Fear, focus, and the future. Here, C.M. Humphries writes about whatever.
When it comes to horror-themed websites, I love to explore. I'll admit, there are some websites I find highly unethical, but that doesn't I mean I stopped my over-zealous finger from clicking.
One that has come to my attention (and has a lot of copy-cat sites) is See Me Rot.
For a split-second, I was disturbed by what I was seeing. Who on Earth would stick a web cam in a coffin?! Then I wondered how it could possibly work.
After some speculation, I decided to give the cam-in-coffin idea the benefit of a doubt. That was before I noticed all the SINGLES ads floating around the site in addition to the lack of creator information.
The latter might've been for legal reasons, but why the ads? Why would a site keeping track of the way a human body decomposes sell hook-up sites?
Maybe I'm not the first, but I'm definitely going to debunk this site.
The more I stared at the camera, the more I realized I wasn't watching a stream at all. It looked like the same two images overlayed. So I tried to right click.
And I was blocked. Maybe it was a cam.
Or so it appeared.
I tend to use Google Chrome because it can rip apart any element of a web page, which is useful if you want to peek at how a site is structured or how images are locked. It's not hacker-helpful, so to speak, but I noticed the pop-up blocker preventing my right clicks was nothing more than a text block.
So I disabled it. I think on some browsers you can right click the hell out of an image to unlock it.
And maybe you don't believe the site is fake. Maybe you want to believe it. Don't look down if you don't want to, but I saved the GIF to prove this is a replaying set of images.
In the end, I feel let down. I really wanted to be creeped out.
Maybe I'll go ghost hunting instead. Or this site is kind of spooky.
In the overshadowed depths of the Utah's Wasatch Oquirrh Mountains, a new structure has been created, one which will decipher every piece of digital litter and file it for the National Security Agency's subjective use. We're talking by 2013, a new Intelligence operation that will intercept phone calls, texts, emails, Facebook "likes", Tweets, Google searches, and so much more. And this structure is pointed at the citizens of the United States.
What is this digital juggernaut called? If you are thinking Skynet, you're on the right page. This is all part of NSA design, an organization which keeps seeing increased funds and secret locations, despite it's overall failures, such as car bombings in NYC or even 9/11.
The obvious purpose for the NSA's daily operation is to prevent more terrorist threats from becoming full-blown attacks on the nation's soil. It's to make sure we're all safe. In some minds, however, it's like having a massive police force in a small town: People feel more threatened by their security than comforted.
Maybe science-fiction has ruined my trust towards the NSA, but in every instance a democratic nation has developed a plan for protecting its people based on a massive (and invasive) collection of information, it has inevitably lead to a pseudo-enslavement of the innocent. In essence, this new operation will limit the transference of data and information, which is the entire reason why the Internet was released to the public domain. That is, of course, unless you believe the Internet was to do exactly what the NSA is trying to carry out.
With the recent improvements in robotic technologies and now Skynet in Utah, you can jump to whatever conclusion you'd like. The main worry is what this sort of potential authoritarianism can do the cyber world. At the very least, can we for once learn from Big Brother, Skynet, those firemen from Fahrenheit 451, how Apple abuses Siri, Brave New World, We, and probably a million other dystopian, information-based stories?
It used to be said "there are no rules" to writing, but now the maxim has extended from the writing process to the realm of publishing.
The idea behind "there are no rules" is there are, in fact, rules that dictate how one should write. However, once the rules are learned and implemented, it is okay to break the rules in order to create a more effective narrative. Efficiency is a subjective term, for only writers and readers can determine what it means.
If a writer should break all the rules, especially the norm of publishing through a traditional house, they would normally be shunned. At the very least, they would encounter a scowl or two.
Perhaps all that has changed, though, with the recent announcement from several book reviewing publications such as The Los Angeles Review, which will now acknowledge some requests to have self-published works read and rated. This all comes with a once-a-month, published review of a self-published book.
With more and more publications lending out an accepting hand towards indie and self-published books, it could be concluded there are no longer such strict rules to publishing. Already the likes of Amazon has shown the world an unknown writer can shine above some of the biggest names, even without a New York-style press. Everything said, there is still one rule: You must have good content.
