Monday, June 25, 2007

A Terribly Strange Bed

English oak bedstead,
dated 1621.

I find myself in one, in a figuritive sense, in an attempt to write horror and creep.

Trouble is, the result seems to be rather simple, solid and unadorned, even less decorated with intricate carvings than the the one pictured here.

One of the problems may be with the material, the basic wood stock I chose, which doesn't readily lend itself to deliberate embellishment.

Maybe I don't truly understand conventional horror, and therefore cannot replicate it in my own style. Against the grain, so to speak.

One standard trope in the genre has always irritated me - a version of the unreliable narrator.

I like unreliable narrators - in general - except when they turn out to be the Murderer. Or guilty of some Unspeakable Sin. Or Victims of Remorseless Fate. Or just a Plain Dumb Idiot who Runs On To His Doom.

And that pretty well covers the lot.

Always feel I've been played with by the author, manipulated. Contemptuously, at that.

Is there a particular aspect of the genre which annoys you?


Erik Ivan James said...

When it comes to horror and creep, all of it annoys me! I just can't bring myself to enjoy that genre.

I don't like kinky sex either.

Bernita said...

Who said anything about kinky sex, Erik?

JLB said...

While blood and guts don't annoy me persay, they don't make my skin crawl or "sell" the horror like a good bit of twisted, disturbing mind play can.

writtenwyrdd said...

As a reader, I think the unreliable narrator is great, too, barring the idiots, maniacs and unredeemables you mention so succinctly. So I wondered what it is about them that makes me like them, when written well. I think it's that they are very human in their ability to lie to themselves. The writer isn't lying to us or hoodwinking us; he/she is giving us a flawed character with whom we develop a relationship and understanding. This includes the ability to forgive them their little human foibles. In a way, the flaw is the redeeming quality.

But it is always different book by book, isn't it?

And as far as horror and creep goes, you should write what you like and if you want to write creepy, you can develop your own creepy voice. If you are trying to write true Gothic, though, your female characters are way to self-aware, strong and sarcastic! LOL!

Bernita said...

I largely agree, Jade.
Physical details tend to dull my sensibilities.

That's exactly the main problem, Written!
Re: the unreliable narrator. I don't see it so much as a character lying to him/herself, as much as just having the normal, incomplete - and not omniscient - understanding/awareness of other character's motives, intentions and reactions.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Most people in horror novels (but really mostly the movies) are a bit dumb. There's that old comic sctick about when the disembodied voice in the house says "GET OUT" you should get the fuck out!

I like kinky sex.

takoda said...

Hi Bernita,
You had a posting a while back about Mary Sues, and something about 'sad sod.' I still LOL at that phrase!

I don't read this genre, but what's wrong with having an utterly convincing, trustworthy, heroic narrator?

I'm guessing such a narrator could be just annoying enough that the reader keeps reading in order to prove the narrator wrong. Or...the narrator's voice can be that of "Fate." A detached but reliable narrator, similar to the way Marcus Zuzak uses "Death" as a narrator in 'The Book Thief.'

I say, forge your own way! Write something no one else has written!
(And post it here, so we can be among the first to read it!)


Bernita said...

And their motivations for staying are seldom sufficient, SS!
I've never become bored with the non-kinky kind.

I'm afraid, Chris, the sad little sod here is me.

There's room, of course, for all kinds of narrators.

Thank you, but if I did - though you all would certainly improve it - then I couldn't sell it.

December/Stacia said...


I get very irritated when harm to children is used as an excuse to elicit an emotional reaction. I do see this rather often in horror--maybe I'm just picking the wrong books--but it seems there's far too much bad stuff happening to kids that doesn't serve a purpose later.

In It, little George(right? I don't recall offhand but I think so) gets killed right in the beginning, with his boat. But that death serves a purpose; it gives his older brother Bill a sense of moral outrage which is useful later.

In lesser horror, though, it's often just hceap. The writer doesn't want to bother making us care about a character, so s/he stick a kid in there knowing it will automatically highten our emotions.

I hate that.

Dave said...

I still read horror with a certain delight that's hard to explain. I started out when I was young with Poe, Cthulu and nowadays Poppy Z Brite.
BUT, I find it hard to write becase I tend to overthink everything. So it's hard to live in all that blood, gore and evilness for however long it takes to write the story.

writtenwyrdd said...

You're right, bernita, it isn't always lying to oneself, but just not being able to understand the world around them. That's the author being realistic. Unless they did it by accident...

Gabriele C. said...

I'm extremely picky when it comes to Romance. Much of it is too clichéd and predictable for me, and most of the time I'm pissed at either heroine (often) or hero (sometimes) and don't think they should have a HEA. :)

spyscribbler said...

Yes, in thrillers. The assumption that putting a man and a woman in the same book, is all you need to do to make them 'get together.'

Bernita said...

Hmmm. I sailing awfully close to the wind you've just described, December, in the story I'm working on. Of course, it's not a human child - they just think it is.
But, yes, your point is good. Almost like emotional blackmail of the reader.

