Posts Tagged ‘writing horror’


Yesterday I received a text from a friend of mine who has been reading my manuscript, The White Room. “I can’t believe you killed him!” he said, referring to one of the characters in the story. I explained to my friend the reasons behind the macabre act and why it had to be done… and it got me to thinking about the reasons we kill some of our favorite characters.

 

When killing a character that the reader has invested in, an author walks a fine line between further engaging the audience and losing them altogether. The key to successfully murdering a make-believe person without repelling the reader lies in the reasons behind the character’s death and the string of events and ultimate outcome it provides.

We’ve all read stories or seen movies where a character we love dies for no good reason. At best, this divorces us from the active role we felt we were playing in the story. At worst, it offends and alienates us entirely, angering us enough to put the book down, change the channel, or otherwise find new and better things to invest our time in. Shock value, convenience, gore factor or just plain whimsy are not good enough reasons to kill someone you’ve asked the audience to care about.

The character my friend was referring to was the hardest character I’ve ever had to kill. My initial intention was to let the guy live, but as was pointed out to me in the process of writing the book, he had to die. He had to die not only for the sake of moving the story forward with its integrity in tact, but mostly, for the sake of propelling my protagonist forward and arming him with the conviction and wrath he would need in order to believably make the choices he had to make.

I did everything I could to find a way to reach the end of my story without killing this guy. For many reasons, I was incredibly attached to this character and accepting that he had to die was a gradual process that took place in slow sections. I fought with myself and with my mentor the whole way… but when the story was finished, I understood. Reading the manuscript from beginning to end, I realized that this character’s death was vital in the overall power of the story.

Murdering my all time favorite character was a good learning experience for me as a writer. I learned that, as it is in life, some things need to be compromised for the greater good; that even in the world of fiction, there is a price for everything… and if you want to write a good, strong story with enough emotional impact to keep the readers reading, sometimes you have to do things you don’t necessarily want to. I learned to tiptoe the precarious edge of good storytelling and cheap shots; that the death of a beloved character must be a kind of fictional human sacrifice for the greater good of the story. I learned the bottom line of all storytelling:  if it serves to further strengthen the story, do it… and if not, don’t.

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     I like to kill people and as of this moment, I have killed eleven of them. Not real ones of course, but fictional ones. I don’t know that I would enjoy murdering a real person. I don’t think I would be very good at it for one thing, and for another, it just seems too messy… but give me paper, a pen and a storyline, and it’s all I can do to let anyone get off of the page alive.

     I don’t know what it says about my psyche, that I so enjoy murdering make-believe people. Believe it or not, I don’t have any unusual fixations with death or violence, but it would be interesting to see what a psychologist might say about it. My best personal guess is that it derives from a childhood spent watching horror movies and reading gory books. Then again, I have to wonder what drew me to that kind of story in the first place~ so it becomes a kind of what came first, The chicken or the egg? ordeal. I don’t know the answer to that, and for the most part, I’ve given up trying to figure it out, but sometimes, something makes you stop and wonder why you are the way you are.

     I was at a writing event with my friend Joe a few weeks ago, and as we introduced ourselves, we were asked, “So, what do you write?” Joe’s answer was quick and confident, but when I was asked the same question, I hesitated. “Ummm… horror, I guess,” was my answer. This awarded me some chuckles and some confused looks. “I don’t ever set out to write horror,” I said, explaining myself, “but that’s just the direction it always seems to go.” They nodded their heads in understanding and I realized I was among others who understood the strange phenomenon of fiction writing; that I was home so to speak, and it made me wonder how much of what we write is a conscious decision and how much of it just is what it is.

Although I knew that the project I am currently working on with Kim Williams-Justesen was going to be horror from the beginning, I still didn’t expect it to be quite so gruesome. And as for the one I wrote before it, I had no intention of it going so dark. It will be interesting to see what shape my next project takes on as I don’t see any way it could possibly fall under the horror genre. Still, I somehow get the feeling that a little bit of that will creep into the story, with or without my consent. The question then is, do I allow nature to run its course, or do I steer the story in a milder direction? Is horror just a part of my writing voice that I need to accept, or is it  something I need to learn to control? And is that even possible? Again, I don’t know the answer to those questions, but I will soon find out.

     In the meantime, I’m having a hell of a good time shedding fictitious blood by the bucketfuls and will be sad when my current project, where murder and violence are expected, is finished.  To me, there is true art in (fictional) murder, and everything from the shower scene in Psycho to the contemporary and far more complex murders in the Saw movies, make it clear to me that I am not the only one who feels this way.

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And P.S. ~ The beast has been unleashed.

Beautiful Monster is now available in eBook and paperback editions at Damnation Books: http://www.damnationbooks.com/book.php?isbn=9781615727742
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