Posts Tagged ‘stress’

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.


Well, Wi-Fi’s back, after being off for about a week. It’s the highlight of a week that’s been rather rough on me.

Don’t get me wrong, for the most part I’m loving Germany. I’m getting great work experience that’ll definitely come in handy after this internship, I’ve got great prospects for afterwards, I’m learning a lot about this country, its people and the language everyone speaks. And I’m seeing and doing amazing things that some only dream of doing.

But like anything in life, there’s ups and downs and lately I’ve been getting a lot of downs. My catchphrase lately is “if it’s not one thing, it’s always another”, and it definitely applied this week when a lot of the time I felt stressed and fatigued and just plain miserable. In other words, not me. At some points I wondered if I’d made a mistake coming to Germany. At other times, I wondered if God was maybe punishing me for something I’d done (perhaps getting into Tarot was a bad idea after all).

What’s been causing this, you ask? A number of things. Work, for one. It’s good people and it’s got great benefits and I get to write articles, which is fun. But often I’m doing tasks that nobody likes doing, and they stress me out. There’s also a¬†hundred different that for some reason or another are mixed up or unresolved and when that happens it comes back to bite me in weird ways. I only just found out that somewhere along the line, my mailbox wasn’t properly put into the system, so I wasn’t receiving any mail! You can imagine the annoyance fixing that was!

There are other problems, as well. It’s not easy to go shopping. The closest supermarket is limited in what it has (and it’s in German, so I can only get things I can make on my own), and the base’s commissary is a trip to make, so unless someone’s providing a car, I can’t go there to get the stuff I’d like to cook with. So this leads to me eating things that may not always be good for me, which affects my health (and I was starting to lose a little weight).

And you already know¬†there was the Wi-Fi situation. For a week because of a bank error we couldn’t connect to the Internet. And let’s face it, you need Internet to live in this world. So much of our lives is invested in it these days, being cut off at home and having limited access at work was another trigger for stress.

Add in a few other things, and it got really bad for me some days. Today, I even snapped at my roommate who was trying to help me resolve a problem. I apologized right after I realized what I’d done, but it was still awful and I felt really bad for doing it. And there I was, beating myself up for that. Another problem.

As I’ve been saying from the beginning, it’s been a tough week for me.

But there are reasons to feel optimistic. For one, the weekend’s here, and our Wi-Fi’s been restored. Always a reason to rejoice there. I can relax at home and watch Netflix, or go out on the town and explore areas I haven’t seen before. And while I was without Internet, I got a lot of work done. I finished editing Video Rage, rewrote Streghe, wrote a lot of blog posts on MS Word which I would post at lunch the next day, and I wrote two outlines for short stories I plan to write before starting on the next draft of Laura Horn. Definitely not bad. Pretty prolific, actually.

Plus after kind of getting off it once I got to Germany, I’ve started meditating again. I think that made a major difference. Meditation lifts my mood, makes me calmer and helps ground me. Not doing it affected my mood, so I’m definitely trying to make it part of my life again.

And now that the Internet’s back, I can also Skype with my folks when they’re online! That’s a huge reason to celebrate right there.

And the other problems…well, I’ll resolve them somehow. I’ve got to think positive. Can’t let myself mope over them. After all, you can’t accomplish much if you spend your whole life depressed over every little thing, and I certainly don’t plan on that happening to me. I’m doing what I normally do, and I’m going to seize life by the horns. It’s how I’ve gotten this far, after all.

So wish me luck and encouragement, my Followers of Fear. After this week, I’ll need it so I don’t have a repeat next week.

Have a great weekend!