Posts Tagged ‘tropes’

Kid you not, July was a tough month. Yes, there were plenty of acceptances and publications that happened, but there was also a lot of shit that hit the fan in my personal life. I’m really hoping August is a much better month for me. Luckily, there’s something already improving the state of things: an article I wrote was published!

You may remember back in May that I announced I had a couple of acceptances, including an article in the Fall 2021 issue of House of Stitched magazine. Well, I’m pleased to announce that the House of Stitched magazine Fall 2021 issue is now available, and it contains, among many great stories from a variety of talented horror authors, my article “The Horror of the Broken Child.”

What is “the broken child,” you may be wondering? Well, I would tell you, but I would rather you read it in the magazine. I will tell you that it is a character trope I’ve noticed quite a bit in horror stories but nobody is talking about. So, I decided to talk about it in the form of an essay. And House of Stitched magazine liked it enough to publish it. I’m very hopeful that the article will be well-received and maybe spark some further conversation and debate on the trope I’ve identified.

Hell, I’m even hoping some people disagree with my assessment. I think more scholarship on horror writing is a good thing, and if people disagree with me and want to write about it, then good. As long as it brings more understanding about the horror genre and leads to new stories and ideas, all the better.

Just be nice if you disagree with me or you disagree with those who disagree with me. There’s no reason to get nasty over certain things, is there?

Anyway, I hope you’ll check out House of Stitched magazine. Besides my article, there are short stories and articles from numerous other authors, including Brian Keene and Maxwell Ian Gold, the latter of whom is a friend of mine and quite the talent. Not only that, but supporting the magazine will allow for more issues to be made in the future, which will allow more writers to publish their work in the magazine. I can’t think of a better reason to buy a copy, can you?

The purchase link is below. I hope you enjoy reading the magazine and that you find my article illuminating. Thanks again to Lisa and the team at Stitched Smile Publications for publishing my article. Now, if you need me, I’ll be spreading the word over social media and then taking care of various other things in my life. Until next time, my Followers of Fear, good night and pleasant nightmares!

Also, “next time” will be tomorrow morning. Something big is coming, and if you’ve been paying attention, you likely know what it is. Looking forward to seeing you there!

House of Stitched magazine: Blurb.com , Amazon

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 fiancĂ© 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.

My friend Kat Impossible over on Life and Other Disasters did her rendition of this tag, and it looked fun. So, let’s pretend it’s Halloween year-round and answer some spooky questions about a WIP (as well as general questions on writing)! And since last time I did Toyland, I think this time around I’ll talk about The Pure World Comes, my Victorian Gothic novel that I wrote earlier this year.

But I’m going to need a blurb first. Hmm…how about this:

Shirley Dobbins has very few wants in life: to be able to become the head housekeeper of a great house someday; to not think on her life before she started working; and to earn a reputation as a reliable maid. So when she is hired by the enigmatic baronet and scientist Sir Joseph Hunting to work at his estate after the sudden death of her employers, she can’t believe her luck.
However, things at the “Hunting Lodge,” as Sir Joseph’s home is known, are far from the ideal position she hoped for. Not only is there barely any staff at the crumbling mansion, but terrifying visions oppress those within at random moments. Those Shirley sees bear resemblances to her past. As she becomes more wrapped in the secrets of Hunting Lodge and Sir Joseph’s scientific work, she unearths a terrible threat not only after her life, but the lives of all those around her.

How’s that? Intriguing enough? Anyway, onto the questions.

GHOST: Have you ever originally put a character/scene/theme in the book and then later taken it out?

  • Character – Yes
  • Scene – kind of
  • Theme – No

I originally had this character, the eldest son of an up-and-coming merchant family, whom Shirley would have feelings for despite her practical, no-nonsense self. However, when I finally started plotting this story, I couldn’t find a place for him in the story, so I axed him out. His disappearance from the story led to some scenes that I’d originally had in mind being axed as well, but I wasn’t that fond of them to begin with, so it worked out.

BAT: Most misunderstood character in your WIP?

I had a bit of a debate on this, considering that we see things through Shirley’s eyes and once she sees someone a certain way, it can take a while for her to see them in a different light. But then I remembered that Sir Joseph Hunting is, without a doubt, the most misunderstood character. He’s not a fan of normal Victorian pastimes or conventions, and he’s squandered his family fortune in pursuit of his scientific research. And Victorians, particularly those of the noble and almost-noble classes, placed a lot of emphasis on appearances, so Sir Joseph’s anathema to them.
It doesn’t help that he’s a bit of a jerk.
That being said, once you get to know him a bit, he’s actually a very sympathetic character. You also see why he devotes himself to his research, and maybe even believe in what he’s doing. If that’s not misunderstood, I don’t know what is.