I know what you mean by that urge to overthink, Dave, to cover all possible questions that might occur to the reader.

Easier in first person, Written. No one expects them to "know" everything about what's going on.

How do you feel about horror, Gabriele? No happy endings/survival by-skin-of-teeth there either?

Bernita said...

Not quite sure I follow you, Natasha.
Do you mean cases where a male and female character experience the same danger/chaos, they become an easy coiple?

Robyn said...

I hate it when the body count steadily rises. I start to play the game of "Which Supporting Character Gets It Next?" So much murder takes some of the power away.

And while I agree with December on the use of kids, I thought King's Storm of the Century was genius.

raine said...

Trouble is, the result seems to be rather simple, solid and unadorned, even less decorated with intricate carvings than the the one pictured here.

That's not a bed. It's a mausoleum!

Hmmm. I don't have much problem with narrators turning out to be the murderers. I'm pretty good at guessing whodunnit, so if you can fool me--applause, lol.

An aspect that annoys me? Unnecessarily intricate descriptions of blood, guts, plucked eyes, entrails, body parts, etc., seeking to arouse the 'ick' factor.
There's no suspense to them, no finesse. If I'd wanted an anatomy class, I would've signed up for one.

Even the best horror FILMS are those which leave much to the imagination("Psych", "Alien", "The Haunting", etc.).
Leave it to the reader to fill in some of the gaps. Often a suggestion to a vivid imagination will do FAR more than words.

Scott from Oregon said...

In most horror, I could never understand the motivation for staying.

That comedy schtick mentioned by SSatS was Richard Pryor talking about how black folk would leave, while white folk stay in the haunted place and try to "cope"...

Horror always seemed rather silly to me. I can't suspend belief that much, so I don't read it...

I also don't really possess the "I'm afraid" gene. There appears to be something missing inside my brain...

Bernita said...

Right, Robyn, too much gore and too many victims tends to diffuse and de-sensitize impact.
Of course, horror isn't exactly the Bobbsy Twins at the Seashore, kids are natural victims both for the evil guys and for writers, I suppose.

"There's no suspense to them, no finesse. If I'd wanted an anatomy class, I would've signed up for one"
Well said, Raine!
I find the "lurk" factor more conducive to high blood pressure myself.

Bernita said...

Scott appears to be The Man Who Never Read King.
It is true that common sense can make mincemeat of a lot of "horror."

Jon M said...

I always think I sign up to the momentary suspension of disbelief a little too wholeheartedly. Horror scares me but it has to be truly disturbing. When I discuss horror with pupils in class, blood'n'guts comes up every time but then when you ask them to say why a horror scene is different from say a war scene, they begin to see that blood and gore isn't the defining motif.

Bernita said...

"I always think I sign up to the momentary suspension of disbelief a little too wholeheartedly."
That used to be me, Jon. Now, I try for the shield of objectivity to defend myself from my own immagination.
And that's clever teaching.

writtenwyrdd said...

To echo everyone else's contribution, it's not what you see, it's the anticipation.

The most scary horror moment I ever saw (drove my nails into my boyfriend's arm) was that scene in Alien when the guy's calling the cat. First, you think he's getting eaten; it's the cat. Then, you feel like he's actually safe, and he really get's it.

Scott from Oregon said...

I absolutely loved "The Shawshank Redemption", but yeah, I could never get to chapter 3 with his scary stuff...

Dave said...

A note about Stephen King. I first read CARRIE in hardback and while it was a good scare with lots of blood, it had a diffuse and very subtle ending.
Both the book and the movie end with that gravel pit where the house used to stand and the sign "Carrie White Lives in Hell." King leaves it that way in the book. But in the movie, the hand reaches up and grabs the dreaming girl. It's the sudden and unexpected that scares in the movie, while it's the mundane and ordinary that scares in the book.
My 2 cents about Stephen King.

LadyBronco said...

I am also one of those who intensely dislikes gore for the sake of gore.

Anticipation is the best way to scare the hell out of someone. If an an author doesn't beat the reader over the head with needless gore - rather, just allow the reader to imagine what is going on that the author *isn't* telling - and you have a formula for a fantastically scary tale.

Bernita said...

GOOD example, Written!

That's an interesting discrimination, Dave. Thank you.

A vote for foreshadowing. Thank you, Lady B.

spyscribbler said...

LOL ... let me try again. I recently read a book where two men were trying not to be killed. As they went around trying to figure out who the bad guys were, they were ordered to take a woman on an operation. (Around page 150.)

Then they flitted around the world trying to beat the bad guys. They barely said a word to each other--no chemistry, no nothing.

All of a sudden, around page 250, the third guy exits. The boy and girl look at each other, and out of the CLEAR BLUE, they suddenly are intensely attracted to each other, in love, and go have sex.

I was stunned, LOL.

I would bet my bottom dollar that he wrote the book without the sex scene, and an editor or agent told him to put one in.

Bernita said...

You're probably right. The horror of absolutely no motivation.