Friday, June 30, 2017

Top Ten Internet Horror DON'Ts (Part 1)

**Note: Clicking on the links throughout this article will take you to horror of varying types and degrees, from mildly unnerving to gory to existentially terrifying. If that kind of thing wigs you out too much, or that's just not what you're looking for, this is your warning. I also take no responsibility for any curses, brainwashing, sudden deaths, or other similarly odd events potentially connected to these links. And, like Arthur Weasley said, don't trust anything intelligent if you can't see where it keeps its brain. Oh, and spoilers are going to exist in this article.**

So, the last couple posts, I went over the do's from internet horror as its own weird little genre. What we can learn about writing horror, and just about writing in general, from the online scarefest that's been blooming over the past decade or so.

But as many of you probably already know, internet horror is far from perfect. For every Candle Cove and Marble Hornets, there's a dozen "WHO WAS PHONE" and "Jane the Killer" stories to muddy the waters (Although WHO WAS PHONE is at least funny.). There's a lot to learn from all that bad horror about what we should absolutely avoid doing, too. And I've got ten of those nuggets plucked from the pile here.

You can read the do's, as well as my definition of internet horror, HERE in the first pair of articles. This set will be largely self contained, but there will likely still be references back to the first two, so I do recommend reading these all in order.

Now, enough of all the lead-in crap – let's get right to what we all want out of this: numbers in descending order!

10: DON'T Abuse Internal References
This is low on the list, since it's not always applicable, but I feel like it has to be said nonetheless. The world of internet horror is largely composed of Creative Commons elements reconfigured into something unique. Whether that's good or not is not the point here. What matters is that it makes for a very self-referential genre.

If you're going to do something like that, you have to do it well. Slenderman, the Rake, Jeff the Killer, and the Brutal Obscene Beast all get cursed by Smile Dog and Normal Porn for Normal People… that's not a good story. That's a mess, and it happens way too often. Well-done internal reference can be seen in works like EverymanHYBRID (Slenderman/the Rake), but the key is that it's brought in well. It makes sense. It works within the world and, perhaps most importantly, the elements that are borrowed and included are not all that exists. They're not even the main antagonistic forces. That honor falls to Habit in that universe, and Habit is an entirely original character created by the guys.

Outside of actual internet horror, I'd say this has the most application in Lovecraftian fiction. Sure, Nyarlathotep, Hastur, and the Hounds of Tindalos might all be hunting the same guy together… but I doubt it, and I doubt even more an author could make it work without some very original worldbuilding to tie the disparate elements together. And really, the same could be said when using any mythological elements. Use them carefully, know them well, and bring something original in, but don't overuse any of it.

9: DON'T Assume Your First Idea is Clever and Amazing

It's not. I would put money on the first idea you have for something being trite, cliché, and generally predictable, in fact. It's not a mockery or me being rude or mean. You could say the same thing about my first idea for something, too. Our brain stores up ideas it's seen already. If we see a solution work once, our brain is designed to remember it, because from a survival standpoint, it makes sense to just do it the way you know for sure works.

That, however, is the absolute death of creativity. But the internet horror community seems largely ignorant of this fact. Almost every story in the internet horror community involves Uncanny Valley Creature #12 stalking Mary Sue/Marty Stu through a setting that is barely touched upon, causing insanity/sickness as well as electronic interference. Also this is the last journal entry Mary Sue/Marty Stu made. It's done over and over because there are several well-created, popular internet horror pieces that follow this formula. The plot is stored in your brain already, and it leaps out when presented with an opportunity.

I guarantee that, when you see a call or a specific theme, you come up with a half dozen ideas that you've seen somewhere else before you get to something worth dealing with. You may drop everything rapidly, but it comes up nonetheless. That doesn't mean you should write it. Well, not normally…

8: DON'T Just Reuse Someone's Idea (Caveat Incoming)
To go along with the last point, you can't just find a successful idea and do it over with a different veneer. You have to change something to make it work out as something worth doing. I mentioned that in the do's, but it's important. It's so important, and especially in internet horror, it's way too prevalent.

