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 Slenderblog and Horror

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Omega
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PostSubject: Slenderblog and Horror   Sun Feb 27, 2011 2:10 pm

This just started as me listing out some stuff about Slenderblog and the horror genre…. And then it kidna grew much longer. I’m not sure about posting it on Slenderia, as it’s kinda rant-ish, and could be a bit controversial (I don’t know how I’d feel if some big guy with an informative blog showed up and started shouting, “YOU’RE ALL DOING IT WRONG!”), so I wanted to post it here, and see what you guys thought before officially posting it on my blog.




One of the complaints I hear about modern slenderblogs is the lack of scariness in them. When this point was first raised on Unfiction several months ago, I attributed it to a transition in writing style from cosmic horror to conventional horror. But with the current blogs that are being written/made, I’ve noticed yet another shift, this time away from horror entirely.

Moving away from horror is not necessarily a bad thing (The Tutorial, for example, is in no way a horror story, but I still enjoy it. Even if M never updates). It’s possible to write good stories in the Mythos without them needing to be horror. However, the main draw of Slender Man is horror. Marble Hornets, Just Another Fool, and all the other gateway series are all horror series. People become interested in Slender Man because he frightens them, and the expectation is for him to continue to do so. With this in mind, one would expect that the majority of stories would be horror, with only a few exceptions where the authors explore other genres. That isn’t what’s happening; only a small amount of blogs are actually horror, while the rest are all over the genre spectrum. This wouldn’t be a problem if it were intentional, but I often get the feeling that it’s not: in many of the blogs I’m reading, it’s painfully obvious to me that the author was trying to write horror, but kept missing and hitting dark thriller/dark action/sitcom/whatever genre instead. While I suppose you could accidentally write an amazing romance while trying to scare your readers, it would never be as good a story as it would if you were trying to write romance (or had been correctly writing horror from the start).

I don’t claim to be the authoritative expert on how to write horror, but these are some of the basic mistakes/assumptions I’ve seen people make while trying to make their story scary, which need to be fixed for effective writing.

1. Having a monster does not create horror.

The horror monster is a staple of the genre, be it vampires, werewolves, zombies, or for us, Slender Man. The monster is supposed to be the focus of our fears; from it flows all the creepiness of the story.

However, the horror monster trope has led to a mistaken assumption that is found all too often. That is, A) Slender Man is scary. B) Therefore, if I put Slender Man in my story, it will become scary.

This belief shows a misunderstanding of the tropes basic concepts. It is not the existence of the monster which causes the reader to be scared, but the actions which the monster does. And unfortunately, we’ve seen quite a bit of badass decay in the actions of Slender Man. In too many stories, all he ever does is quietly stalk the character. Stalking on its own isn’t scary; what makes it so frightening is the implied threat in it, that the stalker may at any moment choose to cease quietly observing and become much more malevolent. All too often, we see heavy focus on the stalking, but little on the threat.

What’s the solution? Simple: have Slendy do something besides chill in the background. The stalking suddenly becomes much more threatening when the reader knows that at any moment, he may decide to become violent. Having an active Slendy does carry its own risks, however. If you rush too quickly into Slendy’s violence, escalate his attacks at too rapid a pace, you run out of tension and suspense early on. This was the biggest problem in Hiking Fiend: right off the bat, Slender Man was using life threatening force on the protagonist. After you’ve put the risk of Slender Man killing the protagonist out there, it’s hard to figure out where else to go. If you keep drawing the story out without pulling back on the action, the audience begins to wonder why Slendy doesn’t just kill the character; why does such a powerful being keep failing to catch his target?

A note here: when I saw Slendy needs to take action, this does not mean sending proxies out to attack. Proxies have their uses in horror, but being a substitute for Slender Man is not one of them. If you want Slender Man to be scary, it needs to be Slender Man who poses the biggest threat to the protagonist, not generic mook #247.

This point leads very nicely to the next, which is…

2. “A headcrab hiding in every vent is boring. A headcrab hiding in every third vent is terrifying.”

That’s a quote I read on a discussion on how to make good horror levels in Half Life 2, but it also applies to all other forms of horror media. If the monster is always around, it becomes boring, status quo, and predictable. However, what if you never know when the monster will appear? It’s not the monster chilling in your front yard which creates suspense, it’s the possibility that he might be there which creates it. Oftentimes, the monster’s actual appearance acts more as a relief: all the tension which had been building up in the audiences from the growing suspense is released in that moment.

Sadly, all too many writers (even some professional ones, to be honest) don’t understand how to build suspense. Slender Man appears, and then he’s always there. No build up or tension is created, and the audience never has to ask, “When’s he going to appear next?” He’s always standing around, like another detail in the background. Look at some of the successful blogs, such as Just Another Fool or Seeking Truth. Slender Man rarely makes appearances in them; most of the time, he’s in the background. Whenever he does make an appearance, it’s a major event, not just him doing his usual thing.