The days of being left behind at the forefront are ending.
Check out the LA Review Announcement Regarding Self-Published Manuscripts.
I've been writing a bit on how horror has changed over the years and probably not for the better.
Maybe it's time to lay out a few basics. Here are the top three things I believe a good piece of horror fiction needs.
3. Humorous Characters
This may sound counter-intuitive, but one of the greatest things horror fiction can utilize is a solid, funny man. Now, don't go overboard with one of these characters.
Sometimes a good horror story can become a comedy when a particular character leads the plot with dozens of one-liners. Though technically not a horror movie, here's a movie that could have been ruined (even more so) by a funny scene:
A good humorous character can turn into the most sinister of antagonists - remember that. Primarily, though, having a character that is amusing can lower the guard of a reader or viewer right when you want to throw something terrifying their way.
2. Twist It Until It Cries
Any good work of horror needs some excellent twists. Now, don't confused this for plot.
Plan the plot, work out the plot, and rewrite the plot. Then decide where the twists will work best. The reason for adding twists to horror stories is to keep the horror-lovers on edge.
A straight-forward horror story will a) Bore the consumer and b) Become predictable, and thus "unscary."
Psycho might be a good example of an opening twist. I love the idea of focusing in on one idea, just to realize it was the red herring of the plot. Of course, Psycho completely changes the story without adding a whole lot.
The idea here is to make characters who aren't who the consumer thinks they are. Maybe a good guy who is inherently evil, or vice versa. Perhaps start the story off in one scary direction and completely turn it on its head.
Here's a brief list of good stories with too much of a twist, and thus, were too gimmicky:
5. Stay - It was all a dream ending. This really pisses people off.
4.High Tension - The split personality gimmick is overplayed. Good twist, but not a solid ending.
3.Signs - Surely a decent flick, but the aliens can't stand water? Weak. Wasn't there one out in the rain earlier in the film? Probably one of the worst twists and definitely a writer's cop-out. If it's tough for you to find a way to save the hero, you're on your way to have an amazing story. Besides, the hero doesn't have to win in horror stories.
2. "Secret Window, Secret Garden" - The story and the movie both suck because of the split personality gimmick again. Cool idea, but it can ruin a story if it's part of a weak ending. It's a lot like saying it was all a dream, but it really happened. Or did it?
1.The Number 23 - Movies tend to use weird-ass endings that don't work. Here we are, hooked on this elaborate scheme, only to find out the main character had amnesia, and blah, blah, who cares.
1. Big Bang & Blood
For the love of all things scary, please don't end a horror story with a happy ending, and try not to abuse the abrupt ending scenario.
Horror stories, of course, do not use traditional endings. I've seen stories cut short, and it was amazing. And then I've seen the same idea ruin a beautiful tale.
Make sure your ending is the scariest part of the entire story. Make it unpredictable. And, maybe, have the bad guy win. It's really dependent on what kind of story you write.
No matter what, though, make sure it has a good twist, lots of screams, and something relatable to a nightmare in the sense a) People will recognize it as scary and b) People will never see it coming.
A good twist will lead the mind of a consumer in a different direction, or even the funny guy can be funny right before the doomsday clock hits the 13th hour. Do what works, don't go overboard, and remember it's all about keeping the horror-lover up for days.
Whether it's for writer's block, promotional reasons, or something personal, I offer the same advice: Reinvent Yourself.
You often hear about businesses reinventing themselves, which often means a grocery store adding a soup bar or a coffee shop offering lower calorie ice-cream flavored espresso, but where it is often absent is in someone's life.
This doesn't mean change what you write or the point you're trying to make. Maybe it's simply a matter of switching up styles or POV, while maintaining your voice.
For instance, Chuck Palahniuk is known for his minimal, over-detailed means of writing, a la Fight Club. But in his recent novel Damned, we receive the story for a 13 year-old in a completely different language, while still falling in love with his one-line darlings - his trivia.
Stuck on a story? Perhaps it is time to reinvent it. Is their a snag in your logic? Blow that shit up, whether a line or a building. Or you could look up prompts. Most people hate these, but find what made you do a double-take and try to run with it.