This phenomenon is really easily seen with Slenderman. So many Slenderman based creations floating out there, to the point where it has passed out of the internet and into the mainstream. And unfortunately, the mainstream does Slenderman… poorly, as a rule. Take a look at the Marble Hornets movie to see that in full glory… or, actually, don't. It's so bad. It's so bad, guys. Not only did they not understand what made Marble Hornets work, the changes they made… just didn't work. They weren't original. Instead, it actually took something that had some interesting elements, something original, and shaved off all the edges to fit it into the same box we've seen a hundred times in every forgettable horror movie.

Don't be Always Watching. Please, please, please.

7: DON'T Rely on Blood and Gore
I praised internet horror for subtlety… but again, that's the really good stuff, the stuff worth learning from. For the most part, the common horror tactic of "let's drop blood everywhere" is so overused. I'm a fan of splatterpunk, personally, but there's a way to eviscerate hundreds of people and make it actually work. Read Peel and Eat Buffet by Vincent W. Sakowski to see it well-used. Assuming you have a strong enough stomach.

This isn't a large, complicated point: use your blood and intestines sparingly. They're expensive, and they're best left implied, in my opinion.

6: DON'T Rely on Aesthetics
Internet horror is full of aesthetic terror. Pictures and videos, yes, but in a genre that has an unfortunate tendency to leave out grounding details, the horrific entities are often described in excessive detail, often to the point of just throwing up a photograph.

That is not enough, no matter what anyone thinks. Even the most unnerving pictures won't save a story. Jeff the Killer is popular, but widely acknowledged as just straight up bad. The plot is weak, the writing is awful, the characters are ridiculous. The image associated with Jeff the Killer is terrifying, but if you don't stop there, if you look at anything beyond the aesthetics, it falls apart. You have to bring more than some scary imagery to your story, whatever the medium. Otherwise, you end up with a mess. You end up with, at best, a work that will only ever be known for one, fleeting element of it.


And those are your first five don'ts. Tomorrow, we'll have the top five, and the end of a very fun series for me to work on. I like these bigger collections of blog posts… so you could safely expect more, most likely.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Top Ten Internet Horror DOs (Part 2)

**Note: Clicking on the links throughout this article will take you to horror of varying types and degrees, from mildly unnerving to gory to existentially terrifying. If that kind of thing wigs you out too much, or that's just not what you're looking for, this is your warning. I also take no responsibility for any curses, brainwashing, sudden deaths, or other similarly odd events potentially connected to these links. And, like Arthur Weasley said, don't trust anything intelligent if you can't see where it keeps its brain. Oh, and spoilers are going to exist in this article.**

Welcome back to hell. Or… my blog. Whatever. Yesterday, I did entries 10-6 on this series, and you can read that by clicking on the big happy face.



Remember the happy face. You might need it as we go through the last five. I will… of course, I don't handle this kind of horror particularly well either. But it's there if you do need it.

5: DO Focus on Your Concept
I teach a short story class with another author, and one of the things we both try to drive home is the importance of your idea. Especially in speculative fiction (Including horror), the idea needs to be solid. You need to know what your idea is, and you need to know it well.

Again, internet horror comes in to drive home a point that I would make anyway. It is a singular concept that sells most written internet horror. Jeff the Killer, for its many flaws, hinges on a well-traveled concept: the consequences of your actions may be larger than they appear. Smile Dog: misery loves company. Candle Cove: perception may lie. One concept, and everything builds around it.

4: DO Have Passion
No one has perfect execution on every part of a creative project. It's fucking impossible, in fact. Even if someone actually produced exactly what they had in mind, someone else could hate it. Look at Van Gogh's Starry Night. It's a master piece… but some people think his paint was laid on too thick. Because of that, they not only dislike Starry Night, but everything Van Gogh painted.

