Thursday, April 12, 2012

Guest Post | Character Assassination by Michael West

I'm very excited to welcome Michael West back to Book Den today. I'm also excited to point out his latest novel Poseidon's Children is free for Kindle through today. Be sure to go grab a copy!

It’s far too easy to kill people. Well, at least for some writers. They create disposable characters that are designed to be slashed or clawed or eaten. They give them the slimmest of characterizations, make them stereotypes, and before you know it...BAM! The axe falls and the annoying one, or the jock, or the virgin, or what-have-you is worm food. They give us victims rather than people.

But where’s the suspense in that?

When slasher films first came into existence, they were gory who-done-its. You had a cast of characters who were being murdered, and you had to guess who was doing it and why. But you knew who the people were. You got a chance to see them interact, to see their friendships, to know their wants or dislikes, all their quirks and their habits...you got actual characters. Don’t believe me? Go back and watch the original Halloween, or Friday the 13th, or My Bloody Valentine, or Happy Birthday to Me. Even if a character was going to die in the very next scene, you got to know something about them. You got to care.

But not for long.

Fast forward a few years, after a few sequels and a few remakes, and you find that character stopped being important. So did any sense of mystery. Now, the killers were the stars, and it wasn’t so much who-done-it, but how’s-he-gonna-do-it? This led to the construction of more and more elaborate death scenes. And when all conventional weaponry had been exhausted, we got the Saw movies and the Final Destination films, where intricate traps and step-by-step coincidences conspired to rip total strangers limb from limb.

But where is the emotional investment?

I remember reading William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist; Stephen King’s The Stand, Christine, and Pet Sematary; Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, and I would get so wrapped up in the characters and their plights, so afraid for them, that I couldn’t put the books down, I couldn’t even sleep, until I knew what happened to them, until I knew they were safe. All too often now, however, Horror novels have mirrored the films, and it is hard to find characters you would shed tears over if they met their doom. Sometimes, it’s hard to even find characters you like.

But that’s just not scary.

For me, there is no fear without emotional attachment. You can shock people all you want, but if they aren’t invested in the people their reading about on the page, or watching on the screen, they’re not going to experience true terror. That’s what I strive for in my work: terror. Oh, I’m not above the jump scare, mind you, and I can do gore with the best of them, but I just don’t think a story is memorable unless it has good, believable, relatable, characters; people you’d like to hang out with, people you’d like to date, maybe even people who remind you a bit of yourself. It’s not so easy to see those people die, is it? Put those people in jeopardy, and you actually care. And when you care, suddenly you don’t feel safe alone in your room. You don’t feel safe closing your eyes. You don’t feel safe at all! You are, in a word, terrified. And that, after all, is the whole point of a Horror story, isn’t it? Sadly, those kinds of books, with those kinds of believable characters, and threats that are equally real, are few and far between.

But they are out there, and when you do find them...oh, baby...you get very real goosebumps.

To find out more about Michael West, author of The Wide Game, Cinema of Shadows, and Poseidon's Children, visit his website at www.bymichaelwest.com

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5 comments:

  1. I love what he says about how the reader (or viewer for that matter) can't experience the terror unless they get invested in the character.

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  2. I do, too. That's the best kind of suspense.

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  3. Mr. West is SO right!! And that's one of the things I love most about his books: the characters!! <3

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  4. Yes, but I also happened to really enjoy the Saw movies. I was emotionally invested with the killer - he went after people who didn't appreciate all the goods things they had in life, and squandered their good fortunes. In a warped way, he built their traps around their very sins. Add into that the mind-bending twists with a number of people who COULD be the killer, or even Jigsaw's accomplice... people to whom you WERE emotionally attached.

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  5. How did I miss your comment JEM? I only saw the first two Saw movies. I love Cary Elwes, but he kind of ruined the first one. Why did he sound like a 90 year old man at the end? Have you seen House of Nine or My Little Eye? Those were a lot like Saw.

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