1. jwideman
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    jwideman Senior Member

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    Horror: An Observation

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by jwideman, Feb 19, 2013.

    I was thinking about the horror movies or books I enjoyed the most and it occurred to me they all follow the same formula:
    An average person finds themselves in danger, survives by a combination of guts and luck, and are able to meet the danger head on by the climax. Examples would be Evil Dead 2, Jaws, Night of the Living Dead (not quite to formula, but still), Alien, The Shining (the book, not the movie), and most anything else by Stephen King.
    This realization made me wonder what other horror plots I've been ignoring.
     
  2. BitPoet
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    BitPoet Member

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    Yes, those are the usual ingredients for a horror story. The average person so that readers (or watchers) can identify with them. The element of luck that enforces the feeling of helplesness, if the hero's own skills were enough to overcome the obstacles the situation wouldn't feel half as dreadful. And of course the climax where the heros face their biggest fear, as readers we are suckers for the cliché of ordinary people growing far beyond their normal capabilities. They are all what I like to call popcorn horror though, with at least one hero inexplicably escaping certain doom by a single heroic act, so basically they're modern fairy tales.

    Contrasting to that are for example Rosemary's Baby, where the happy end is not so happy and the heroine looses more and more control over her life as the story progresses. The Birds also tries to play with variations of the known clichés and its open end suggests that things may not be resolved at all. Then there are of course Lovecraft and Poe, their heros often turning out to be anything but and their dark pasts being revealed as the driving force for the whole plot.

    There is not too much leeway in horror though, otherwise the balance between human fear and hope doesn't work. If the characters are too strong, the feeling of dread won't become palpable. If they are too weak and only rely on dumb luck, nobody wants to identify with them. Most horror stories need tools to inspire fear that are invisible most of the time, either by being incorporal, being able to camouflage, hiding inside something (or someone, in the case of 'Alien') or being quick to appear and vanish from unexpected directions. I'm not sure I'd fully group Jaws and Alien (and also The Birds) into horror though, to me they feel more like thrillers with some ingredients of horror and other genres mixed in. One thing you left out in the classic horror plot scheme is the progressing confinement, the plot usually starts with a whole town or village where the heroes move around but, approaching the climax, ends in a small room (or something comparable like a boat).
     
  3. iWant iStrive
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    iWant iStrive Member

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    With horror I think the simpler the premise, the better. It's all down to the writing really and the ability of the author to portray the sense of fear and suspense to grip the reader. Plots don't need to be complex or several layers thick. The occasional twist is always welcome though.
     
  4. jwideman
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    jwideman Senior Member

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    I'm familiar with Poe and Lovecraft, of course. While they are Required Reading for any horror author, and I enjoyed their stuff a lot, their stories aren't very exciting. They are "downer" stories. I suppose it was their subconscious influence that guided the plot of my most successful work.
    I never noticed the confinement. Now that I think about it, oh yeah. Alien in particular - Ripley is trapped in the shuttle with the creature, face to face with it, strapped into the chair, moments from whatever fate it intended for her.
     
  5. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    I prefer horror stories without a "happy ending". If there is a creature out there that can kill 20 trained soldiers, i find it implausible that a 16 year old blond cheerleader can fend it off somehow and survive.
     
  6. Caeben
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    Caeben Member

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    I don't think this is necessarily true. I think that it is possible to have strong protagonists in horror, with the horror theme revolving around "tearing down" the strong characters. The dread and horror stems from the idea that these protagonists cannot beat back against what they face despite all their strengths and abilities, draining them of their hope and creating tension and fear in the reader. In some ways, it could come off as more horrific to see strong characters fail in the face of whatever supernatural/cosmological/Lovecraftian beastie opposes them.
     
  7. Sanjuricus
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    Sanjuricus Active Member

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    With the changing of a few words, that could also be applied to many a work of fantasy. They usually involve destiny or being the chosen one or some such but the gist is the same.

     
  8. Sved
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    Sved Senior Member

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    Western horror still builds on the template of isolating people. Dark, remote, no contact with rest of the world. Check out the Japanese horror tradition which often incorporate the modern technology
     
  9. SuperVenom
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    SuperVenom Contributing Member

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    Without vulnerability there is no danger, without danger there is no suspense, without suspense there is no horror. Chuck whatever you want at the protag. but if they cannot be effected by it whats the point. Put superman in Saw you know nothing can hurt him, so why watch?
     
  10. TheRuler
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    TheRuler New Member

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    The storied may follow the same line, but what really makes them good, is the way it's written. It needs to be very detailed, and there must be a way the reader can identify with the characters.
     

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