You know what people respect, though? Whether or not they like something, they want to see you go balls deep into it. Even if they don’t like what you've produced, they can then see that you, as a creator, were passionate about it. And if they do like it, then that will help them love it.

I'm not going to run through specific examples of this one. Internet horror is full of missteps, things that could have been done better or had more time given to them. But you know what? The genre is still successful, and the people doing it are still passionate. And that is a testament to the creators, in my opinion.

3: DO Shirk off the Genre Shackles
… or at least wiggle around in them a little bit. Horror is a breeding ground for monsters and aliens and magic. I love all those things. I love them done and I love them redone. But I also love it when some creator throws caution to the wind and goes outside of their purview. Or, at the very least, takes the access road running next to what's "normal."

The best example I have of this is a fairly popular series on Youtube called alantutorial. It's not supernatural. It's not particularly scary, in the traditional sense. But it is one of the most unnerving experiences I've had with fictional media to date. To sum it up, alantutorial is the web series of a man with unspecified developmental issues. He makes tutorials on ridiculous things no one would need a tutorial for (Such as crushing a can with wood.), or just makes incorrect tutorials. But he loves it. It's his passion, and damn it, he's going to do them.

As the series progresses, he seems to love the tutorials less and less. He has some traumatic experiences. He becomes destructive, and eventually, his caretaker (We assume his brother from context clues) locks him out of the house and bars his windows shut. This is a man who really can't take care of himself. And the ensuing abuse that follows Alan is not any easier to play witness to.

The series isn't scary because there's a monster after you, ooga-booga. It's scary because there's a… depravity to the kind of person who would do that. It's scary because we know this isn't all that fictional – this sort of thing happens all the time when someone with one of any number of mental disorders, learning disabilities, et cetera becomes "too much" for their caretaker. It's especially scary if you know someone who is reliant on another person for so much of their wellbeing.

Alantutorial is entirely fictional, thankfully (As a side note, Alan Resnick, who was behind it, is brilliant. Check him out.), but it feels a little bit too real. Even when it's clearly going over the top, you can't help but feel dread for Alan in that situation.

Now, it's not the only piece that does that. A lot of horror feels maybe just a bit too real in certain places. Sections of a lot of these indie horror shows online have a lot of realism to them. I can't make too many recommendations because the more realistic they get, the harder it is for me to watch them. As the whippersnappers say: it's too spoopy for me.

2: DO Embrace the Unknown
Not knowing is the basis of all fear. What's in the dark that I can't see? What are the motives of this thing? Why is this guy avoiding the moonlight? What's going on in my dreams?

But often, those questions are answered. That's totally valid, don't get me wrong. But I tend to lean with H.P. Lovecraft on this one: the not knowing is worse than the knowing. Or, as I've heard it many times: the audience's imagination will come up with something ten times worse than you ever would have created. Something unknown and not seen can't be ruined by substandard description or bad effects or a lack of budget or any other problems. In the mind of the reader, that terrifying fill-in-the-blank can be the scariest thing in the world.

Again, it's not the only way, but it is a way, and it's one that the internet horror crowd has taken to heart. I'm going to point you back at the SCP Foundation. Redaction, Expungement, and Black Boxes are key components in many of their pieces. SCP-087 does something awful if you send more than one person. SCP-447 does something with dead bodies that's too horrible to detail out. And then you have SCP-231, which is one of the most heavily redacted entries in the project. And Procedure 110 Montauk to control SCP-231, which is so horrid you need special clearance to learn about it. That is the power of the unknown. A few clues, some information skirted around… and the audience's imagination, now their own worst enemy.

1: DO Twist the Unoriginal
Internet horror, as I kind of hope I've shown, is… vast. There's a lot of it, and a lot of it interconnects somehow or another. But more than that, a lot of it comes from seeing it, hearing it, reading it. When Marble Hornets hit the scene, suddenly another half-dozen indie horror shows in a similar vein started… and flopped.

