). Back to Rose, while I was rewriting the book, my publisher recommended I cut out the flashbacks, which were about a third of the book. I was confused and a little upset, as I was very proud of those scenes. However, I realized that flashbacks need to connect to the main events of the story. And while the flashbacks did explain plenty about Rose‘s character in earlier drafts, it didn’t connect much to the current events, so I nixed them and started rewriting.

See? Editors and beta readers do help.

But what if you really like an element in a story and there’s a strong indication you need to nix it? Well, then you have a choice to make as the creator. In the case of the anime I mentioned, the creator, if confronted with this choice, could have either made the fact that the protagonist was from another world more essential to his character or the plot. Or, like I suggested, he could have nixed it.

You may not like it, but sometimes you have to throw out problematic elements if you can’t find a way to make them work. Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

And that’s what it often boils down to. Authors can either cultivate those elements so that they actually matter and don’t bring down the story, or they can “kill their darlings” and nix the elements. This can be hard to do, as we may love those elements as much as we love the very stories we write.* However, it’s a decision we eventually have to make with our stories if we want to not only continue with these stories, but share them with as many people as possible.

No author likes to hear that they need to nix something from their story because it adds nothing or brings the story down. However, it’s important to hear and learn to deal with them, as in the end, it helps to improve the story and maybe even get it into the hands of many readers. And besides, it’s better than having a lot of people complaining about the problem elements after release, right?

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I have a busy week ahead of me, but I’ll be back before too long. Until next time, stay safe, pleasant nightmares, and if you’re looking for a good isekai anime, let me know. I have recommendations.

*Though I think the creator of the source material for the anime, he did it because isekai stories are hot right now, to the point that they’re inundating the market. It’s a problem we anime fans both joke and groan about.

As many of you know by now, I’m in the middle of editing The Pure World Comes, a Gothic horror novel I wrote earlier this year. The novel follows a maid living in Victorian England who goes to work at the estate of a mad scientist (yes, that’s my elevator pitch for the story). Since a mad scientist features prominently in the story, I thought I’d take a moment to discuss the trope, as it’s extremely common in fiction, especially sci-fi and horror.

With that being said, I decided to do some research before working on The Pure World Comes. I couldn’t find many articles on the trope (and those I did were pitifully short), so I asked one of my Facebook writing groups for help. I got way more responses than I’d expected. Some of them gave me some funny responses like including wild, white hair and a funny accent, or differentiating mad scientists, who do mad experiments, to mad engineers, who build mad things. Some were not helpful at all, like imagining them as autistic overachievers (excuse me? I’m on the spectrum and an overachiever! I take offense at that).

However, there was some good information given to go with the few articles I could find. To start with, the mad scientist trope is over two-hundred years old, with the prototypical mad scientist being Victor Frankenstein of the novel Frankenstein.* However, the stereotypical look of the mad scientist–wild hair, crazy eyes, and “quasi-fascist laboratory garb1“–as well as the outlook for the lab, was influenced by the character Rotwang and his lab in the German silent film Metropolis. Rotwang also had numerous traits we associate with mad scientists (more on that later). After the horrors of WWII, such as German experiments and the atom bomb, and the outbreak of the Cold War, mad scientists began to reflect the horrors and fears of that age, often working on projects that could destroy all or almost all of mankind.

Given the state of the world now, I’m expecting an influx of mad scientists interested in virology and/or social engineering.

Alongside their history, I found out mad scientists have some common subtypes:

Victor Frankenstein (here renamed Henry for some reason) is a great example of an unethical mad scientist.
  • Mythical scientists. These are the mad scientists who seem to be working with godlike powers, either through unexplained, futuristic science bordering on magic or actually studying/utilizing magic items. Science-colored wizardry, as one FB commenter put it.
  • Unethical scientists. These are the scientists who are actual scientists but have dropped their ethics/morals. These types are usually based on the Nazi scientists, the Tuskegee doctors who studied on unknowing black men, and so many more (sadly), though Frankenstein technically falls into this category.
  • Cutting edge obsessive scientists. These types aren’t always so bad. They are good at their work and love it deeply, but tend to get obsessive to the point it can cause trouble for them or other characters. Often, after causing a lot of trouble, they can get a redemption arc. A good example is Entrapta from the She-Ra reboot.
  • Scientists with mental illness. These are self-explanatory, and are becoming more and more common in media these days. This can be a bit of a double-edged sword, as it can be great representation for the disabled, but it can also give a bad name to the disabled by linking their evil behavior to their mental illness.

