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On Writing: Horror

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Postby MileOut » Mon Jul 29, 2002 7:27 pm

I thought I'd write more writing tutorials for the forum. As yet this Horror tutorial is unfinished, and I'll be adding more to it over the week. I then hope to write stuff on other genres too.

<span style='font-size:17pt;line-height:100%'>On Writing: Horror</span>

<span style='font-size:15pt;line-height:100%'>Index</span>

1. Introduction;
2. Looking at horror concepts;
3. Crafting horror;
4. Horror genres;
5. Innovation in horror.

<span style='font-size:15pt;line-height:100%'>2. Looking at horror concepts</span>

i - Getting ideas;
ii - Finding the right characters;
iii - "Selective" researching.

<span style='font-size:15pt;line-height:100%'>i - Getting ideas</span>

Looking back on possibly the two greatest horror novels of all time, Dracula and Frankenstein it's surmisable to say that the authors in question were the proverbial one-hit wonders of their day. Each wrote other novels, none of which made much impact on the literary scene, or the history of said scene. So, what was it that exemplifies these stories? What makes the blood-sucking Count so frightening? And why is Victor Frankenstein's obsession - and goal - horrific?

Originality. Not the fact that the archetypes included within the works were truly the authors' work (afterall almost every country in the world has its own particular vampire legend) but the original way in which they manipulated the concept of a vampire, of man making another living being. If another author had aspired to write Dracula then we may now know the Count as one with an abnormal passion for blood rather than a necessity which is, in turn, supernatural.

For aspiring horror authors looking to make interactive fiction, the success of said novels is a perfect example of the onus on them to create original works should they wish to become successful in their field: try changing the setting, or the date, introduce new characters and new technologies, explore new attitudes, teachings, and beliefs.

To begin looking at creating a horror game the author must first come up with an idea. As with all writing, the best ideas are either new or undeveloped, although ideas that the author is comfortable with are perfectly okay, as is an idea that it can be assumed a market potentially - or actually - exists for.

When it comes to original ideas - or spins on traditional tales - actual originality is not guaranteed by the idea as the author typically does not follow the market. How often now do we see stories such as people discovering they're synthetic or alien when tragedy befalls them, or vampires contracting HIV or AIDS, ghost families returning to save their offspring, machinery with life of its own, or the recent trend towards tormented women fighting back and mutilating and/or killing men as has, most recently, been evidenced in Miike Takashi's film, Audition. Ideas like this are neither new or original; they should be left alone.

Of course, for the author to be comfortable with their ideas then they should pursue a subject or topic that they are knowledgable on although the lecturer approach of "write what you know" can be discarded as it's not as if your schoolteacher has tentacles, or your boss at work is undead, or your neighbour is a werewolf. Comfort, in the idea sense, relates to this: in your game, are you ready to sustain the different lives and opinions of your characters, to ensure that your plot remains watertight, and all loose ends are tied up by the end? Writing horror demands that we become incredibly comfortable with our characters - moreso, probably, than a general story - as description after description of horrific beasts isn't going to frighten our player unless the characters are strongly developed, and remind the player of themselves. Horror's deep-rootedness in the dark and disturbing is to blame - or thank - for this.

Of course, when it comes to ideas, the most likely route taken by the aspiring horror author is to let spontaneity guide them through a "story idea". The general caveat with this method is that games written under impulse tend to drift from their intended genre or mood. Only an author who can satisfy the demands (and restraints) of the game/story being written can make a succesful piece of horror within interactive fiction.

And so, after dispelling the numerous "good" and "original" ideas, we must look at how to come up with those that are truly good and original. Mary Shelley, when writing Frankenstein was inspired by a dream that itself was influenced by a long, eerie conversation, and - as is probable - Milton's Paradise Lost. Bram Stoker came upon the idea for Dracula when he read and mused about people who actually believed in real "vampires."

Everyone has their methods of coming up with ideas; others just find ideas. It is perfectly normal to use dreams, imaginings, and musings to begin the construction of a horror game as is looking at a film or reading a book, and deciding that you have a whole new spin on that story - just remember the "original" ideas mentioned earlier. Artwork, poetry, and music can also be inspirational in developing ideas - the descriptions written in the aforementioned Paradise Lost could prove to be the spark for your game, as could the surreal artwork of Magritte, Dali, and Ernst. Even everyday conversations and phrases are fair game for turning in to a horror game/story.

If you are truly stuck for horror ideas then perhaps you should invest your imagination in other genres although listed below are further suggestions for obtaining ideas.
- think about what sort of horror you want to write: occult? vampire? rampaging geese?
- think about your own phobias: what scares you is a good basis for creating fear because if it scares you then, if you describe that fear well, the player will be scared themselves;
- keep a scrapbook and cut news stories out that may have development potential: natural disasters, animal attacks, serial killers etc.
- going places, explore new places and view familiar places in a new light.

