Who’s doing some serious horror movie watching this year? We are in my house. I can’t even list all of the movies we’re watching. We love them.
Well, we love them for the most part. There are a lot of things that I don’t love about the horror genre. Actually, let me be clear. There are a lot of things that I loved just fine the first two or three times I saw them. Now that we’re on about the nineteenth time, they’re played out.
I write horror, and I know I’ve fallen into these pits myself. There are so many horror stories, and so few plots. I’m endeavoring to write better, more unique horror stories. I hope you can avoid them, too.
The screaming dead blond. It was quite unique when the master Hitchcock slaughtered Janet Leich in the first twenty minutes of Psycho. By the time Scream came around, Drew Barrymore’s death was no shocker. Also not surprising, the scrappy brunette character who manages to use her wits to win is done and dead. As a brunette I love it, but it’s still done!
Let’s have some real people in horror books. I know it sucks, because we’re just going to kill them. Probably brutally. But an honest character is always a better choice.
I’ll be right back, Is someone there? And other stupid character traits.
It used to be that horror movies relied on a strict set of morality clauses. We can see that in the three rules of surviving a horror movie from Scream.
Don’t have sex
Don’t drink or do drugs
Don’t say ‘I’ll be right back’.
Bad people almost always died, while the good people generally survived. Recently, there’s been a growing trend of characters acting stupid. Walking into the dark yelling, “Is someone there?” Wandering around in the woods in bathing suits. Locking themselves into creepy ass houses that are probably haunted. Or at least structurally unsound and dangerous. Just saying, a demonic spirit is one thing, but falling through a floor and landing in a basement is no joke.
Can’t we see smart people? Genre savvy characters, who die anyway?
Think about it, that’s so much scarier! No one’s freaked out by some dumb blond running into a freak with a chainsaw. We all think that we’d never be that person, and we’re probably right. But what about a smart person. Someone who snaps some pics with their smart phones, locks the damn door, keeps with the group, and keeps a firearm nearby. How much shorter would some of these slasher movies be if the main characters were packing?
This is why I loved the first Nightmare of Elm Street movie. There was no escaping Freddy! He haunts the dreams of the children who killed him. Even better, they were right to kill him, he was a child murderer. These people were in the right, morally speaking, and their children still suffered. (By the way, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is my favorite horror movie. The actors, including Robert Englund, being haunted by Freddy? Wes Craven’s my hero.)
The dark creature in the creepy house, creepy forest, creepy dark place. Did I mention it was creepy?
Let me tell you about my favorite haunted house book. It’s called The House Next Door, by Anne Rivers Siddons. It’s about a couple who lives next to a brand new house, beautifully built. No one’s died there, it’s not born on cursed land. It’s just evil. It just wants to destroy people who live there, physically and emotionally. It’s a dark, horrifying story.
It’s not set in a place where the floor creeks. No mass murders have happened here. There’s not blood on the wall. There’s no rotting bodies under the floorboards. Sometimes horrible things just happen, and that’s so much scarier.
Anyone can write a good horror story in a haunted woods, creepy supper camp or terrifying train. Write a story that terrifies people set in a brightly lit shopping mall on a random sunny Saturday. Write a story that makes people afraid to finish the book that takes place in a prep-school. A well taken care of prep school.
Predictable beginnings, middles and endings
Let me outline the vast majority of horror movies and books.
A terrible origin story, either how the monster was born or how the place became haunted. Lots of blood, lots of screaming. Lots of gore.
Now we meet our MC. Poor smuck, down on her luck. High school student, broke gal or guy. Someone who’s life is kind of shitty.
Let’s throw them in with a group of people who are all kind of bad. Drug addicts, wrecks. Maybe one or two who are actually responsible for the whole nightmare to come.
Now we’ll see people drop off, one by one. In increasingly gruesome ways. Until we are left with just one or two people who rely highly on Deus Ex Machina to survive. Suddenly their shitty life doesn’t sound so bad.
But the creature isn’t really dead, bwahahahaha!
Can we shake this up a little? Really, do literally anything else!
Look, I don’t know how to write a successful horror novel. I write short horror stories that I feel are pretty creepy. Even the king, Stephen King, doesn’t know how to write endings until he gets to them. So I can’t tell you how to write a great horror novel.
But I can tell you that if you want to write a bland, overcooked novel, with all of the flavor and pleasure of an overcooked steak, then write a novel just like all of the other horror stories.