Obviously, these types can cross over with each other. And there’s probably more than what I’m listing here.

Whatever their type, type combination, or era of creation, all the types have some commonality. For one thing, they generally deeply believe in their goals or research. They also tend to think of themselves as a protagonist in their own personal story. Even the ones who acknowledge they’re evil still believe they’re a main character on the world stage. Pride, greed, or the belief that they know better is generally what drives them, and is often what leads to their downfall.

As for how to write mad scientists, it’s less having to do with the trope and with the character itself. Because of what the mad scientist can do, they’re often used to fulfill a number of needs in stories, but unless you’re making them a satire of the trope or just including them for comical effect, you need to really think about their character. What motivates them? What are their odd ticks or quirks? Think of them like you would any other character and apply the same amount of love and development. Hopefully then you can create a great mad scientist.

Entrapta in the She-Ra reboot is a great subversion of the mad scientist trope.

You can also try going against clichés. Most mad scientists are older white males with nefarious intentions, so going against one or more of these traits and then making the character your own might be a good idea. Looking at you again, Entrapta from She-Ra! You wonderful, robot-obsessed, magic-haired princess, you!

Mad scientists are common characters in fiction and for good reason. And while there’s no sign they’re going away any time soon, there’s plenty of room to innovate and make them your own. Especially if you do your science homework before you start writing.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. This will probably be the last post I make for 2020. If that’s true, I’ll catch you all next year. In the meantime, I’ll be bingeing TV, sleeping and editing The Pure World Comes (I’m currently in the chapter where I reveal who Jack the Ripper is).

Until next time, stay safe (and don’t travel), Happy New Year, and pleasant nightmares!

*Fun fact, Victor Frankenstein never actually finished college, so he’s not a doctor, though people think he is. But since the discipline of science hadn’t been formalized and all the other stuff by the early 19th century, we can still call him a mad scientist.

Veronica dropped onto Netflix back at the tail end of February. A Spanish film directed by Paco Plaza, best known for the critically acclaimed REC films, it quickly gained a reputation as “the scariest film on Netflix.” I try not to pay attention to that sort of hype, but any film that was getting that sort of recognition is likely going to make it onto my watchlist. Last night I watched it, and I would’ve reviewed it right then and there, but it was late, so I went to bed. And then today I had a busy morning and early afternoon. So I hope you don’t mind that I’m getting this post out so late.

Based on actual events,* the film follows Veronica, a Spanish schoolgirl living in Madrid in 1991. Since her father’s untimely passing, her mother has been working long hours at a restaurant/bar, leaving Veronica to care for her younger siblings. One day, Veronica and a couple of classmates bring out a Ouija board so that Veronica can contact her father’s spirit. Instead she contacts a dark entity that seems intent on not only haunting/killing Veronica, but her younger siblings as well.

While I won’t say this is the scariest film on Netflix (Lord knows I haven’t seen enough of their selection to say that), it is a damn good scary movie.

While the film is filled with the normal tropes of many possession movies–things moving on their own, scary invisible or shadowy entities, people acting totally creepy uner the influence of the evil spirit–they’re done so well that you forget that you’ve seen these tropes before. The actors all do a very decent job, especially newcomer Sandra Escacena as Veronica, who really makes you believe she’s this character and sympathize with her troubles. I also seriously loved Sister Death, a blind, elderly nun who helps Veronica realize what she has to do to fight the spirit after her (because of course there’s going to be a nun who gives advice). For an old blind woman, she’s a bit of a badass, and was never dull when she was on screen.

But on top of that, the film doesn’t go overboard with the fact that it’s a period film. Most properties taking place in popular recent decades do everything in their power to remind you that they take place in that decade. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing and is sometimes part of the charm (see Stranger Things or Ready Player One), it’s kind of refreshing to see a film that’s more focused on its story than on its culturally-popular decade.

There are a couple of things that take away from the film. For one thing, there are trippier moments in the film, like a scene where Veronica is running across the print of a page from an occult magazine on the way to her mother’s restaurant, that feel rather unnecessary and add nothing to the film. On top of that, for being the titular character, Veronica isn’t the most developed character. Yeah, she’s a responsible teenager taking care of her younger siblings and misses her father, but those are just character tropes. They don’t make Veronica herself memorable like Carrie on prom night was memorable, or how Annabelle the doll is memorable without being anything more than a creepy, possessed doll. In the end, I’m going to remember the film more than I remember the actual character the film is named after.