JACK-O-LANTERN: What is your most common source of inspiration to write?

Is it a law that writers get asked that question at least several times in their careers?
The obvious answer is everything. Stories I’ve read, places I’ve been, people I’ve met, conversations I’ve had, subjects I’ve researched. All these and more combine in my weird head to create stories for me. Some of them are even good and border on original. Those are the ones I try to write into something worth reading.

ZOMBIE: What is your preferred form of writerly fuel? Coffee, tea, etc.

Tea most of the time, though if it’s early in the day, I may have a diet soda. On weekends or certain occasions, I may have something alcoholic, but I’m not able to write as well as I would like when even a little buzzed, so I avoid it.

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

VAMPIRE: Cheesiest trope that made it into your novel?

Okay, you know that trope where two people who don’t like each other spend more and more time together and then they fall in love? It was really popular in movies and a few TV shows back in the 1990s? I may have included that one in this story, though I tried to put an original spin on it.
I’ll leave it for the critics to tell me if I succeeded.

Yeah, the trope from 10 Things I Hate About You. I used a version of it. Hopefully I used it well.

SPIDER: What’s a character in your WIP that’s fine from afar, but you would NOT want to interact with if they ever got close?

I’ve mentioned before that I worked my theory of who Jack the Ripper really is into this story. Well, that’d be my answer. And I’m not saying any more on that until this book comes out!

Famous illustration of Jack the Ripper from Punch Magazine. He figures into my story, but not in a way you might expect.

FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER: Ever split one character into two/combine two characters into one?

Maybe? I can’t recall! I’ve written so many characters over the years, I’ve kind of lost track.

SKELETON: Best advice for adding character baggage without info-dumping?

Ooh, that’s a tough one, especially because it’s a tough subject. I try to spread my characters’ baggage and backstories throughout the story. Think of it like walking on a path, and you find puzzle pieces every now and then. Some are big, some are small, but they fit together perfectly. As you gather the pieces, a picture starts to form. And somewhere along the way, all the pieces come together to form a full picture. That’s how I try to spread character baggage and backstory.
That being said, sometimes I drop very big pieces sometimes if the story calls for it. Not ideal, but it’s necessary. And when that happens, if I’m able to, I at least try to just drop a big chunk here and there, rather than just a whole picture. That way, the information is palatable, rather than an info-dump.

CAT: What’s a polarizing writing/book-related opinion you have?

Why cats? Most of the writers I know are cat people! Often their cats are as sweet as their owners! I plan to get cats as soon as I have a bigger space. Preferably a three-bedroom house with a nice front and backyard and an attached garage.
Never mind. I don’t really have any opinions like that. At least, I don’t think I do. I could tell you about some books I didn’t care for, but they’re the kind of books either people like or they don’t. Sorry I don’t have a scandalous answer. You’d get a better answer with my controversial movie opinion, so I’ll tell you that: I enjoyed The Last Jedi, problems and all. There, I said it. What are you going to do about it?

DEMON: Most frequent writing distraction?

Anime and TV shows. Once I get started on a binge, it’s hard to stop. Either that or my cell phone.


Well, what did you think of my answers? Do you want to read The Pure World Comes now? Let’s discuss.

Now for this tag, tagging isn’t necessary. So if you want to do it, all the power to you. I hope you have fun and make sure to link back to me so I can read it.

That’s all for now. If anyone needs me, I’ll be casting magic to save this country. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

I’ll admit, when I bought my ticket to see this movie in the theaters (yes, I went to a theater), I didn’t have high expectations. It had a good trailer, but plenty of bad films have good trailers. But I wanted to see some new horror, and who knows? It could surprise me.

Surprised, I was.

Come Play follows Oliver, a young, non-verbal autistic boy who is stalked by someone named Larry, who wants to be his friend. However, Larry isn’t human. He’s an entity, one that lives in the world of the digital and the Wi-Fi and interacts with our world through electronics. And he wants Oliver to be his friend, whether Oliver wants it or not.

First off, I thought Oliver ‘s actor did a great job playing an autistic character. As you know, I’m on the spectrum, and I recognized myself as a child and as an adult in Oliver. Stimming to stay calm, going to therapy, dealing with people who don’t understand what you’re going well. And I’ve been through the experience of kids pretending to be nice to me only to show a nastier side. Believe me, the struggle was (and in some ways, still is) real.