Maybe you're an old school horror guy, but there isn't a real old school horror audience. Try to accommodate for what people want.
Find out what they are reading, where they are reading, and their other interests. Maybe they're avid coffee drinkers. There lies a way to promote towards them, although horror coffee is strange concept. Hey, I like horror and drink coffee, so there's probably a way.
You might be sick of yourself or the way others see you. Change it. Do you brag too much? Stop bragging and show people what you are doing.
Whatever it means to you, change it. You don't have to change to make your life better. Stop thinking about the pitfalls and shoot for your dreams, whatever they may be. Reinvent yourself to be whatever it is you've always wanted to be.
After the last blog, I was asked why I care so much about the horror genre. The general consensus was, horror movies are coming up with more unique ways - and sometimes not - to scare people, because they can draw in a lot of money. And if you're a guy with a girlie, there's no better way to be held close.
Fair. I like when I become a teddy bear because some paranormal thingamajig is scaring the Bejeezus out of the lady. The most frightening aspect of said experience is paying $20 for stale popcorn and an iced-down drink.
To tell the truth, though, it is equally important to read something that scares you; it allows the imagination to explore dangerous situations.
If something scares you as a child, you go crying to Mommy, Daddy, Grandmama, Grandpapa, or whoever. They assure you it's okay, and you learn how to analyze a situation for its true level of danger. Fear is an instinctive reaction to warn us of possible harm.
As adults, sometimes something makes us scream, but then it's followed by a laugh, when we realize we're simply let our imaginations get the best of us. We laugh because the fear was an enjoyable experience and know there was no real harm. Of course, there are some people out there who would still rather ride the plane than jump out of it.
Maybe some of us just enjoy being scared - or being the skydivers. Some of us want to let our imaginations roam wild every time we can't see into a spooky old house.
It's good practice. It helps train us to determine whether or not a true-life situation is truly risky. Or with extreme practice, we learn how to handle each alarming moment in life.
For some people, it's about remedy. It's about overcoming our worst nightmares or exposing ourselves to our own phobias in hope they will vanish over time.
"When people get scared, their bodies automatically triggers the "fight or flight" response—their heart rates increase, they breathe faster, their muscles tense, and their attention focuses for quick and effective responses to threats.
"It's nature's way of protecting us," said clinical psychologist David Rudd at Texas Tech University."
By far the coolest thing about fear and overcoming it, is the ability to adapt, evolve, and survive. On a larger scale, we can tease ourselves with fear, jump out of planes, cast our doubts to the wind, and plunge into new lands.
We can find new food, new ways to live, and possibly, new cultures. If we don't experience fear, the world remains small. I mean, think about it: We are learning more about the universe every day.
Without all the things fear brings, could we have ever convinced someone to ride a rocket into a thick black oddity, only to have them crash onto the moon? (That's assuming you believe we ever made it to the moon.)
See, good horror fiction forces our minds to explore and become more creative. If you're locked in a box, you might have to find a new way out. Once free, you know how to think "outside of the box" for almost any situation.
What is he, holding a fart?
Does this image scare you? No, of course not. Why would it?
Let's break it down: We've got some teenage Christian Bale staring at you with his over-dilated eyes, lipstick, and far to much powder. As a matter of fact, you probably like him.
There lies the problem.
Horror used to be one of the strongest genres in fiction, yet it has become the most laughable in many literary eyes. You probably know why. It's not scary.
Yes, horror fiction still exists - go see the YA section of any book showroom and you might find it. For some reason, though, it has nothing to do with the "stuff" that made horror horror in the first place.
Everyone wants to be "edgy" now by coming up with different ways to lure a reader into buying a book, and this is probably a good endeavor. No one wants to read the same material over and over. The problem is, people have gotten the wrong idea about horror over time.
With this search for constantly "unqiue" approaches to the grotesque, many writers have become gimmicky, rather than scary. There's a demand for likable characters, as seen in the Twilight saga and so on. This isn't a slam on Meyer's sexless erotica, but the saga proves a point.
Publishers and writers have fallen in love with this notion of likable characters, unseen in horror novels before. No shit they were never seen before, because no one thought them scary.