Because we've all seen Marble Hornets, too. You can't just remake it with your characters. You have to do something that's actually original with the idea.

I love riffing on ideas. I love squishing two or three disparate things together. It's actually one of my favorite ways to create new fiction. But when I do it, my first question to myself is: what's the angle? Where and how am I approaching this to bring something fresh to it? That's unfortunately harder to find in the wild. What comes immediately to mind is the channel StanFrederick. After you've watched some of the other similar shows online, find that one and you'll see what I mean.

But by now, I've started you down the rabbit hole, or you've already been there. So what did I miss that twists the norms around? Let me know so I can tap into the new veins of horror even deeper. And stay tuned for the top 10 DON'TS we can learn from internet horror, too.


Voss

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Top Ten Internet Horror DOs (Part 1)

**Note: Clicking on the links throughout this article will take you to horror of varying types and degrees, from mildly unnerving to gory to existentially terrifying. If that kind of thing wigs you out too much, or that's just not what you're looking for, this is your warning. I also take no responsibility for any curses, brainwashing, sudden deaths, or other similarly odd events potentially connected to these links. And, like Arthur Weasley said, don't trust anything intelligent if you can't see where it keeps its brain. Oh, and spoilers are going to exist in this article.**

So, this is going to be different. And long. On a random fluke, I wrote up a two day blog post a while back. I didn't expect that, but I went with it. This time I'm expecting it. I'm expecting twice as long, actually. This is probably going to spread across 4 blog posts, so I hope you're in for the long haul.

So, Top Ten Do's to Take from Internet Horror. Two posts. Top Ten Don'ts to Take from Internet Horror. Two posts. But what the hell am I talking about when I say internet horror? What makes it special or unique? I'm a reader/horror fan/random passerby, why do I care about any of this? I'm not a writer!

What I'm talking about/What makes it special: Horror is an old, old genre, and it's gone through countless permutations. Gothic horror, with vampires and werewolves. The existential dread of H.P. Lovecraft and his contemporaries. 80's slasher flicks. The 90's brought splatterpunk. And in modern times, there's what I consider a new genre of internet horror. It's… hard to define. It encompasses creepypasta and the ARG phenomenon. We'll learn more detail about it as the list goes on.

Why you should care: admittedly, I'm putting these articles together with an eye to helping writers… myself included. But, at the very least, you may find some new things to read/watch/listen to. At the most, you could find it interesting to peek behind the curtain and see Professor Marvel pulling at the levers.

Okay, this intro is already getting too long for my tastes – let's get going.

10: DO Experiment
Now, this isn't exactly unique advice to be gleaned from internet horror, but I feel what people are doing with their online spooks drives it home very well. Traditional horror is just that: traditional. It follows a narrative structure, and it's told the normal way a story is. And that's great.

But internet horror doesn't need that to function. In fact, the lack of traditional narrative structure can be used to make it better, if handled correctly. One of my personal favorites is Candle Cove. It's just a basic, epistolary short story, told via forum posts, but it wouldn't be the same if told simply from beginning to end. Or, perhaps a bit more famously, you have the SCP Foundation. It's easily got to be the largest collaboratively written spec fic online… maybe ever. The community behind it creates everything. While there are narrative pieces involved, you don't need it. It's not the core of the work. Instead, everything comes from "internal files" written as a record of contained phenomena, detailing effects, encounters, and security measures. And believe you me, that shit is scary. Which, speaking of that…

9: DO Scare the Audience

I honestly can't believe I have to put this in when talking about horror, but here we are. I recently read one of the recent editions of Year's Best Horror. I put it off, because I read at night… and fuck that noise. But when I eventually started in on it… there was not a lot of terror there. The first story was, at best, funny. At worst, it was dumb and disjointed. But it was not God damn scary, and even if I was a little cautious about reading it, I wanted scary from my horror. Go figure.

