Posts Tagged ‘human horror’

If you’ve been on the Internet lately, you’ve probably heard of Momo and seen the photo associated with her/it. For those who haven’t, Momo is an Internet urban legend that, like Slender Man before her, has gained a sort of life on and off the Internet. Supposedly, she’s a woman or entity you contact or she contacts you online and threatens you and taunts you, predicting your death and encouraging you to do increasingly dangerous tasks and dares, including committing suicide (this latter part is known as the Momo Challenge). Most photos that pop up when you search her are of a woman with bug eyes, long stringy hair and a beaklike mouth. This is actually a 2016 statue from a Japanese artist named Keisuke Aisawa depicting an ubume, or the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth.

Over the past several months, normal people and YouTube personalities have said to have found Momo’s contact information for apps like WhatsApp and posted videos/screenshots of their conversations (not sure if those are faked, though they are creepy). Parents have also reported their children coming across videos of/about Momo on YouTube and YouTube Kids, traumatizing them and causing YouTube a lot of trouble (this is what happens when you have imperfect algorithms and AI that can’t actually examine video content for appropriateness or guideline violations). And rumors of deaths around the world supposedly caused by Momo (though no official police statements have definitively named Momo in any way to the case). This caused parent groups, celebrities, and Internet safety organizations to warn the public about Momo, saying she could pose a real threat to children and teens, and encouraging Internet safety.

Nowadays, any numbers/accounts associated with Momo are reported inactive and people are starting to realize this is just another Internet monster going around and getting a lot of attention. In other words, more hoax than horror (unless people are posing as Momo online, in which case I hope they can be traced and turned into the police). Still, parents and many others are concerned, and it’s not hard to see why.

So what made Momo so popular?

Well, a couple of factors. Like Slender Man before her, Momo is a modern, Internet incarnation of the boogeyman figures and demons that have haunted humanity’s dreams since the cave dwellings. She is an entity, a witch or demon who tempts or influences people, particularly vulnerable children, to harm. We’ve seen this before with Lilith and succubi, various demons across different cultures, and Krampus, among others. As time and technology have changed, so have our fears and the forms and ways our demons target us, the Internet being the newest way, both as a way to reach people and as a way to spread the word.

There’s also the photo of Momo, which as I said is a statue of Japanese artist Keisuke Aisawa’s conception of an ubume. However the photo itself got associated with the Momo character, it fulfills a lot of the same visual requirements to make it an effective creepypasta image. For one thing, it’s human-like, but distinctly inhuman. This matches up with the theory of the uncanny valley, which states that the further something moves away from being human, the less we are able to identify it as human. At a certain point between human and inhuman, images or objects will enter the “uncanny valley,” where we can’t identify it as human or inhuman and we react with anxiety. Momo’s exaggerated features put her squarely in that valley.

That, and she’s very meme-able. In the time she’s entered the public consciousness, Momo videos, images, artwork, and stories have popped up all over the Internet, ranging from the creepy to the funny. Hell, I even made some Momo imagery. Look.

Like it? It’s me using a filter on my phone. And it was easy to make. So imagine how easy it is for other people to take Momo’s iconic look and put their own spin on it. As I said, instantly meme-able.

But there’s one more reason why Momo’s become so popular, and in this way she’s out-paced Slender Man. You see, Slender Man is specified as an impersonal entity who mainly sticks to forests. Outside of the movie, he doesn’t really rely on the Internet to do what he does to people (though the Internet has been great for his career). Momo on the other hand, while her exact nature is up for debate, is much more human than Slender Man. Her picture has features, she uses the human tool of the Internet, and she attacks us in a personal, psychological way.

Even worse, she can be anyone, and we sense that on some level. We get that beyond the inhuman picture, there’s a human intelligence trying to traumatize and harm us. It could be the elementary school teacher, the kid delivering newspapers to the neighborhood, your local politician, your neighbor, the PTA mom, the college student looking for a thrill that doesn’t come from a needle. She’s the avatar of how you really can’t trust anyone on the Internet and can never really know what their intentions are with you. And isn’t being unable to trust your fellow humans the scariest thing of all?