As for the film itself, it wasn’t half-bad. Jacob Chase, the writer and director, did a very good job of putting together a unique monster story. There were several moments where the atmosphere was tense and I was kind of afraid. And the jumpscares, while in another film would have been over the top, fit very well here. And I definitely didn’t see the final twist coming until it showed up.

The use of the villain Larry was also done very well. He’s not based on any sort of ancient mythology or anything, so points for originality. And yeah, the monster using a children’s book has been done by better films (*cough* The Babadook *cough*), but it’s given a different spin here, and the fact that Larry can only manifest through our ever-present devices and electronics added a certain element of danger you don’t normally see in these sorts of horror films. We also don’t see Larry that much, and when we do, he’s usually in shadow so we can’t make out all the details. Makes the fact that he’s basic CGI easier to handle.

Of course, the film does have its issues. While Larry was used well in the movie, I never felt entirely afraid of him. Also, the film relies on a lot of tropes we could get from a below-average Blumhouse movie, so it gets a little tropey and predictable at times. Especially the second half.

On the whole though, Come Play is good. It’s not great, but it’s not terrible either. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 3.8. All in all, I’m glad I went out to see it. And if you need a bit of new horror as well, maybe you will be too.

That’s probably it for October, my Followers of Fear. I hope you had as great a Halloween season as I did, despite the pandemic and all that went with it. Let’s hope November is good as well.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares and WATCH OUT FOR THAT TENTACLE!!!

Your protagonist is faced with a terrible choice. Whatever choice they make, they’ll be gaining one great thing but losing something else that’s equally important to them. Which one do they choose? Why can’t they have both? And is that even a possibility?

Sound familiar? This is actually a pretty common trope in a lot of fiction, the “Two Big Life Choices” trope. And I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest fan of it, at least in theory. I see its use, but as the title of this post indicates, the trope has its limits.

Let’s quickly go over it with a hypothetical example, shall we? You’ve got a character, a protagonist who has a big life choice set ahead of them and they have to make a choice soon. Let’s say it’s a young man who is given the chance to be the leader of a powerful mafia clan. His parents, friends and the clan itself want him to take over the clan, and saying no could lead to consequences for him, his parents, the clan and many innocents. On the other hand, he has a girlfriend and child that the former doesn’t know about just because of all that drama, and he wants to stay with them. Problem is, if he accepts the leadership position, he’ll have to leave his family forever to keep them safe. Which will he choose?

This is the Two Big Life Choices trope. And you’ll find it in many different places throughout fiction. Most recently, I found it in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Netflix, and that inspired this post.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has a great example of this trope in its first few episodes.

But as I said, this trope does have its limits. To be specific, while in able hands the trope does create for some strong tension and storytelling while the protagonist goes back and forth between their choices, it will eventually lead to a choice being made. Otherwise, the audience will lose interest with the constant hemming and hawing.

In our hypothetical example, the protagonist could choose to join the mafia clan, destroying his relationship with his girlfriend and child, as well as hardening/numbing all of them to everything that happens from here on out, but allowing one of the most powerful mafia clans in the story’s world to survive under a strong leader. On the other hand, he could give up the mafia clan and run away with his family, leading to his happiness but the dissolution of the clan or it being passed to a leader who will hunt him down for leaving the clan in the lurch, which means they’ll be on the run for the rest of their lives.

You can see where my problem with this trope comes from.

Sometimes though–not every time, but sometimes–there’s a third path to take. This is when the protagonist actually decides to defy convention and take both options or neither one, forging an entirely new road. In the case of our hypothetical story, the protagonist could demand that since all the other options for clan leadership suck, he’ll take the job but only if he’s allowed to marry his girlfriend and raise his child with her under the clan’s protection. This could lead to all sorts of interesting conflicts as the protagonist deals with the strains of trying to be a husband and a father while at the same time dealing with the demands and politics of leading a powerful mafia clan. And for many audience members, this could be the most wished-for option, even when it doesn’t seem all that likely.

Conversely, the protagonist could decide “screw it” on both options and just run in the exact opposite direction, but I’ve never seen that option employed and I have doubts about the quality of the story if it is used. Or the quality of the character.

The managa Nisekoi uses this trope very well, especially in the final arc.

Now, despite its limitations and while I’m not exactly a big fan of this trope in theory (which might limit how much I use it in my own fiction), I do admit that when done right in practice, it is amazing. One story that uses this trope extremely well is the manga Nisekoi, where the “Big Life Choice” is the protagonist trying to decide between two girls he has feelings for in the final chapters of the story. I freaking loved that manga, and looked forward to every single one of its twenty-five volumes. Another great example is the above-mentioned The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, where this trope is a driving force through the first couple of episodes of the first season. And as we can see from the show’s critical reception, people (and this half-human demon lord) love the show and can’t wait for Season 2.

