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Size Matters & four other needs

September 3, 2010

     This week the prompt at Wicked Writers was: Five things that we would like to see in the genre that we write in. Since my debut novel is a Christian/Horror crossover, and aimed more for a PG-13 type of rating, I am commenting today somewhere between thrillers and horror. And no, this is not C.J.’s post, I was simply looking for something sensational to entitle the thing with. If you were looking for something else, you might try Everything Erotic on Kindle. Shameless plug for C.J., I know (smiles).

Before I begin, please allow me to fill you in on what it is that I like.

The novel

One of the first novels that I ever read was The Amityville Horror, by Jay Anson. I am not here today to debate with you whether or not George and Kathleen Lutz concocted their story. I will leave that to others. There are plenty of sites on the web devoted to which side of the fence one might reside on with regards to this subject. If nothing else, it is simply one of the scariest “haunted house” stories that you will ever read. And you must read it at night, alone, while the rest of your household is quiet, if you want the best effect.

I think I like haunted house stories or ghost stories, if you will, due to the fact that it is something that every one of us can relate to. We all live in buildings that make noises in the middle of the night, and at some point or another every one of us have been alone in one…in the dark.

Serial killer stories are another of my favorites. Of course I refer to the fictionalized versions! I don’t like it at all when it is real and being reported in the newspaper or on the evening news. What I love is the intrigue, the criminology work that must be done and the chase as the authorities close in. On the other hand, part of the reason that we can believe these stories, unfortunately, is due to the fact that these killers really are in the news every year.

Now that I have explained a bit of the “what”, I would like to explain the “why”. What I enjoy is the sitting on the edge of my seat kind of stories. I am not interested in crazed lunatics with chain saws, running around tirelessly, hacking up everyone that they can find into indescribable pieces. Nor am I interested in Saw XXIII or whatever number the filmmakers are on. I want to be thrilled by dark material, but not shocked, revolted or disgusted by torture porn and the like.

Having said all of that, the following are five things that I would like to see different. I will weave between print and film to help better illustrate some of the points.

1)  Something new. Since much has been done before, it simply makes it that much more challenging to come up with new ideas or fresh twists. M. Night Shyamalan hit the first pitch that he ever saw for a grand slam with The Sixth Sense. Unfortunately, he has only managed a few weak singles and a double since then, but I like him, so I wish him well. The thing was that his idea was totally fresh, and it invigorated the genre. Of course, we then saw a lot of folks simply coming up with a great reveal for the end of their film or book, with little but a weak story to get us there, as if we cared by then.

A scene from The Sixth Sense

2)  Stop showing us. When I was in high school I once heard that a poll conducted with prisoners revealed that they would much rather have a Sears catalogue then a playboy magazine. Less was actually more. I thought the notion ridiculous at the time, but I was a teenager who could only think about women, so what did I know? One of the reasons why the film, Jaws was so successful was apparently by accident. The mechanical shark, Bruce, named after Mr. Spielberg’s then-lawyer, did not work often enough, so they did the best that they could under the circumstances and it ended up making everyone involved look brilliant. The reason why the original Friday the 13th part 1 & 2 were good was due to the fact that the audience was rarely given any glimpse of either Mrs. Voorhees or eventually her son, Jason. In these cases, what we received mostly was the expectation of the killer. My good friend, Carole Gill, who recently blogged here made a very good point of this on her own blog. You should look her up if you have yet to do so. We’re hoping to enlist her talents here soon on a more permanent basis. She’s the real horror writer.

Where's that bigger boat?

3)  About Length. I know, I know; stop it already. The point here would be that the most important aspect is for the author to tell their story. I would hope that market concerns would not be the driving factor. Stephen King’s The Stand was far too long for a newer author, so the publisher had him trim it down. It was very good; however, when his name became so much bigger than any of theirs’, he was allowed to put back all of the pages that he had trimmed. What is key is that each chapter, every paragraph, and ultimately even the shortest of sentences be necessary. If it takes longer to give the reader the proper back-story, then make it longer. If it’s too short, don’t give us filler simply to stretch it out. The story is what it is. Thankfully, Mr. Jackson gave us additional footage for the dvds because there were times in all three Lord of the Rings films, and especially in Return of the King where I felt rushed through the original theatrical release. I recall Clive Barker’s Nightbreed making me feel that way, too.

4)   Unnecessary murder. Why does each of Dirty Harry’s partners end up dead or physically incapacitated? I would have thought that once would have been enough. I have killed off a few characters in my writing, but am conscious of the fact that others feel the same about this subject. Let’s not erase someone simply because they are in the way, or in order to give the lead character the motivation necessary to kill every deviant that comes there way, ala Charles Bronson in Deathwish. What about this 70’s idea that every sex-starved teenager should die, leaving only one left to survive. Did those screenwriters think  that it made it a fairer fight? My 16 year old and I were watching Predator recently. Thankfully, the woman survived and was helicoptered out of the forest with Arnold the Governator, otherwise it’s not a great story any more as it is a star turn for the leading man. How about killing off the lead somewhere near the end of the movie? How’s that for original? I know it’s been done before, but so infrequently that only John Wayne in Sands of Iwo Jima comes to mind or Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan.

"I 'ain't got time to bleed!"

5)  Too many twists. I love twists and turns and surprise endings that you never saw coming, just as much as the next person; however, not all at the same time. In The Dark Knight, although a very good film, I doubted that Batman would actually ever catch Heath Ledger’s masterful Joker, when he had made him look so pathetic for the entire film. I thought Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons was a terrific book until three-quarters of the way through when it took one twist too many for my believability.