And as I said, this film is filled with a lot of familiar tropes. And while I’m fine with that, I know there are a lot of other horror fans who won’t care for that, no matter how well done they are.

But all in all, Veronica is a definitely a new gem in the horror film genre. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving this film a 4.5. Head to Netflix, turn it on, and get ready for an experience you won’t be able to look away from.

*No seriously, something did happen. Apparently in 1992 a bunch of Spanish schoolgirls did use a Ouija board, only to have the ceremony interrupted. One of the girls later died because of a mysterious illness, which some have suggested might’ve been due to demonic possession. So while we’re not exactly sure what happened, there’s enough there that this film has more of a claim to the “based on actual events” tagline than Texas Chainsaw Massacre ever did.

Go to any slasher movie. I guarantee someone will do something stupid. And I also guarantee there’s a reason behind why they did it.

So yesterday I was doing some edits on Rose* and one of the points in the beta reader notes stood out to me. In that particular point, my friend/colleague/beta reader Joleene Naylor pointed out that it was taking the titular character Rose a lot longer to figure something out about the scene that Joleene had figured out much earlier. My immediate first thought was, “Well, it’s horror. Everyone’s a bit slower in horror.” And that thought really stuck with me. Yeah, the characters in horror aren’t always the brightest bulbs in the closet, are they? People in slasher films take too long to realize there’s a killer hunting them around a lake notorious for murders and disappearances, the family stays in their haunted house and might even pretend things are normal even if it’s obvious there’s demonic possession at work, dumb teenagers run upstairs when they should run out the door. They either realize something well after the audience has realized something, or they make really dumb decisions. And it’s such a well-known trope, it gets parodied quite a bit in our media, like in this Geico commercial.

This got me thinking: is this intentional on the part of horror writers? If so, why?

Well, I thought about this throughout the day (couldn’t write this before because I had to go to bed and then to work), and I think that what’s happening is intentional. However, I don’t think the intention is to make the characters stupid idiots.

First, let’s consider something: we’re the audience, and the characters are characters. In our daily lives we’re not keyed up, checking to see if horror-movie circumstances everywhere we go (and if we are, we’re usually recommended to see a doctor about that). It’s only when we sit down for a horror story that we start looking for signs of horror, because that’s what our brains are trained to do. Similarly, unless they’re enjoying a horror story or think they’re in one, characters won’t typically see all the signs of something evil around them unless that evil chooses to make itself known.

There’s also the fact that authors have to tell a story, and often the stories they tell have to be of a certain length. For example, I classify a novel as sixty-thousand words or more, so I have to figure out how to keep a novel going for that long. One of the ways to do that is to make the characters figure things out much slower than the audience, either by only giving them clues slowly or later in the story, or by actually making it so they can’t connect the dots until it’s convenient for the story. And considering that part of the appeal of horror, the thrill of the mystery and the unknown as well as our reactions to it once exposed, this is a sound strategy.

Okay, so making characters slow on the uptake is part imitating people in the real world, part storytelling tool. But what about stupid decisions?

Well, that’s actually pretty easy to answer: they’re under stress. When a character is being chased by a killer or trying to get away from a ghost, they’re under unimaginable pressures. So unless they’ve been trained to think under pressure, like in the Army, they’re not going to make a rational decision. They’re going to make split-second decisions that they hope will ensure their survival, and because it’s a horror story, they’ll likely make the wrong decision. Unless the author says otherwise, of course.

And even if they’re not in a stressful, life-or-death situation, the need for survival can cause us to do very stupid things sometimes, as well as our characters. Polly Chalmers, one of the protagonists of Stephen King’s Needful Things, keeps a charm around her neck, despite suspecting that there’s something alive in it and it’s twisting her personality somehow, because the thing is easing the debilitating pain of her arthritis. In other words, fulfilling a need to help her live.

Sometimes a character acts a certain way either because they’re imitating real people, or the author needs them to be that way.

So it’s not that characters in horror stories are dumb or slow. They’re victims of imitating people in the real world as well as the author’s discretion in storytelling. And we the audience, free of those issues, are able to pick up on things they can’t or won’t for a little while longer.

Of course, we will continue to call characters stupid and wonder how they could not do the smart thing. That just comes with the territory. But perhaps the next time we sit down for a scary movie, we’ll also consider what the characters are going through, as well as what the storytellers behind them decided was best for the characters and their story.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Hope this gave you plenty to think about. I had fun just thinking of it. Until next time, pleasant nightmares.

