First off, I want to thank Setoth for his extremely in depth post over the Crowley Tulpa hypothesis that was in my last post. It covers pretty much everything you need to know, plus a bit more, about Crowley, the Babylon Working, and the authenticity of the Slender Man Chronicle’s claims. Check it out here.
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.