Horror: A study on Cliver Barker part 7, In the Hills, the Cities.
Welcome to part 7 on Clive Barker's work. Today we will be looking at story # 6 in Books of Blood: In the Hills, the Cities. This story is a personal favorite of mine, and often when I critique people on story structure, I reference this short story; hence, today we will be looking at two things. First, I want to highlight a passage I thought was elegantly written (warning, erotic content) and I wanted to take a brief look at the story structure this story has, but first the summary.
Summary: In the Hills, the Cities tells the story of two gay men, Mick and Judd, as they make their way through the Yugoslavia countryside. The pair comes to discovery an ancient ritual that has gone horribly wrong; every ten years, two rivaling cities gather their citizens and construct massive giants, by strapping one person to the next, in order to do battle. This year's battle, however, goes terribly wrong when one of the giants collapse due to a fault in the design and results in 35,000+ (almost the entire population of the city) people (men, women, and children) dying. The other giant goes mad in grief over its companion's death (the rivalry is on a friendly level, like a game between neighbors) and rampages madly through the countryside. The story ends with Judd and Mick coming face to face with the giant.
Notes: I wanted to start this review off by highlighting a passage I thought was very well written. Now I am not going to critique Mr. Barker's writing style, however, I will say that I don't enjoy his erotic scenes. In the previous story (Sex, Death and Starshine) the story opens with a sex scene that was less than inspiring for me; however, in this story, there is a scene filled with sexual tension between Mick and Judd that I thought was well written and erotic (and has a clever foreshadowing device placed into it.)
"Mick dropped the flower, and untucked his T-shirt from his jeans. A tight stomach, then slim, smooth chest were revealed as he pulled it off... Judd followed Mick's path through the wheat, unbuttoning his shirt as he walked. Field mice ran ahead of him, scurrying through the stalks as the giant came their way, his feet like thunder." (Page 138-139)
There are two things I wanted to go over from this passage. First, the nonhighlighted section I felt was filled with simple imagery that creates a sexual tension between the two men. A personal mistake of mine when I write is that I don't create enough sexual tension in my works, and go right into the sex scene. An important lesson I feel can be learned from this passage is that you need to create the desire in the reader to read about sex just as much as you have to create the desire in the characters first, and this is done through sexual tension. (Make the character crave it, but deny it them sex as long as possible.)
The second thing I want to note is the highlighted part of this passage. It is a great image that adds to the scene, however, it serves to foreshadow the end of the story. At the story's end, when Mick and Judd come face to face with the giant it is described as being in a thunderstorm.
Now onto the story structure of this short story. The base I use for when I review story structure is Blake Synder's Save the Cat formula, though, to be honest, I've studied all the big ones and while they might call their steps by different names, all the parts serve the same function. I won't go too deeply into how story structure in this review (that will be its own blog series) but I'll give a brief description of what purpose they need to serve.
Opening Image: The purpose of the opening image is to show how the MC's world is before his or her adventure. Our opening image is two gay men driving a car through the hills. (This is important)
Set-up: The Set-up is meant to introduce the reader to the characters. We meet Mick and Judd, two gay men.
Theme: The theme of this story is actually 'Miracles' The theme is introduced due to Mick's fascination with the virgin birth. (I'll come back to this at the end of my review)
Call to action/Catalyst: Mick and Judd hear a loud scream. The Call to action is meant to be part of the story where the Hero is given the chance to go on an adventure.
Debate/Refusal to the call: This is the part of the story where the hero(s) debate/wonder if it is a good idea to take part of the adventure or/and how they should go about it. Mick and Judd have an argument over if they should try to find the source of the loud scream.
Break into Act II: This the part of the story where the heroes make their decision or something happens that prevents them from going back to a normal life. Mick and Judd find a field filled with 35,000+ dead bodies.
Fun & Games/trails: Mick and Judd try to find out what happened. This is the part of the story filled with adventure, fun, and friends!
B-Story: The subplot of this story actually starts earlier in the story, but it shows the events of the collapsing Giant. The purpose a sub-plot is to explore the theme of the story, and In The Hills, the Cities this is no different. One of the spectators comment on how the battle of these giants is a 'miracle.'
Mid-point: The midpoint of a story is can be a hollow victory or disaster; for this story, it is a disaster. Not only are Mick and Judd unable to learn the truth about what has happened, but someone steals their car.
Bad guys close in: Depending on your midpoint, this section is where either the villain strikes back or the heroes strike back. Mick and Judd give chase to the man who stole their car (Heroes strike back).
All is Lost moment: This is also dependent on your midpoint, but it needs to be the opposite of your midpoint. Mick and Judd find their car and learn the truth about what happened, but it is a hollow victory for them because of how bizarre the story sounds (building a Giant out of the town's people.)
Dark Night of the Soul: This is where your characters have doubt about themselves. Mick and Judd ponder if such a thing could be possible.
Break into Act III: This is where you heroes transition into the final part of the story where they face the big bad. Mick and Judd decide to seek refuge and receive it from an elderly couple living nearby.
Finale/Climax: Mick and Judd are awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of thunder. They go outside to see the rampaging giant running towards them.
Remember the theme of the story, and that this is the climax, I wanted to highlight the climactic passage to illustrate how everything goes hand in hand with one another.
" Neither dread nor horror touched them now, just an awe that rooted them to the spot. They knew this was a sight they could never hope to see again; this was the apex -after this there was only common experience. Better to stay then, though every step brought death nearer, better to stay and see the sight while it was still there to be seen. And if it killed them, this monster, then at least they would have glimpsed a miracle, known this terrible majesty for a brief moment. It seemed a fair exchange. " (page 162-163)
Closing image: The story ends with Judd being killed by the giant. Mick, driven mad, grabs onto the creature and rides it through the hills. This mirrors the opening and shows just how drastic Mick has changed.
This concludes my notes on In the Hills, the Cities. I've hoped you enjoyed this, and if you have a question or thoughts please leave it!
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