*Speaking of which, the editing on Rose is going very well. Yesterday I got through four chapters, bringing me halfway through the fourth draft. At the rate I’m going, I could be done before the end of the month. And after that, hopefully it’s a short wait till I find a publisher. God-willing, anyway.

I’ve just released my latest article on Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors. This time around, it’s What is a Mary Sue, and When Can You Actually Apply the Term to a Character (damn, that’s a mouthful). It’s an essay on the Mary Sue character trope, which is honestly one you want to avoid at all costs if you can help it. And in discussing the character, I hope I teach people to do just that. If you’re an author and you get a chance, take a look and see if you’ve ever written a Mary Sue character. Even if you haven’t or don’t write fiction at all, you may find the article illuminating.

And if you like what you see, consider reading the rest of the blog. Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors is a great site for all authors, no matter their background or experience, to learn tips on writing, editing, publishing, and marketing on their own. Written by myself and other dedicated contributors, you’ll surely find it helpful for all sorts of projects. Believe me, I know from personal experience.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope to have another article or two out this week, so keep an eye out for them. Until next time, pleasant nightmares.

Illustration from The Red Shoes.

Illustration from The Red Shoes.

When I was growing up, every protagonist I came across in fiction–comic books and manga, novels, TV shows, movies–were people you automatically liked. They were sympathetic, they had problems you could identify with, or they found themselves in situations and something about them made you want to root for them, even if they were just good guys set up to fight the evils of the world. At that age, I probably couldn’t have imagined a protagonist who wasn’t likable.

As I got older though, I did come across protagonists who, for some reason or another, I just couldn’t like. And I realized, in some cases, that was the intention. Their creators, for whatever reason, wanted these characters to be assholes, or losers, or just so hateful you found yourself cheering a little when they failed. This had me asking: why would you want an unsympathetic protagonist? And can you actually have a good or even a successful story based around one?

I figured out answers to these questions a while back, but I’ve always wanted to blog about them. Now I’ve got the time, so I’d like to go into the strange phenomena that is the unsympathetic protagonist.*

First, why do authors sometimes write unsympathetic protagonists? It seems almost counter-intuitive: why would you want a character whom readers/viewers might hate? Well, one reason is as a moral warning. In the fairy tale The Red Shoes, the protagonist is vain and selfish, and her attitude leads her shoes being enchanted so that when she dances in them, she can’t stop until someone chops them off. I bet a lot of kids got the message loud and clear from that! Another example is from the novel The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah, in which the protagonist, the daughter of a crime boss, tries to regain her lifestyle and reputation after her father loses his empire. However, the protagonist uses mainly crime and manipulation to get what she wants, and looks down on getting a real job or an education. The result is that she ends up in jail and loses everything she ever cared about. The lesson? Crime doesn’t pay, go legit, and listen when people try to help you on the right path.

Another reason is that creators might want to explore territory previously unexplored, and characters whom you might sympathize or consider as heroes doesn’t allow that. Ever heard of Lolita? The entire story revolves around a man having a sexual/romantic relationship with a preteen girl and his attempts to control her and keep her with him forever. It’s a strange novel about desire, unreliable storytelling, and corruption (I think, anyway. I haven’t read this one yet, and given the subject matter, I’m not sure I want to), and it’s not a story we’d usually explore through the eyes of a likable protagonist.

Lolita: a great example of a book with an unlikeable protagonist.

Lolita: a great example of a book with an unlikeable protagonist.

And finally, there’s another reason: sometimes it’s just great fun! In certain stories with unsympathetic protagonists, you get a sort of excitement  that you don’t get from other stories, and this can come from the plot or the characters. In Gone Girl, for example, protagonist Nick Dunne is unlikable for any number of reasons, but you still follow along because you want to know if he really did do something to his wife, and if he’ll wiggle out of trouble whether or not he did do something. Another example we can look to is certain horror films, especially in the slasher genre, where the only mainstay is usually the villain and a lot of gory deaths. As part of that, slasher sequels often come to focus more and more on their villains, and people come back just to see these villains. Just ask anyone who enjoys a good Nightmare on Elm Street or Hellraiser film: they’re there for Freddy or the Cenobites, not for the horny teens who happen to be starring in the movie this time around.

So we’ve established why people create unlikable protagonists. The next question is, can you have a good and/or successful story with an unlikable protagonit? Well, I think that question was also answered above. The Red Shoes has been retold and revamped hundreds of times since Hans Christian Andersen first published his little morality tale. Lolita is considered one of the greatest works of modern and modern Russian literature, as well as one of the most controversial. Gone Girl was a runaway hit with a huge movie based on it. There is plenty of proof that unlikable protagonists can still be part of very good stories.