How is it, one of the most lucrative and well-watched genres in film - and once literature - has become completely abandoned in writing? Film is always pushing for a new kind of scary, while fiction wants you to . . . like horror?
Bram Stoker really didn't give a damn if people liked Dracula. Stephen King didn't want you to like the fear creature in It. The characters were meant to scare you. Why are all these people hugging vampires? Fucking run!
Many writers now avoid monsters out of the fear of being called cliche. Maybe I'm out of touch and alone on this one, but I don't really care what it is that scares me so long as I need a new pair of boxers when I'm done.
There are countless horror writers out there who have be shunned for their unlikable protagonists or anti-heroes. Apparently only Batman can be an anti-hero, but that's because he is good on some pseudo-philosophical level.
I mean, do we want to see Dr. Jerkll pursuing a more practical form of medicine? Does Dr. Frankenstein seem unethical even next to Dr. House? Maybe we should justify Hannibal Lecter while we're at it. You know, Freddy Krueger should wear a nice polo and only kill people who deserve it. Or what if we agreed with John Torrence that his wife was a real bitch in The Shining.
Even better, maybe all killer sex in Endless Night by Richard Laymon should be strictly consensual. Whatever the publishing world is calling "scary" or "edgy" isn't working for me. What happens when we reach a point in which the murderer weapon was legitimately obtained by the killer and only used on people we want to see die? Hopefully the world doesn't see more of The Happening.
I can't define horror, I'll admit that. But I know it's a genre that made me stay up night, turning each page with a nervous twitch, and then wishing for someone to cuddle with at then end. I need a book that convinces me I need a crucifix above my bed and one in my pocket at all times. Does horror genre must have it's balls painted in camouflage?
We've all heard the maxim before: Time is Money. The thing is, Benjamin Franklin said this around 1748 about tradesmen. The implication was, if you sat idle and didn't travel to make the year's wage, you spent more than you earned. True, you need to make money somehow, but that doesn't prove the old saying to be true.
Franklin is a great man, and no doubt he deserves to be on the $100 bill.
However, in 2012 this is hardly true, if not only for the following three reasons.
I. Remember the Precious Moments
At this point you might be skeptical, and you should be. Many people know money is relevant to everyday life. If you don't have money in this world, and you'll probably die. That is, unless you are an excellent hobo.
As Franklin said, if you sit on your tail-side, you won't make a dollar. Of course, you could be a paid blogger, a web journalist, a social media expert, a publicist with an online basis, etc., but you get the point. You have to work to make money.
Working for cash doesn't always mean time is money, though. Visiting long-lost relatives is crucial to existence, for human being are pack-animals, and spending time with an ill loved one (no matter who or why) is crucial to life. Vacations are important too. Time spent not working is also valuable, but in an intangible way. You can always make money, but you can never get back the seconds of life - and don't give me that I'll-be-cryogenically-frozen bit. Not even Walt Disney is frozen.
Some still insist, based on an old adage they were taught, spending time with your company is equally important. They're probably full of shit, and here's why:
II. Be a Company Person
Company's have a new perspective on business now, something far different than what your grandparents experienced during their lifetimes. It used to be, you stay with a company, and they will take care of you for life.
Then layoffs became almost a commercial concept. Hell, at one of my old day-jobs I saw a man fired before his retirement just so the company could save a buck. 35+ years of service, thinking time is money, and he lost both without gaining either.
And during the good ol' days, companies were groups of people working towards a similar goal. Something to consider is the more recent legal perspective of corporations: THEY'RE CONSIDERED PEOPLE. Most jobs really don't care if you want a raise, and unless you were/are Steve Jobs, they'll can you as soon as they see fit. Profits down? Cut the workers. Go to a mid-west grocery store and tell me how many workers you count.
As for Steve Jobs, keep in mind Apple fired him in 1985. Jobs was fired from his own company because he started to think for himself, pushed people hard, and had a different vision from the money-makers. Think what you'd like about him personally, but Jobs was fired for not being a "yes man" in his own company.
