Saturday, April 4, 2009

Who are you? What are you? Who moved the rock?

Now, creatures of the world of literature, please take no offense. They're only words. Just my way of presenting the topic of creating creature characters in horror tales. Before we explore those possibilities, let's first discuss the concept of horror itself.

Horror is defined as "a painful, strong emotion caused by extreme fear, dread, repugnance, etc.". Sounds pretty ominous, doesn't it? While I agree, for the most part, with that definition, I don't believe the concept should be restricted to refer only to ugliness. We have all read horror stories that terrified us and kept us awake night after night. Then again, we have all also read stories and/or seen films that were categorized as horror, but instead of giving us nightmares, we were blessed with fits of laughter. At times, it was simply a failure of the particular media to scare us. Not to blame the writer or producer, but what scares one person silly may not even phase another. Some subjects may cause a universal type of fear, while others may affect only a few.

Then, there are those horror classics, too numerous to mention, that were written to bring a smile to your face. They are deliberately humorous and, more often than not, cross the border into ridiculous. So, when you begin writing a horror story, and you start lining up your cast of characters, consider your desired outcome. Do you want to scare the socks off your readers or infect them with a case of the giggles? That's what is going to set the stage for your creature lineup. Now, let's talk creatures.

Animals: There are all sorts of animals that can be used in horror stories. It is not really necessary to create imaginary ones, unless your mind goes blank or you can come up with one that's truly unique. Pick an animal, like a dog for instance, and have an evil spirit possess it. Choose any animal and have an evil spirit possess it. Your story doesn't have to be a variation of the same old, same old if you use this premise. Just don't stereotype your possessed animal and create interesting and unique human characters to compliment it. Your story can end up containing elements no one's ever seen before and it could become a classic in its own right. It all depends on you and where you permit your imagination to go.

Humans with animal characteristics: Now, here is where you need to be extra careful to avoid stereotyping. Bear in mind too that all creatures of this type don't have to be grotesque to be frightening. In fact, sometimes, the more hideous their appearance, the more ridiculous they seem. Now, if it is ridiculous you're after, well, there you go. But, if it's generating paralyzing fear you're after, let's go a different way.

Let's take the vampire. We are all familiar with this killer of the night, with his razor-sharp fangs, dead eyes, ravaged skin, long black cloak, coffin residence... STOP! Scary? Maybe a century ago, but not these days. Maybe it's just me, but don't you think his victims just might be able to see him coming? Of course, he could always change himself into a bat and fly through an open window... Do me a personal favor and PLEASE DON'T USE THAT unless you're looking for laughs, because you'll get plenty with that premise.

If you want to terrify your readers with a vampire however, take a different approach. Sure, he will still need the fangs, but make him deliciously handsome and charming. His dead eyes could become hypnotic, and his skin pale and smooth as the silk shirts he wears. Make him strong and immune to destruction from sunlight. Maybe he could feel a bit run down, but not burst into flames. No black cloaks and coffins either. Make him wealthy and fashionable and prefer a penthouse view. Make him a sexy and seductive murderer--an uncaring, remorseless, indiscriminate killer. Make your vampire someone you could be alone in an elevator with and never suspect what he really is.

The familiar; that's what makes us feel comfortable and safe. It is also what can cause us to let our guard down, and that's how the victims in your story should react. Your readers won't feel all warm and fuzzy when they finish your story, and they'll be putting lights on all over the house, checking the peephole in the front door, and wondering what the creepy new neighbor is planting in his backyard garden at 1:00 am every other Tuesday.

BTW: If you should find out any details about your neighbor, I don't need to know.