Neon Genesis Evangelion: great series, annoying lead.

Neon Genesis Evangelion: great series with an annoying lead.

Of course, this brings up another question: what makes a story with an unlikable protagonist good? Well, I often find that either the character is doing something pretty amazing, or the story or world is so amazing that even if you don’t like the character, you keep going for that story/world. Going back to Gone Girl, the protagonist is easy to dislike, but the mystery he’s wrapped up in is so intriguing that you want to find out more. That’s the example of a character doing something interesting. With an amazing story or world, I’d point to the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion: the protagonist is seriously unlikable, but the world he lives in is so cool–it involves teenagers piloting giant robots to fight aliens–that you just want to keep watching.

So you can have a story with a main character whom people may not like. As long as you give people a reason to keep reading or watching, it’s entirely possible. And who knows? Perhaps it’ll be one of the greatest stories ever written.

Just don’t do one centering around a pedophile. I think one of those is enough!

What’s your take on unlikable protagonists? Did I miss any good examples of the trope here in this post? 

*Oh, and in case anyone who’s not familiar is wondering, there is a difference between a hero and a protagonist. A hero is just that: a hero. They save lives, they fight evils, they are the ones we root for. A protagonist can be a hero and vice versa, but a protagonist is the main character, the person whom the story focuses on or from whose perspective we get the story. And as I outline in this post, that difference is bigger than one might think.

I’ve written about this before several times in some way or another, but every now and then I feel the need to shout out to the Internet, “HEY CREATORS OF HORROR, this is one of your students, one who is coming up in your world. Please, for the love of Edgar Allen Poe, STOP DOING THESE THINGS BECAUSE THEY ARE GODDAMN STUPID AND REALLY DETRACT FROM THE STORIES YOU’RE TRYING TO TELL!” I especially feel this need when I think of the Friday the 13th remake, which is a piece of pornographic, drug-overloaded, cliche-ridden piece of crap from the bum of Michael Bay (figures!).

So with that exclamation and obligatory slam on my least favorite horror remake, I think it’s time to list what needs to be scaled back on or just get kicked out of the horror genre all-together.

Too much gore. Ooh, this is a turnoff to me. Excessive gore isn’t scary, it’s disgusting. If you’re going to use gore, it should be used sparingly. It should add to the terror by being sort of like an accentuation, an additive that adds flavor to the movie or novel’s total fear factor. If you’re relying entirely on gore for your scares, then you’re probably doing something wrong. Look at some of the best slashers out there! Yes, they have gore, but they don’t just rely on it. There’s suspense, surprise, terror, a guy coming out of a dark corner when you least expect him and just scaring the crap out of you before he chases the victim and then pushes them through a window and killing them on broken glass. Now that’s scary.

Too much sin factor. Smoking, drinking, getting high, having sex, swearing like a sailor. A lot of horror films, particularly in the slasher sub-genre, are big on punishing people for their sins. I get it. It’s fun to root for a villain and seeing people getting punished for throwing their lives away.But when it’s so excessive that you wonder if you bought a ticket for a horror movie or if you’re watching one of those teen movies where everyone’s stoned and trying to get laid and there’s a ton of unnecessary swearing involved. Seriously, if you need to spice up things by filming a ton of footage involving sex or drugs or whatever, you might need to get your script looked at by a third party.

The stereotypical man’s man and the believing girlfriend. I hate these sort of characters because they’re so predictable. The former is a normal guy who doesn’t believe in anything supernatural except what’s taught in church, and maybe not even then. The latter’s either a housewife or in a menial job stereotypical for women, and she’s the first to come to the conclusion that something’s weird that happens (unless she has kids, who will recognize the weird before even she will). She tries to convince her husband with his father-knows-best attitude that something’s weird, but he won’t believe it. And even when faced with indisputable proof of the supernatural, he’ll still be somewhat skeptical, and would rather use his tool box or his fists rather than search for a supernatural solution or refer to a specialist. In the end he has to believe his one-dimensional wife or end up dead. It’s been done so often, it’s gotten rather annoying.  Please, switch it up a bit, because it’s so stale we’ll have to throw it out if it doesn’t find a way to become fresh again.