Scary is not hard. If you try, you can sit there for a few minutes and come up with a list of shit that's scary. Big things, small things. It doesn't matter, something should be there that actually qualifies your work as horror. Even if it's just creepy.

Internet horror turned a husky into one of the most prevalent horror creations in decades: Smile Dog. Huskies are fucking cute, and if they can be scary? You can do something with it, trust me (Sorry, that was angrier than I intended it to be.).

8: DO Devote Yourself
Any modern indie creator will tell you that it's not easy. We're all struggling in one way or another. You can't start in as a creator of any sort if you're not ready to accept that, and lots of people quit when it doesn't work out how they want.

But let me tell you a story. It's a very short story about determination. In fact, it's seven words that speak to my point: EverymanHYBRID has been going for five years. Here's another one: Marble Hornets lasted for five years. Or how about this one: the SCP Foundation began in 2008.

Internet horror thrives on a devoted base of creators. These are people who do it for the love of what they're making, and that love drives them through the process of creation, come hell or high water.

7: DO Respect Your Audience's Intelligence
While it can be tempting to spell everything out, people are smarter than a lot of content creators seem to give them credit for. They can pick up on context clues. They can piece things together, and that’s especially important and useful when you're working with horror.


Now, this can be in a narrative sense. Take Candle Cove again. The ending could have been spelled out very clearly, thus robbing it of any value and ruining one of the best new horror stories in quite a long time (Okay, my opinion. But still. It's damn good). Instead, the author leaves it with the revelation that, as a child, he would watch static for half an hour when he said he was watching Candle Cove. That's creepy as shit, guys.

But there are broader strokes to it, too, and sometimes cleverer. SCP-231 has hidden text that can only be revealed if you mess with the scripts on the page. Marble Hornets and other similar projects hid actual ciphers and codes to be resolved in their work. Hell, NOC +10 may as well just be called "See if you can crack this code." Or heck, try pulling up all the information about "This HouseHas People in It." And good luck.

The modern horror audience doesn’t want to be spoonfed every scare. They want to have the realization that they should be terrified, and it's the creators job to just stay out of the way.

6: DO Embrace Subtlety
To go along with the intelligent audience, it's worth it to use subtlety to your advantage. I'm going to chime in with Marble Hornets stuff again because it's very popular and, of the three big-time Slenderverse Series, it's the one that I think is creepiest. And a lot of that is down to subtlety.

At first, you don’t see the monster. Not really. Anything you get from him is fleeting. A quick turn of the head, him standing in the background, the camera just quickly panning past him. That changes as the series goes, sure, but it's subtle to begin with. The Operator in Marble Hornets is… there. And that's the real terror. It could be there at any point. It probably is. It's probably around the corner. It makes every single episode tense, because you're watching and waiting for the Operator to show up, just like the characters.

In fact, the very original Slenderman "story" is all on its own very subtle. It was literally just two photos with the Slenderman in the background, and some implications of missing or dead children. That was it. And that was all it needed to be.

And with that, I'm going to put this aside for the day. I'll be back tomorrow with entries 5-10, and I hope you'll be back, too.

And… umm… here's some kittens to make you feel better, in case you actually went to any of those links. I did warn you.


Voss

Monday, June 12, 2017

My Personal Favorite Internet Horror Gurus

I said in the last post that I was just completely immersing myself in horror and weird fiction. A major part of that has been online, and a big part of that has been through the Youtube horror/dark fiction community. It's a relatively small (I mean, small compared to, like, the video gaming community.) group, but there's enough there to keep me occupied. And... well, I don't know, maybe some of you would be interested in my opinion on them. I'm going to give it anyway, but if you're here, I think it's safe to assume you might be interested in what I have to say. Or on the subject. Or something. I don't know, and fuck this transition. Here's my list of channels that, for me, are good jumping off points into the Youtube horror scene.