Obviously, I condemn anyone using the Momo persona to cause harm to others. And I would remind everyone that Momo is a fictional character birthed on the Internet, and shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Momo has given me an idea for a story. I look forward to getting it written.

But all that being said, it’s no wonder she went viral like she did. She embodies several types of fears in one persona and image, horrifying and fascinating us all at once. It’s fascinated me to the point that I’ve been inspired to write a story. Not about Momo, but a character like her, one born on the Internet that becomes so viral it takes on a life of its own. I think Slender Man and Momo are only the first of a long line of these sort of entities, and I would like to give my own thoughts on the character type through the best medium at my disposal. I hope it turns out well.

 

And while I still have your attention, I’m still looking for eARC readers for my novel Rose. For those unaware, this is the story of a young woman who starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). If you would like to get an advanced electronic copy, send an email to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com and I’ll put you on the list. All I ask is you consider posting a review on or after the release date. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Good night, my Followers of Fear. Pleasant (possibly Momo-filled) nightmares.

Lately I’ve been working on a new story that’s likely going to be a novelette or novella. It’s about ten-thousand words long at the time I’m writing this, and it’s unusual subject matter for me because it’s human-based horror.

I’ve written before on the differences between supernatural and human-based horror stories, and how authors tend to gravitate to one or the other with the stories they write. Personally, I tend to gravitate towards stories with supernatural threats in both what I read and what I write, But occasionally I do like a human-based horror story. In fact, the scariest novel I’ve ever read was human-based horror (The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum, and that novel still leaves me shaking!), and back in college I wrote a human-based horror/thriller novel called Snake that I had a lot of fun writing.

But this is my first time really delving into human-based horror since Snake, and I’m realizing a few things about it that separates it from supernatural horror. Specifically, the mechanics of such stories. Let me try to explain it: in my mind, supernatural horror stories work something like driving into a dark tunnel that you find out has some dangerous structural issues. Now prior to entering the tunnel, you’ve heard of structural issues, but you’ve been told to treat them like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, as in they’re not real and you don’t have to worry about them. Because of that, you may only half-believe in structural issues at most. Until you start driving into the tunnel, and you come to the realization that not only do structural issues exist, but they can kill you if you’re not careful navigating them.

This is how a lot of supernatural horror stories work: people go into a situation pretty sure that nothing beyond the natural realm can hurt them, only to realize there’s a dark, second world all around them that until now they didn’t believe in, and if they’re not careful, it’s going to kill them.

Human-based horror, on the other hand, works more like a downward spiral. At the very top of the spiral, things don’t necessarily start so bad. There’s probably a hint of evil, but nothing to really alarm you yet. But as you get further down the spiral, things start to get darker. Someone starts showing violent or cruel impulses. Someone else may end up grievously injured or even dead. As time goes on, the injuries or deaths may get more gruesome, or be explored in more detail. The person or persons causing the horror may get nastier, bolder, and crueler. This will only continue to escalate as the characters (and the reader) get down the spiral, and things come to its inevitable head.

We need only look at one of the most famous volumes of human-based horror, Misery by Stephen King, to see this in action. At the beginning, Annie Wilkes is only hinted at being the monster she is. But as time goes on, she starts torturing Paul Sheldon to do as she wants. First it’s small stuff: making him drink soapy water or withholding food and medication. But then Annie gets worse, hitting his legs when he complains about the typewriter, cutting off his foot when he leaves the room, and then cutting off a thumb when he complains about the typewriter breaking down. All leading to that fateful night, after Annie kills a State Trooper, where she and Paul have the battle of (and over) their lives.

I’ll let you know how the story goes as I continue writing it, shall I?

This is the mechanic that I’m keeping in mind as I write this new story. And so far, I’m finding it works. This is quickly becoming one of the most disturbing stories I’ve ever tried writing. Hell, I felt a little uncomfortable while writing one particular scene, so I can only imagine what it’ll do to my readers if I get the story published. And I’m learning quite a bit from writing it too. I’m looking forward to how this story develops as I continue writing it.

I’ll let you guys know how it turns out when it’s finished, shall I?

What tips or insights do you have for writing human-based horror?