And besides, typical jobs only pay you so much. If you're hourly and work harder, you make the same as a slacker. If you're salaried, you get paid the same no matter how much time you invest. There again, time isn't money. Additionally, if salaried, you're probably in some sort of managerial position which offers bonuses. That's cool - More money for more time and energy. Consequentially, though, if you say no and really don't care about the bonuses for whatever reason, you'll probably be canned.
This is 2012, and things are different.
III. It's 2012
Right now some of you are nodding your heads, and some of you are pissed off. Thanks for still reading.
In 2012, you can do whatever it is you want to do, but let me give you one piece of advice: Do what you like to do and have an entrepreneurial mindset. These two things will allow more time for those precious moments, the ability to be a company person, and adjust to the new age. And if you're canned or lose work, at least you gain something non-material.
At the end of the day, happiness is the most important part of life. Enjoy it. A rich man with financial tunnel vision probably ends up paying for his relationships on a nightly basis.
Go Benjamin Franklin for being awesome, but just because he said "Remember time is money," doesn't mean he envisioned 2012. I mean, he wrote that line on paper, to a friend, via snail-mail.
Thanks for reading!
3. Show, Don't Tell
Like a good conversation, a writer must engage the reader in a story that illustrates so well they're entrapped within the confines of it, whether based on familiarity, emotion, or curiosity.
However, consider telling every once in awhile. For instance:
"Martha struggled to pay her bills on time, and to top it off, her children were failing school."
The line above was an example of what most people advise you to avoid. Consider the statement further, though, and you might realize Martha's top priority is paying the bills on time, rather than the performance of her children at school. It could be rationalized, that, paying the bills is crucial to the well-being of a family, but wouldn't a mother be worried about her children more than her financial woes? In this example, the writer has avoided boring detail about the economy and proposed a perplexing twist to Martha's character.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then it will need a damn good frame.
2. "Avoid Cliches Like the Plague"
The late New York Times columnist Willian Safire came up with this lovely piece of advice as a sure way to help writers. Each word a writer uses determines how unique their writing and story can be.
However, it's quite obvious this piece of advice is followed by a cliche. Yes, Safire found this amusing in a self-deprecating kind of way. Yet, this piece of advice is famous because of the cliche itself. It's how you remember it.
Sometimes the point of writing is to get the idea across, and works must be written in a way that will translate into something great in the reader's mind, which on rare occasion, warrants the use of a cliche.
1.Write What You Know
One of my all-time favorite horror movies is A Nightmare on Elm Street, either because it still can catch me by surprise or it was the first horror movie I remember seeing. Either way, good stuff.
When Wes Craven began working on the film, though, he sure as hell didn't construct a bladed glove, find the ugliest sweater in the world, burn his face, practice his laugh, and start slaughtering teenagers after becoming an expert on infiltrating dreams.
This is what really happened:
"When I looked down there was a man very much like Freddy walking along the sidewalk. He must have sensed that someone was looking at him and stopped and looked right into my face. He scared the living daylights out of me, so I jumped back into the shadows. I waited and waited to to hear him walk away. Finally I thought he must have gone, so I stepped back to the window. The guy was not only still looking at me but he thrust his head forward as if to say ' Yes, I'm still looking at you."
The strange man walked down the street and turned the corner toward the apartment-building entrance as Craven watched in horror. " I ran through the apartment to our front door as he was walking into our building on the lower floor. I heard him starting up the stairs. My brother, who is ten years older than me, got a baseball bat and went out to the corridor but he was gone.
As an adult I can look back and say that was one of the most profoundly frightening experiences I have ever had. The guy has never left my mind, nor has the feeling of how frightening an adult stranger can be. He was not only frightening, but he was amused by the fact he was frightening and able to anticipate my inner thoughts."
Do you see what happened there?
Craven didn't go out and experience all the things he wrote about. To write about a killer, a writer must recall one of the most horrifying moments of their life and draw from it. This is what, I think, is truly meant by "write what you know."
Don't Take My Advice.
As always, I remind you advice is simply advice. But I hope this helps point out the fallacies behind certain common writing beliefs - or rather, sheds light on how they have lost ties to their original meanings. If a writer had all the right answers, they wouldn't feel the need to write.
Fear, focus, and the future. C.M. Humphries talks about writing, horror, and whatever.