Perhaps I am being too picky, making much ado about nothing. Perhaps not.

What do you say? I’d love to hear what you think. Did I miss anything? Did I go too far?

What about the rest of the panel for this week? We would love to hear your comments. If nothing else, have a great long weekend. Just not here…

112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville, Long Island

10 Comments leave one →
  1. September 3, 2010 12:42 pm

    What a great post. And humble thanks from me to you. I don’t know, Jimmy–you are a very talented writer yourself!
    As to your points with regard to ‘too much’ and so on–excellent. Horror to me, as it is to you, is not about gore at all or it shouldn’t be. Completely and utterly agree with that as I agree with your point about predictability–case in point the hapless partners Dirty Harry gets. I mean we KNOW they’re number is up just as we know the girl walking through the darkned house, calling: Hello? Hello? is going to be murdered very soon!
    Excellent post, loved it!
    And thanks again for the compliment!
    Hope to come on here too very soon! xx

  2. September 3, 2010 1:49 pm

    Great points, and I hadn’t heard that story about Stephen King before – good to know. Oh well, I’ve been burning my excess baggage, I mean words. Just think what they would do today in this market we’re in.

    But you make a good point: good talent will win out. We have to have persistence. I think it’s an important question to ask. What do we (as readers) want to see more (or less) of. Not that we’re writing for the trend, but a successful writer should know some of those things, and then choose to adjust, if he can. Or not.

    Personally, I’d like to see more sex in books. Not rape or abuse, but wonderful sex. Don’t think there is enough of it. More wonderful loving relationships. Love heals. And I’m all for the fantasy of a world in less pain. There will always be conflict, but I’d like to see the few hours people spend reading a good book softening whatever pain they are feeling. I’d like to contribute to helping people feel better about their life.

    That’s why I don’t get alarmed at the trend to make fiction more romantic, sexier. Maybe it’s a desire for relationship and intimacy in a world that can sometimes feel out of control and impersonal.

    • September 3, 2010 6:49 pm

      Hi, Sharon. Thanks for your comment. I actually started writing earlier in the week specifically on the horror genre, but realized that I couldn’t do the post justice. I just don’t experience the horror like I did as a teen. My family doesn’t watch, so I have to barricade myself down in the basement…and I don’t have one! Actually, anytime that I am watching something on the creepy side, as my wife might say, I have to take a laptop into the master bedroom and watch it over there. Coupling that with the fact that I have been unable to read as much as I would like, you can see my problem.
      That left me more in the thriller category. I have tons of experience with those. Hopefully the post will appeal to the masses. Now that I am assisting the talented and wonderful Marissa and Nicole over at their “Something Wicked This Way Comes” blog, I’m hoping to try a little harder to get back to the horror so that I might be able to review both print and film…as long as it is intelligent.
      As for the sex comments, I’ll leave that to C.J. 😉
      Have a great long weekend, my friend.
      –Jimmy

  3. James Garcia Jr permalink*
    September 3, 2010 1:49 pm

    Thank you for your comment, Carole. Just so you know we are keeping a seat and a desk for you over at the Wicked Writer’s offices. (whispering) It’s actually a suite with a couch and mini bar, but some of the others are jealous, so we don’t like to mention it.

  4. September 3, 2010 2:56 pm

    Hey, great post, James! I’m with you all the way on every single one of your points! To me they are truly cross-genre comments… I like the 6th Sense reference – I never saw the twist until the end of that film, it really had me! 🙂

    • September 3, 2010 6:58 pm

      Thanks, David. You know I have a funny story on that. Or a stupid story, depending upon one’s point of view. I had heard, as did everyone in the world, that there was a huge twist ending in the film. I, however, being so much more intelligent than most, was not going to be duped by this young writer/director. He wasn’t going to get me with his little tricks. So, there I was in the final minutes of the film, needing desperately to get rid of all of the soda that I had been sucking down in the theater, hopping up and down in my seat, refusing to leave no matter how urgently I need to, because I wasn’t going to fall for his trick.
      Duh!
      By then, I had already missed the trick, hadn’t I. Bruce Willis had died in the first few minutes and I, along with everyone else, had missed it. “I see dead people,” young Cole had told him. “They don’t know they’re dead.”
      Thankfully, I did manage to get through those final minutes without having an accident, but it was pretty [censored] close! Lol!

  5. September 3, 2010 9:52 pm

    Hey James,

    I keep copies of all my original works. I’m hoping after the cruise party around the Greek islands, I’ll be popular enough to put all my ‘deleted scenes’ back in. Lol.

    I don’t read horror or thriller – I get scarred too easily because my imagination is too vivid (this is coming from the girl who loved to go to haunted houses as a child). I do like watching the movies. The bloody ones make me laugh (because the blood is too fake and the acting is usually horrible), but it’s the deep ones that make me think that I really like to watch.

    I agree with #4, not just for horror, but in all genres. Killing off a character just because you don’t know what else to do with it shows. And makes the author seem like an amateur.

    Great post! See ya again in two weeks!

  6. September 6, 2010 5:13 pm

    I just thought, and it hurt, the twist at the end of The Sixth Sense where we find that the main protagonist is the dead guy has been done before and done well. There’s an old 80’s movie called Dead and Buried (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082242/) that did the same thing but without the style. So beggars the question, is there anything new under sun?

    • September 6, 2010 6:00 pm

      Perhaps there isn’t anything new under the sun. That just means that we, as writers, need to go the extra mile and make the character, plot, narration, style, etc., our own. Thanks for commenting, and for sharing the tidbit on Dead and Buried. Take care.

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