This is where proxies can be used. Putting too much attention on Slender Man makes him less mysterious, creates less suspense, and therefore lessens the fear. What the proxies can do is enable to author to keep the tension and risk in the story present without putting too bright a spotlight on Slendy. Through effective use of proxies, Slender Man can be saved for the moments with the greatest importance. Think of how Marble Hornets used Masky: he isn’t as big a threat as Slender Man, but he’s enough of one to create suspense and fear. Masky is used to keep the threat present, and then when they really need something major, that’s when they pull out Slender Man. Because we haven’t been constantly seeing Slender Man around the place, his appearance is a much bigger deal than it would have been otherwise.

Proxies have the same risks of overexposure as Slender Man. While they can be used more frequently than Slender Man, if used too frequently they also stop being scary or threatening. It’s a hard balance to find, but when found, is very effective.

3. The character being scared does not equal the audience being scared.

This is aimed at both the people who are writing the blogs and the people who are complaining about them. First, for those writing: just because you tell us your character is scared does not mean that any of us should be scared. Writing a post about how terrified you are because Slender Man is outside your window is nice and all, but Slender Man outside someone’s window on its own isn’t going to scare many people. You need atmosphere, suspense, and empathy from the audience. Without those things, your character can scream all they want, and no one’s going to care much.

For the complainers: a lot of people seem to think that the biggest problem with the current blogs is how no one is scared of Slender Man anymore. I’ll admit, that can be a problem: it’s hard to be frightened when the narrator is acting all upbeat and confident. However, making the characters scared of Slender Man on its own will not solve all the problems in the stories and make everything frightening again. It can be used as a first step towards a solution, but it isn’t the solution in itself. And I think it even could be possible to write genuine horror while still having a confident character; it would just be really, really hard.

4. The need to lose

This…. This is mostly for horror, but it applies to EVERYONE making a blog right now. The most important aspect of storytelling is conflict. If you have a good conflict, the chances of having a good story increase tremendously.

We don’t have many good conflicts anymore.

You see, stories tend to follow a pattern. There’s the rising action, where the story builds up, culminating in the climax. In horror, the climax usually ends with either the protagonists losing, or their victory being put in doubt. More positive genres tend to have protagonist victory in the climax. Along the way to the climax, there can be small, mini-climaxes, with their own rising action and subsequent relaxation and releasing of tension, but the trend is supposed to continue in a generally upward manner.

Why does this matter? Because too many people are misunderstanding how to use the rising action period. It’s supposed to be a time where the story builds up its suspense, gradually building it up until it’s let loose in the climax. Where the mistakes are being made is during the mini-climaxes that occur during the rising action: having too many wins for the protagonists during that time destroys the suspense. If through the entire story, the characters have won every encounter they’ve had with the antagonists, the audience isn’t going to wonder whether or not they’ll win in the end; they’ll just assume a protagonist victory, like every time before.

A good story is not supposed to be a tale about a person experiencing a series of victories until one final victory. It’s supposed to be about a struggle, where they have to work hard and overcome challenges before the end. At the start of the story, you can get away with some easy wins; the antagonist isn’t fully committed yet, and there’s little tension that has been created thus far. But the further into the story you go, the harder things should become for the protagonist. This is where losing is needed. Now, when I say “losing”, I don’t mean a total protagonist defeat. That would defeat the purpose of the rest of the story. And it actually is possible to have the protagonists achieve their goal during a mini-climax and still “lose”. What I mean by losing can be many things, such as having to sacrifice something, experiencing psychological/moral defeats, the antagonist defeating their plan A so they have to go to the riskier plan B, etc. The purpose of these losses is so that the protagonist winning is never a certainty; every success they achieve is harder than the last, every time they face the antagonist they come closer to being defeated. At the climax, the final outcome should be in doubt. Will the protagonists win? Things have been getting harder for them, but they’re still fighting, and they might be able to pull out a win. Or will the antagonists finally triumph completely?

Now for those of you writing horror, don’t overemphasize the protagonists losing. When the climax comes, there still needs to be some hope that the protagonists might win. If everyone knows the monster is going to win, there’s no reason to read the ending. That doubt is the essential part of making the climax exciting.




So there you go. Over 2,000 words and nearly four pages of a Word document being spent in a rant about this stuff. Have fun with it, kids!


Last edited by Omega on Sun Feb 27, 2011 9:24 pm; edited 1 time in total
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ParaBellum
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PostSubject: Re: Slenderblog and Horror   Sun Feb 27, 2011 3:39 pm

I'll keep this in mind as I'm writing my blog, but it seems like you're missing about half of your post--you talk about overexposure of Slender Man and proxies, and then you go to #3...
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Omega
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PostSubject: Re: Slenderblog and Horror   Sun Feb 27, 2011 9:25 pm

ParaBellum wrote:
I'll keep this in mind as I'm writing my blog, but it seems like you're missing about half of your post--you talk about overexposure of Slender Man and proxies, and then you go to #3...

That's because I was missing half the post.

There it is now, in all it's glory!
Even longer now than it was before!
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Alice
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PostSubject: Re: Slenderblog and Horror   Mon Feb 28, 2011 4:15 am

I am...in awe of this post.