So yes, while this trope does have some limits, it can make for some fun storytelling. The thing to keep in mind while using it is, beyond an interesting set of choices for both character and audiences, keeping the drama and tension high while at the same time keeping it from being melodramatic, as well as figuring out how best to handle the drama that ensues once the choice has been made.

If you can do that, you might just have the makings of a very engaging story. One that can last quite a long time, and will have fans for years afterwards.

What are some good examples of the Two Big Life Choices trope?

Do you use the trope in your own work? What tips do you have for using it?

Slender Man has been one of the most talked-about fictional figures to be created in the past ten years. It seems that it was inevitable that a major film adaptation of the character would come out, though nine years after the character’s introduction and two or three years after his peak in popularity seems later than I’d expect. But since the film’s trailer came out, there’s been a lot of discussion on the film, not just whether it would be any good or if it was too late for a Slender Man film, but also if there should even be a film based on the character. I won’t touch on that last subject (that’s something for a post for another day), but I can answer the first two.

Starting with if the film is any good, I’m going to say I have the same feelings towards Slender Man as I did to The Forest: a concept with great potential, but an execution with poor payoff.

Based on the famous Internet boogeyman, Slender Man follows four teen girls who find an online video that’s supposed to summon the titular entity. Soon after, they start getting sick and having nightmares. When one disappears, the remaining three realize that something is afoot, that they are being watched and stalked by an entity alluded to in folklore and on the Internet by a variety of names. And it won’t leave them alone.

The problems with this movie are numerous. For one thing, this movie is excessively trope-filled. And while we horror nuts love our tropes, we like them done with a little style, or a bit of love, or even some subversion. And we never like the film to be so trope-filled that it’s hitting us over the head with them. None of that love is here, and thus the tropes ring hollow. In addition, the film fails to build an atmosphere. Watching the film, I didn’t feel creeped out or terrified as I might have with another film. I just felt neutral the whole time, even when they are trying to scare me with disturbing footage (again, in another film this might have been terrifying). When you have a horror film filled with hollow tropes and no atmosphere, that doesn’t bode well for said horror film.

On top of that, the characters are pretty flat. It’s almost like they have variations of the one generic teen girl personality. I know you only have so much time to build personalities in a film that focuses on scaring the shit out of you, but you could literally shift these girls into each other’s roles, and it wouldn’t make much of a difference.

And finally, there are plot threads that are left hanging. They just present some threads, and never wrap them up. I left the theater with a lot of questions: what happened to that one girl we last saw looking out a window? Is the character Wren a preacher’s kid? Shouldn’t that matter more to her character? What happened to that one dude? We kind of just forgot about him.

Such potential for this character. And they wasted it with his first official film outing.

So yeah, Slender Man doesn’t have that much going for it. Does it have any good points? Well, the actors are decent. They’re not given much to work with, but what they do with it is pretty good. There are a few effective jump scares. And for all its faults, the film seems to have some respect for the Slender Man character and mythology. They really tried to incorporate as much as they could of the mythology into the film, and it shows.

But other than that, this film is poorly written and overly-reliant on tropes, with uninteresting characters and a lot of plot threads that just don’t get resolved. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Slender Man a 1. If you want a horror film based off a popular folklore character, there has to be better than this.* In the meantime, I would skip this one. And hope the next time a film about a creepypasta character is made, it’s done a lot better than this.

And as for whether it was too late for a Slender Man movie, I don’t think so. There’s always an opportunity to make an old story or idea new and relevant again (look at last year’s It, for example). I just feel that Slender Man was too reliant on the character’s past popularity and thus didn’t put that much work into making a good movie. If they had, this could’ve been something awesome, rather than a pointless piece of commercial fluff trying to make a buck off of something popular. Like The Angry Birds Movie.**

*Hell, there’s a better Slender Man film out there! You see, this is the first official Slender Man film, with the permission and blessing of the copyright holders over the character (yeah, he’s not as public domain as I thought he was). There was one a few years ago made without permission, a found footage film also called Slender Man that I honestly enjoyed more than this. It wasn’t the most amazing thing, but it was a good deal better than this piece of crap. Too bad it wasn’t official, because I prefer it over this one.

**Or the Friday the 13th remake. Okay, that’s not commercial fluff, that’s just another crap film that takes a great horror character and does everything wrong with him. And until something better is produced to remove the stain, I’LL NEVER STOP HATING ON IT!!!

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.