Just remember that, on finding your idea, you must look at it first and decide if the idea is original as nobody wants to play another game that's not original, and then decide if you would be comfortable with it and that it could fit - and remain within - the genre.

<span style='font-size:15pt;line-height:100%'>ii - Finding the right characters</span>

In the paperback publishing boom of the '50s, new publishing houses churned out novels that sold yet never really provided us with any memorable characters. Unrealised silhouettes wandered page to page allowing the overpowering plot to drag them any way it wanted. And if the characters were memorable then it was only because they were scandalously based on famous characters without disguise, and the copycat traits also extended o whole plots - just packaged under a different name, and with poorer quality of writing. One such copycat series of books involved Azan the Apeman which provoked Edgar Rice Burroughs to resort to litigation to save the good name of his Tarzan tales.

The obvious lesson here, regarding writing characters in your horror game are that you should never base anything in your story so obviously on someone else's work. So, always seek to provide your own characters - not just Count Dracula, LeStat, Hannibal Lector, or Freddy Krueger under a different name.

(...to be continued...)

Stewart J. McAbney



Edited By MileOut on 29 July 2002 at 21:18
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Postby Woodfish » Mon Jul 29, 2002 7:33 pm

Aplause :D Keep on going! And do some more of Fiction Focus! Please!
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Postby Sockets » Mon Jul 29, 2002 8:00 pm

Originality, who needs it? Nothing is original these days anyway. Originality shouldn't be your focus. When you make a piece of horror you have to decide. Is this game going to be scary? Or is it horror?

If you aren't frightened it's not horror, in my opinion. It has to be scary. Don't tend to stray too close to reality either. Don't be afraid to make the villain a monster and don't be afraid to not explain things. Serial killers don't need motives for killings. Monsters don't need motives.

The most common mistake today in horror is to explain every little thing that goes on. Would you care about a monster's origins when he's after you? Make characters believable in your horror. Are your characters a bunch of dumbasses?

Let's face the facts. Real people don't go back for their friends in trouble. You are your first priority. Never have the whodunit game. You know, the kind of horror movie that tries to be scary and a mystery at the same time. It's usually done with your typical bunch of wild teenagers.

Your game can be your typical save-the-princess type, and it could still be great. Some people don't know how twisted and disturbing a "cliche" can become. My game, The Haunted Hotel, It won't win any originality awards for it's title(I may change it to a more proper name), but who cares? Game starved 'drifters will go for anything with a great description.

There aren't any good horror games/movies today, because we have forgotten about the monster. People wanted explanations so we gave them slashers. That sucks.

Remember, nothing is out of bounds in horror. No matter how disgusting, freaky, and downright stupid it seems. It's the way you present it that makes it believable(Leatherface, Chucky, American Pyshco, AP2).

Have a horrific day!

PS. That's why they call me the Master of Horror.
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Postby MileOut » Mon Jul 29, 2002 8:16 pm

When you consider what a slight part the weird plays in our moods, feelings and lives you can easily see how basically minor the weird tale must necessarily be. It can be art, since the sense of the uncanny is an authentic human emotion, but it is obviously a narrow and restricted form of art... - H.P. Lovecraft


When you make a piece of horror you have to decide. Is this game going to be scary? Or is it horror?


Sockets,

Horror isn't about "being scary": it's about entertainment and frightening in equal measures. It's about understanding ourselves and our fears. It's about art.

We work in the dark - we do what we can - we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art. - Henry James




Edited By MileOut on 29 July 2002 at 21:17
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Postby Sockets » Mon Jul 29, 2002 8:23 pm

Sockets,

Horror isn't about "being scary": it's about entertainment and frightening in equal measures. It's about understanding ourselves and our fears. It's about art.


Not to me. I write to fright. You write to entertain. That's my opinion. It is about being scary to me. Sorry, if we don't agree. Remember that other people have opinions so don't tell me what it is, I know.
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Postby MileOut » Mon Jul 29, 2002 8:37 pm

I wasn't writing on a personal level, but looking at the scene as if part of a general concensus, so I can't say we disagree.
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Postby Sockets » Mon Jul 29, 2002 8:41 pm

So do we agree?(Now I'm confused)
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Postby MileOut » Mon Jul 29, 2002 8:42 pm

I write to fright.


How do you fright?
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Postby Mercury » Mon Jul 29, 2002 9:06 pm

..



Edited By Mercury on 06 Aug. 2002 at 12:58
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Postby Sockets » Tue Jul 30, 2002 2:25 am

Thanks Mercury, that makes me feel a lot smarter. :D
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Postby Ravenous » Tue Jul 30, 2002 2:30 am

Sockets wrote:There aren't any good horror games/movies today, because we have forgotten about the monster. People wanted explanations so we gave them slashers. That sucks.

I DEFINITELY agree with that piece. 'Tis a sad world when movies like Scream 3 can be considered horror.
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Postby En Kerklaar » Tue Jul 30, 2002 3:32 am

Horror is all about the delivery, in any medium. Originality in ideas helps, but originality in presentation is the key.