There’s been a battle raging among horror fans and horror writers for years. A fierce battle with all the monsters, deaths, and mysterious disappearances that one can expect from such a group. This battle is played out in bookstores and on bestseller lists, in interviews with magazines and television hosts, and even on message boards (because this is the age of the Internet, so why not?). The debate is: which is better, horror stories where the supernatural is the cause, or where humans are the cause?

Surprise to say, this is an actual debate among fans of horror. What makes for a scarier story, one where the horror is caused by something supernatural, or when it is caused by a human like you or me?* Or perhaps some combination of the two? Each side has their own pros and cons, and depending on which you prefer, can have a huge influence on what you tend to read and, if you’re a creator, what you put out in the world. Authors themselves tend to deal in both kinds, but if you observe an author long enough, you start to notice their preferences. HP Lovecraft and Anne Rice seem to go more for horror, while Jack Ketchum likes human horror. His Royal Scariness Stephen King has a lot of supernatural forces in his work, but there’s definitely a partiality towards human-based horror. One needs only read Misery to see that. Even in his more supernatural stories, there are usually human characters who are only to happy to cause pain and death, whether of their own volition (Carrie’s mother and Chris Hargensen in Carrie) or under the influence of a much more powerful force (Henry Bowers and Tom Rogan in It).

A great example of supernatural horror.

So is there a better source for horror? Let’s take a look, starting with supernatural-based horror. Honestly, this one’s easy to explain the appeal: whether it’s been called Satan, Lilith, dark faeries, demons, yokai, or a hundred other names, humanity has been scared of some possible other out in the universe. Something greater than human beings, possibly very malevolent, and ultimately difficult to understand. The only way to survive is to run, placate the monster, or find some way to fight back, and the last one often comes at a high death toll. There’s also greater room for imagination with supernatural stories. You can take forces right out of mythology, use them as they’re typically portrayed, or change up their mythologies. Sometimes you even come up with original creatures, like Stephen King’s Langoliers or the entity formerly known as It. There’s a lot of freedom and potential in supernatural based horror.

On the other hand, there’s a chance that you can fall into a trap of relying too much on a mythical creature’s established mythology. And if you try to create something original, you find it’s extremely difficult to do so. Not only that, but with something non-human, there’s the risk that, unlike a human villain, the reader will have difficulty connecting with them. Some readers really enjoy connecting with villains, which in this instance makes Cthulhu a bad villain choice.

My own human-based horror.

Human-based horror, on the other hand, is a lot more personal, and very true to life. Despite our lofty ideals of goodness and perfection, one needs only look at the news to know that humanity is capable of dark thoughts and acts.  Human-based horror taps into that, delving deep into what humanity is capable of without a supernatural cause or encouragement, as well as how characters and we the audience react to it. It’s a powerful, visceral way to tell a story, and is often quite effective at scaring us with not only the acts of the characters, but at what we ourselves are capable of.

And that unfortunately is also the con of human-based horror. No one likes to be exposed to their darkness or flaws, and this form of horror gets deep into those. Which for some readers can be more disturbing than they would like. Hell, for some writers it’s more disturbing than they would like, sending them to parts of their imaginations they would rather leave alone. And exposure to this sort of horror can not only leave readers scared, but depressed. I’ve written before about how the escape into imaginary horrors can be therapeutic, and sometimes people prefer an escape that doesn’t remind them of the reality they’re escaping. Or as someone from one of my writer’s groups put it, “If I wanted human horror, I’d put on CNN.”

So which is better? Well, I say neither. Like I’ve just shown, both have their pros and cons, as well as their supporters and detractors. Personally, I (and most of the members of one of my writers’ groups) prefer supernatural horror, but we all agree that the occasional jaunt into human-based horror and vice versa are great. Hell, one of my novels, Snake, is human-based horror, and it’s one of my favorite stories.  So in the end, whichever you prefer to read or write, make sure to every now and then dip into the other so as to better appreciate both once you dip out again. And if you write, whatever you write, remember to keep practicing both types, so that someday you can write it well.

What’s your take on this debate? Which is your favorite?

*Still debatable if I count as human, though.