Cheesy effects. I don’t care what your budget is, I’ve seen some amazing things done with effects bought on a budget of only a couple million, or even just ten-thousand dollars. About a month and a half ago I saw this late-night horror film that started out promising. Sadly it didn’t work out that way, and part of it was that the special effects were terrible, and the filmmakers seemed to revel in that by displaying their cheesiness at every second. If they’d tried to at least make it difficult to see what the wolves looked like, it would’ve improved the story so much more (and the film could’ve used the improvement, with that shoddy script). The moral is, even if you can’t use expensive special effects, there are ways to do amazing things with it. You never know what you’ll get.

 

Horror is well known for its tropes and cliches, and often fans of the genre will defend those tropes, saying they actually allow for more flexibility and creativity. However, occasionally these tropes are more problematic than they’re worth and, like the ones above, need to go.

What things in the horror genre would you like to boot entirely? What would you like to see more of?

Sorry it’s coming a little late, but you know, my crazy life. And I wanted to watch it taped so I could fast forward through the commercial breaks.

Anyway, I liked this season of AHS much better than Coven last year. In terms of tone it was closer to the first season, though it had some more lighthearted moments than Season 1. Also, the show’s creator Ryan Murphy -incorporated a few musical scenes, so he’s either testing the waters for a crossover with his other show Glee or he’s just trying to keep things fresh. I definitely think it’s the latter. But like I was saying, this is some pretty good horror. Like previous seasons, you can’t tell where the story is going, and no one’s safe from death. Unlike previous seasons, nobody comes back to life or dies twice (shocker!) and the final episode of the season doesn’t just feel like filler with minimal scares to wrap up loose ends, but an actual episode that is kind of terrifying and very entertaining. There are a few loose ends, but I think we can assume what happened based on what happens in that episode.

Also, this is the first season to connect with another season (Asylum), and apparently all the seasons connect, so I’m wondering how they’re going to connect that in upcoming seasons. Minor detail, but it’s important to talk about.

Anyway, back to the review. What I really liked about Freak Show, besides the final episode actually being pretty good, is that the writers were able to tell a really beautiful story about people on the outskirts of society, and while also keeping things scary and interesting. Everyone has their own story, their own darkness, and their own potential to be evil. In fact at several times many characters cross the lines from good folks to villains and then back again. It’s very hard to pin down a central villain, especially during the first six episodes or so. I guess it shows that in an imperfect world, where most of the characters are scared or in trouble with the authorities, you’ll do what you have to in order to survive.

I also like how the story twists and turns, taking us in directions we couldn’t see, and still keeps things within reasonable bounds of imagination. And I loved the guest stars: Neil Patrick Harris and Jamie Brewer as Chester and Marjorie the Doll, Wes Bentley as Edward Mordrake (my favorite minor character) and quite a few others. But the main cast! Whoo, were they amazing. Sarah Paulson playing a pair of conjoined twins and did it so convincingly, I forgot it was acting and CGI! And Finn Wittrock as Dandy Mott deserves an award, playing the most horrific serial killing chameleon I’ve seen outside of Hannibal. And I loved Jessica Lange as Elsa Mars, who is just as evil and as tragic as any character in this show, but with quite the theatrical flare. Plus all the actors playing the freaks! Some actually have certain conditions, others are actors, but all are amazing in their roles.

Finn Wittrock, the man who played Dandy Mott. I hope he comes back for Season 5, he was definitely my favorite actor this season.

The one thing I did not care for is that Twisty the Clown, who appears in the first four or so episodes, is given an intellectual disability and his mental illness as the reason for which he kills. I swear, I’m tired of people with mental retardation being portrayed in these things as serial killers! I’ve known people with intellectual disabilities. At the worst, they can be difficult to handle in a bad mood, but they are normally sweet and kind. Why they’re portrayed over and over this way, I’m not sure. Honestly, the only times I’ve been okay with it is the Friday the 13th and Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchises, but only then. (Please see my article on tropes that need to be retired for more on this subject).

All in all, I’m giving American Horror Story: Freak Show a 4.5 out of 5. Scary, entertaining, beautiful, and a great 4th season for the anthology series with wonderful performances by all the actors in the show. I’m looking forward to the next season (which has been ordered). I hope it’ll be as dark as Asylum. I wonder what they’ll do for Season 5. I heard a rumor that it might be magicians, and there’s reasons to believe that might be it. Other contenders could be a prison season (though that might be too close to Season 2) and one taking place at a summer camp (a favorite of horror fans everywhere). And there’s always the chance of a high school filled with evil, I guess.

Well, that’s all for now. I’m heading to bed. Friday’s a shorter day for me, so I want to be wide awake for it. Goodnight, my Followers of Fear. I’ll try to write tomorrow or the day after if I can. See ya then!