Let's say my idea for a horror game is your generic slasher film premise. We have, say, five people camping in the woods. Two guys, three girls.

Slowly, they start to get killed. The girls first, of course.

The killer is apparently a knife-wielding maniac who wears a mask of some kind.

After that synopsis, you're thinking, "Yawn. Pass."

Okay. The idea, of course, has been done before. Hundreds of times. So what about the delivery?

First things first: how do we present the killer? The answer: as little as possible. Sockets and Mercury are right in implying that the less we know about whatever is happening, the more unsettling it has the potential to be. So for the first few killing scenes at least, we make it dark out, so we only get glimpses of a knife glinting. Blood splattering. The first killing can even just be a scream and a corpse found.

Let the reader guess a little.

So now, say two people have been killed. Two girls, of course. Now say, the surviving girl and guys are hiding out in a cave. The killer doesn't come. They don't hear him. But they're too afraid to go outside.

Eventually, they all fall asleep.

They wake up the next morning. The sun is shining. One of the guys, Mike, wakes up with the remaining girl, Mary, his girlfriend, fast asleep, hugging him close. She must have moved in to be him during the night.

He kisses her sleeping form and gently removes himself from her embrace. He intends to go and see if the coast is clear.

So he rolls her over. And that's when he sees that most of her stomach has been ripped out.

And she's been cut in a million places. Private places.

So now Mike is freaked the hell out. His screams wake the other guy, Dan. His best friend. Dan screams. Mike screams. They both scream for a good while.

Then the realization sinks in. The killer was there. Right there.
He could have killed all of them, but he killed one.

So now they're just trying to escape. It's daylight. They should be able to leave the cave and go get help. They should be able to get out of the woods and get help.

Except when they leave the cave, it's dark out. Pitch black. Which is wierd, because they both could have sworn light was streaming in to the cave while they were in there.

So now they have no idea what's going on, and they run. As they run, Dan trips. Mike doesn't notice until he's quite a bit past him.

Then he hears Dan scream.

Then silence.

Now Mike runs. It doesn't matter where. He's desperate. He thinks of all the people close to him he's lost, but most of all he's just thinking: escape.

So he runs. And after awhile, he realizes there are no sounds of pursuit. He slows down to a jog.

Eventually, he comes to a full stop, to catch his breath. He listens. Nothing.

So he sits down, and starts to cry. He thinks of his friends. He thinks of Mary. He thinks of Dan....

Dan! It takes Mike awhile to realize, someone is crying with him. It is of course, Dan.

"Dan! Man, you made it out okay!" Mike is overjoyed. "But I thought..."

Dan says nothing. Just makes this choking, sobbing sound in his throat.

".... man?"

Then Dan's face kind of melts away. Then his skin. A mask is revealed.

It's the killer.

Mike tries to get up and run, but finds he can't move.

Then the killer takes off his mask, to reveal the face underneath. Or lack thereof.

Because there's nothing underneath. No face. No eyes, no ears, no nose, no mouth. Just smooth, clear, white skin.

After a long silence, the killer pulls out his knife, and cuts a long gash across the bottom of his face. Then two slits near the top. Then another in the middle.

It's a happy face.

Mike is sobbing now. He doesn't know what's going on. He screams at the thing in front of him incoherently, asking for answers.

Lowly, gruesomely, the thing starts to laugh. The sound passes through it's bloody gash of a mouth. It is a laughter accompanied by the gurgling of blood.

Some of it splashes on Mike. Where it does, it starts to burn.

Mike still can't move. He screams with pain.

The thing just keeps laughing in that disgusting way, splattering more and more blood on our protagonist. It starts to eat away at his flesh.

His eyes. His nose. His mouth. All kind of drip away. Fill up.

Soon, there's nothing but clear, smooth skin.

The thing stabs itself repeatedly and keels over, bleeding profusely. The newly faceless Mike just sits there.

Then, he gets up. Slowly, he picks up the knife.

He walks.

THE END.

That's it. That's an entire story. It would even make a decent game, if the atmopshere was really played up to make up for a lack of interactivity and a downer ending.

Some, all, or most of you either found that frightening, bizarre, or laughably silly. But it's horror like that that gets my attention.

Write to unsettle. Write to terrify. Write to shock, write even to gross out.

Just please, don't do it in a way I've seen before, okay? Even if I've seen your idea done in a million different ways.

Most ideas have been done. They haven't, however, been done by you in particular.
Why can't you eat soup in the Matrix? Because there is no spoon!
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Postby Ravenous » Tue Jul 30, 2002 3:35 am

Woah.

I have to say, Kerklaar..I was a bit freaked out after reading that. Excellent job, and excellent post.
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Postby Mercury » Tue Jul 30, 2002 4:08 am

..



Edited By Mercury on 30 July 2002 at 06:42
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Postby Mercury » Tue Jul 30, 2002 5:00 am

..



Edited By Mercury on 06 Aug. 2002 at 12:58
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