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Firstly, Happy New Year. May 2018 be awesome!
Also, welcome our new blog hop participants: Megan Morgan and Chrys Fey!
Looking forward to your posts!
‘How to avoid wobbly settings (& the monsters who inhabit them.’
Today, I’m discussing how to avoid inconsistencies in your settings and in the monsters who inhabit them.
You know when Pennywise grabs one of the kids, who wrestles, then escape? Well, doesn’t that just make the gruesome terrifying clown seem, well … inept? The story builds the character’s fear factor then lets him fall on his face. What a waste! Other ghost stories do this, too. You don’t want to write about poltergeist or demons or whatever, who can hurt you one minute (usually during the beginning of the book) … then they can’t (usually in the end, so the hero/heroine can win). There’s no logic in this so the character loses something precious—believability. And the reader stops reading your work.
How can a writer avoid this?
Idea: Establish logical rules behind your setting and behind the ‘antagonist or monster’ who resides there and stick to those rules. Even if it means letting the monster win. In fact, this is a common outcome in horror for this very reason.
Questions to ask: Here are a few examples—
- What is the truth behind your antagonist/monster?
- How are your monsters, if that’s what you’re writing, created?
- Why are they the way they are?
- What are their powers and limitations?
- What do they want?
- How do they get what they want?
Answers: These questions can be especially crucial to ask if you’re writing about monsters, or other fantasy beings. There are no specific rules for any monster, whether it’s a ghost or a serial killer, although cultural rules may inform your creation. You still have plenty of leeway to show how they fit into your story.
Depending on how long your list of Q&A’s, and how you work, you should keep the list with you while you construct the setting and antagonist, so you may consult it as your plot twists and turns. Whether yours is horror, fantasy, or a normal setting, it’s always best to spoon feed those rules organically, as and when your characters discover new information.
This is tougher with horror. Where raising fear by leaving the reader somewhat ‘in the dark’ is a crucial element. Once you’ve switched on the light and exposed the rules, the levitation is gone, along with the fear. The writer should poke imagination, not smother it, so hiding the rules while applying them is a tough, but also vital talent to master. I’m still trying J So, resist the urge to force your rules out into the open if possible, but if you do expose a rule, there will still be a degree of unease. Just don’t explicitly define it.
The other set of rules are the ones ‘the good guys’ or protagonists construct for the antagonist. These may be (and often are in the beginning) unreliable. Because the protag is working through possibilities based on hearsay or desperation or folklore. The reader will judge these to be correct, at least until those rules leave their hero in the toilet. Until those rules fail, and the hero must reappraise them in the face of his failure.
If your protag is an old-time monster hunter, then they’ll know the rules. Though, even with that, there’s a lot of room for a character to prepare for the wrong monster. Although this monster/protag set up doesn’t usually work for horror (because the rules are explicit in the beginning) and can be more accurately described as supernatural fiction/action. Although this is by no mean hard and fast.
So, do you write horror of supernatural fiction? Does your fantasy setting need a list of rules? Let us know your process for setting structure and thoughts on believability.