Monday, March 14, 2005

Readers in the Hands of an Angry Writer

Every story has critical plot points, but the horror story has one point that overrides all points of style and structure. In the horror story there is always one single point at which the writer has a choice: stay safe of go for the gusto.

I was watching The 100 Scariest Movie Moments on Bravo over the weekend. One of the top moments was the one from Misery where Kathy Bates puts a block of wood between James Caan's ankles and then whacks his left ankle with a sledghammer. Even though the audience knows that this is not really happening, the sight of that foot flopping like a fish in the bottom of a boat always draws a gasp. It's not just the thought of the man's pain or the graphic depiction of the woman's violently insane obsession. That is a pivotal moment in the story. That is the moment when you realize fully and without any remaining doubt that you have placed yourself in the hands of a madman.

The same is true for short stories and novels. I am constantly being disappointed when a writer brings the character or cast to a point of crisis and then lets them off the hook. At that point, I know I can relax and sit back for some mindless entertainment, because this writer does not have the guts to dig for the truth. Far, far too often, I know very early on in a story that everything will come out alright in the end. The hero will get the girl (or vice-versa) and save the world. There's no suspense, only a curiosity as to how that will happen.

Readers are not bystanders watching me play with puppets for their amusement. My responsibility does not end with drawing the reader into my world. It also includes entering into their world, getting into their minds, finding the tender spots and poking them. Hard. Horror stories should not just entertain; they should horrify. One of my aims as a horror writer is to inflict pain on my readerr--to scare them, terrify them, horrify them, to leave them unsettled and feeling unsafe and unsure of the boudaries of their realities, to make them think about what good and evil really are. That's an awesome responsibility, and it often frightens me, but it's one I gladly take on and do my best to discharge.

Bait and switch

I wrote previously about maintaining the reader's trust. The plot structure of Washed in the Blood is evolving in such a way that I may have to push the boudaries on that a little bit. No deus ex machina, certainly, and no Wizard behind the curtain pulling levers, but possibly a little misdirection, a hint in the early scenes that this may hurt a little, but everything will work out. Then the monster steps out of the darkness, and hope dies.

The idea I am currently toying with is that the story will open on Maggie's indiscretion with Thomas. The early part will focus on her struggle to come to terms with that and what she will tell John, if anything, when he gets home. Not until they are deeply mired in that swamp will the monster actually appear as a monster and the focus turns to John. The trick will be to make this switch in such a way that the reader will gladly follow along and not feel cheated or step back and say: "Gee, that was an intersting effect". It may require a slow fade from one character to the other. I'm waiting on the Muse to lead me on this.

By doing things this way, I aim to build up a deep attachment to John and Maggie in the reader. Then comes the moment of truth, the moment I referred to earlier in which I reveal myself as a madman who is going to do his best to wrest your soul from your body and beat you on the head with it. Welcome to my mind. Abansdon all hope, ye who enter here.

Jesus wept

The Passion of the Christ, Recut has been released, and another illusion crumbles into dust. Mel Gibson has now lost my respect. It always saddens and infuriates me to see another hypocrite exposed. Mr. Gibson claims to have been inspired to make the original of this movie and maintained that he would remain true to his vision in spite of the controversy. Now he shows his true colors, and the main one is green.

Money talks; bullshit walks, Mr. Gibson. Dollars speak loudly. Did you castrate your film in order to serve God or to serve Mammon? Will you now also release a new version that answers the anti-Semitism charges still being thrown your way? Maybe a sanitized version that can be shown in Sunday School? Don't try to blow smoke up my butt. I've been around with some of the best in the business. Bullshit grows pretty roses, but you'll never convince me that it smells and tastes good.

Mr. Gibson claims to be devout and to follow the Christian Scriptures as the literal Word of God. Listen to these words: "By their fruits you shall know them." I know you now.

Speaking of fruits, what have you done with the hundreds of millions of dollars that you have already collected on this film and on the related products? How many of those dollars have wound up in the hands of those who need them? How many have you clothed and fed and sheltered? Maybe you should reread Matthew 25:31-46.

I make no claim to be a devout Christian, far from it. I find far too many faults in Christianity to give it more than the respect I give to any religion. It's the hypocrisy that burns my butt. It's the ham-handed attempt to manipulate prople who truly do believe in Christianity in order to fleece them of their money. That's not right. It's not only not right, it's downright evil. Mel Gibson will be held to account for his cynicism and self-aggrandizing one day. If he's right, and the Christian God is the one true God, he'll be in for a long, hot time.

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