It addresses every problem I've been having with the horror genre. I want to teach a class based on this post and e-mail it to all my friends. I've been studying writing seriously for nigh-on these past two years and if this post had been around when I started, I think it would have saved me a lot of heartache and late nights pounding my head against the keyboard, hoping words would form themselves.

I particularly liked points 1 and 3, because they address what it is that the audience seeks in a horror story, especially from Slendy. I disagree on the "confident characters aren't scary" because I find that taking a confident character and showing them cracking to be terrifying but that also ties into what you said about "happy and upbeat" characters aren't scary---until they lose that happiness. Which can be some of the biggest character development present in blogs. Seeing Zeke slowly starting to believe in Slendy and lose the "it's not real guys" attitude kept me up far longer than having a Proxy appear out of nowhere.

And keeps me reading.

As for point 4, I agree entirely. Conflict is essential to story-telling, any story-telling. The solution you provide is spot-on too. I think the general consensus is that no one wants to see Slendy defeated in a blog but the alternatives of a protagonist sacrificing something or having to resort to a different plan at the climax is extremely good advice. I'm of the opinion that a blog should end in HORRENDOUS CHARACTER DEATH or ambiguously but that too can lose suspense and subsequently readers.

Anyway, well done, you.

Have a winpoint.

Also, if I do teach a class, I will attempt to publish this post in textbook form. All royalties going to Omega Inc., of course.
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PostSubject: Re: Slenderblog and Horror   Tue Mar 01, 2011 12:03 am

Man, this is just fantastic. Thank you, dude, seriously- this is everything I want to say about horror writing and Slender Man. Especially the last point about losing, which I think is especially necessary in a cosmic horror story. You can escape or defeat a monster, you can escape or defeat a serial killer, but you can't escape or defeat Cthulhu, at least not for long.

So many winpoints, sir.
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Omega
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PostSubject: Re: Slenderblog and Horror   Tue Mar 01, 2011 1:04 pm

Well, I got a surprisingly positive reaction here, so I've posted this on Slenderia.
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altiumvidetur
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PostSubject: Re: Slenderblog and Horror   Tue Mar 01, 2011 1:58 pm

Okay, winpointed.

Something I would add would be one thing that is prevalent in all the original stories and good horror stories, and kinda the core of what makes the Slender Man scary is that it's a slight deviation from the norm. It's not wild adventures and serious bizarreness that freaks people out, it's things that should seem normal but aren't.

If you look at the original images, Slendy is only visible if you're looking for him, or at second glance. What seemed to be an ordinary picture suddenly becomes much more horrific. It's that moment when everything becomes wrong, that suddenly the ordinary becomes threatening, which creates fear. The Slender Man scares us because he's close to us-- an alien, murderous creature that is nonetheless humanoid.

I'm not sure how this fits in with what you were saying, but it's what I thought about whilst reading your incredibly well written post. So once more, well done, sir. I particularly agree with the first point, that having a horrific monster does not a horror story make.
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PostSubject: Re: Slenderblog and Horror   Tue Mar 01, 2011 2:45 pm

Something which I think also helps with horror, which the Slender Man is uniquely suited to, is breaking up the fourth wall. Not just telling a story about something scary that happens, but having it create a familiarity with the reader, assuming they let themselves get immersed enough. The book House of Leaves (A HUGE influence on about half the projects in the Slender Man mythos) went from creepy to the legendarily terrifying book it is with the following passage:

"To get a better idea try this: focus on these words, and whatever you do don't let your eyes wander past the perimeter of this page. Now imagine just beyond your peripheral vision, maybe behind you, maybe to the side of you, maybe even in front of you, but right where you can't see it, something is quietly closing in on you, so quiet in fact you can only hear it as silence. Find those pockets without sound. That's where it is. Right at this moment. But don't look. Keep your eyes here. Now take a deep breath. Go ahead, take an even deeper one. Only this time as you exhale try to imagine how fast it will happen, how hard it's gonna hit you, how many times it will stab your jugular with its teeth or are they nails?, don't worry, that particular detail doesn't matter, because before you have time to process that you should be moving, you should be running, you should at the very least be flinging up your arms-you sure as hell should be getting rid of this book-you won't have time to even scream.
Don't look.
I didn't."

Immediately the tension the character feels is instilled in us. It creates a sympathetic relationship between the character's fear and the reader's, which makes it that much more terrifying. We aren't scared for the character, we're scared for ourselves.. That's why, I think, the idea that he appears to people who found out about him is so appealing to so many people; it means he represents a very real threat to us, the readers. The original thread did this, Marble Hornets does this (In Entry 1, can anyone say it wasn't like he turned and looked right at you? Same in the totheark response to Entry 19, or Entry 19 for that matter) and the memory loss element seems like an attempt to capture this, by making it plausible that any one of us could have had experiences with the Slender Man already. Precious few others I've seen have done this.
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PostSubject: Re: Slenderblog and Horror   Tue Mar 01, 2011 5:38 pm

All I'd like to say is that Dark Thriller for a style isn't that bad, if you can't do Horror, Thriller is actually pretty cool

and I managed to say that without alluding to Michael Jackson or Vincent Price



wait, I just did

crap
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PostSubject: Re: Slenderblog and Horror   Today at 12:35 pm

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