Writing horror is unlike writing in other genres, it has its own challenges, mediums and hacks. Here we will look at the how and why of writing horror, we’ll also make books and films fight each other.
Today I am writing to talk to you about monster cliches.
These three cliches can apply to almost any kind of monster, or a protagonist having to circumvent the monster in question. They are sensory cliches, and they pop up in a lot of horror stories.
Now, like with all cliches I can understand why they are used. Like, character cliches which are used to establish character traits quickly these are used as short cuts. But like character cliches which can work well for background or side characters that you don’t want to spend tons of time developing because you’re basically using them to make a point or be cannon fodder, sensory cliches can work well in small doses.
The sensory cliches are a bit different to character cliches though, while they are used as a short cut the same way character cliches are their shortcut is a shortcut to stakes not personality.
Sensory cliches attached to the protagonist will be used as a way to raise stakes and sensory cliches attached to the monster will be used to lower stakes. As they will always be used to establish a weakness for either the protagonist or the monster to exploit.
Do you remember when I used to write to you about cliches? I’d like to do that again, in part because it’s a lot of fun, in part because you seemed to enjoy it (and I crave positive feedback) and in part because I enjoy having a good bitch about things.
Not all cliches are lazy writing, they can actually be bloody useful when used properly (and sparingly), they are a good way to set audience expectations when you don’t have the time or space to dedicate to establishing something.
However, as I said above, this should be used sparingly and in specific circumstances, such as for low screen time side characters who serve a singular purpose and are there and gone again quickly. After all no one wants to spend ages establishing a character when they are only going to do what the creator needs them to then disappear.
Clichés become lazy writing when they are used for main or significant characters, places, plot points etc.
Previously I’ve focused my rants on specific topics, but today I want to cast a wider net, so where previously I did a blog about male characters, female characters etc today I want to touch on three clichés that affect characters as a whole.
Today I want to talk to you about one of my favourite writers and an adaptation of one of their novellas. I’d like to look at the adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘The Mist’. The novella was released in 1985 in the collection ‘The skeleton Crew’, while the film came out in 2007.
In my opinion, the main things that changed when the novella got adapted were the atmosphere and tone of the story. I want to focus this blog on the elements that the director changed which I feel has effected these.
The most obvious in my opinion is the pacing, the novella, for all it is short at only 130 pages, is a slow burn. Everything in the novella takes time, the characters are introduced gently and given time to establish themselves before we get to the monsters (the first one doesn’t show up until the second third of the novella). King uses the first third of the story to foreshadow, build tension and most importantly make you care and connect with the characters.
The film jumps almost straight to the action, we get a brief introduction of our main character, his son and his neighbour all before we’re whisked away into the supermarket where the bulk of the film takes place. I understand that films will struggle with pacing compared to novels and novellas, they are a completely different medium so we struggle to spend time in our MC’s head, films also have a limited run time so it’s natural that they might cut some of the ‘fluff’ but the world and character building does suffer for it in my opinion.