It's been awhile since I wrote the popular "5 Elements of a Good Horror Story", which made me wonder if there was anything more I could add to the list. As I worked a bit more on Ashland's Asylum, I realized there is a great concept I completely missed - the concept of false antagonists and allies. After all, shouldn't any good horror story keep you guessing who's the bad guy and who's the hero?
the false antagonist
While the name appears to be self-explanatory, I think it's worth diving into the creative pool of the false bad guy. If you check out "Facade" from No-Injury Policy (which is free here), you'll notice quite quickly not everyone is who they seem to be. I mean, why would they? The story is called "Facade" after all.
One exemplar is Ray, the brother of our hero Michael. From the very beginning of the story, it's easy to see (or at least I hope so) their relationship as brothers isn't too estrange from status quo. However, bother characters have a dark energy that can be felt at anytime - something about their mannerisms and decisions that suggest they aren't as charming as they seem.
At the beginning of the story, Ray and Michael are technically buddies, but there is the idea that Ray is Michael's antagonist. They have ideological differences as they both try to mourn the loss of their mother. For Ray, it's a bottle of booze and a broken heart. And a Beretta. For Michael, it's the distraction of disorientating nightclubs and one-night stands. As the story continues, though, Ray truly comes out as the enemy.
Despite all the horrific experiences they share, Michael is never too sure that he hates his brother or that he is really the enemy. By the time "Familiar Facades" continues the tale in Ashland's Asylum, Ray glows animosity. But then again, who's the say he'll remain the enemy?
Having a false antagonist thickens a story well enough to keep any reader interested. It's also great for the writer who isn't sure where to take the plot. Maybe the story needs a little extra kick. Maybe you just want it to be longer. Either way, it's a bonus for everyone.
The false ally
From checking out my thoughts on the false bad guy, it's easy to guess what a false ally is. However, I do want to stress this elements is even more important than the false antagonist if you want to use it side-by-side. If the bad guy turns out to really be a good guy, does the story end or does it become more sinister when one of the good guys turns out to be a bad guy?
You can't make him just any bad guy, though. This is your best friend betraying the laws of your friendship. This is the love of your life using everything you enjoy about life against you as he/she tears your heart out simply because he/she doesn't want to dirty his/her hands on your bloody doorknob. Or maybe it's just the good guy in gang who doesn't have everyone else in his best interest.
You can take this concept anywhere - but remember to make this character the biggest jerk anyone has every seen. Make the reader hate him/her even more than the characters in the story.
I'll let you figure out where, but I use this idea in No-Injury Policy as well as the upcoming Ashland's Asylum. If the stories are good enough, this isn't really a spoiler at all.
Useful? Let me know.
And be sure to check out this entry's predecessor here.
Fear, focus, and the future. C.M. Humphries talks about writing, horror, and whatever.