Night Mind:
I'm starting off strong. Night Mind wasn't my first introduction to the scene (I think I started with Marble Hornets, which inevitably led me to Night Mind.), but I feel like he's the quintessential hub for the community. His channel began as analysis with the big three Slenderman series (Marble Hornets, EverymanHYBRID, and Tribe Twelve). From there, Nick Nocturne (Our theoretically supernatural host.) devoted himself to not only analyzing more popular series (Don't Hug Me I'm Scared, alantutorial, The Mirror, Lasagna Cat) and videos (Unedited Footage of a Bear, This House Has People In It), as well as occasional forays into other media (The SCP Foundation, Urban Legends). Bur according to him, his main goal nowadays is to introduce new webseries to the public. He's where I found out about Eckva, HOOH, Ben's Playhouse, and a ton of others. And with almost 160,000 subscribers, he's pretty good at getting that word out there. Combined with a very alluring, dark voice and just generally high quality productions (From the beginning. Very little is known about the actual man behind the four-eyed cat, but I have to assume he has some background in editing/narration/AV Tech/etc.), Night Mind is the big daddy of Youtube horror, and if you only grab one of these channels into your collection, I would personally recommend it be Night Mind.

Midnight Marinara:
Now, this is less for the actual Midnight Marinara series on the channel, and far more of a recommendation for Undercooked Analysis, a long-running creepypasta podcast. It combines readings of various creepypasta with analysis from people experienced in the genre and a healthy dose of humor (The worse the story, the more humor included.). This one doesn't hub out into video so much, but it is the best channel I've found thus far to lead you into that world of creepypasta that is so important to the internet horror world.

SlimeBeast:
Now, SlimeBeast is not one I love at the same level as Night Mind and Midnight Marinara. A lot of what he does, I just can't totally jive with. So he's not exactly one of my favorites, but I think he is very important and very influential. He's a very successful, well-known creepypasta writer, and does mostly readings on his own channel. Not my cup of tea. But he does go into a lot of the more overarching content, and having a creator do that lends a unique perspective on that type of content. He sometimes goes too far for my tastes, and comes off a little bitter and angry. But some people will love his particular style, and he is still very worthwhile to check out.

Nyx Fears:
Now, this one's going to be short. Nyx isn't exactly an internet horror guru. Instead, he's a horror guru working on the internet. He covers a lot of modern major releases like Get Out and The Babadook. But he also, if you're looking at it as a writer or other creator, brings a nice look at everything. He understands a lot about film theory and structure, and can deliver that information through the lens of horror. Perhaps he doesn't belong on this list, but I do love Nyx and think he's a worthwhile channel to check into.

ScareTheater:
Now, the rest of these channels I found through Night Mind, in fact. Not ScareTheater. I will always prefer Night Mind above everything else, but a lot of the difference here is length. Nick Nocturne puts out long content, but puts it out considerably less often. ScareTheater's videos run anywhere from 3-7 minutes on average. ScareTheater covers a lot of short content, too. Videos like "Obey the Walrus" and "Mareana Mordegard Glesgorv." His content on longer-running series is, in my opinion, just not up to snuff, but I will happily queue up two dozen of his short videos and run through them while I'm working.

There are others who touch on the community that I think really deserve attention, but maybe don't quite fit the mold. Tats Top Videos has some excellent creepy content, but it's not the channel's main devotion. Arkham Reporter and The Exploring Series both have a fair amount of content if you're looking for Cthulhu/Lovecraft information. My last one is a real departure, but Pop Culture Mythology/Mixology is a lovely channel... or was, anyway. It's been six months, which is a death knoll for most Youtube channels. I'm holding out hope, though, because his content was so good. Not all horror, but... well, I guess I'm putting out a bit of a PSA. Not pressuring him to return, but maybe he'll feel better about continuing if he knows people are interested? I don't know. But, one creator to another, I love the content he created. A lot of people did, I imagine. So if it's life, I understand. But if you happen to read this and are just discouraged... you make good content. That's all I can say to you. You make good content.

So all that aside, that's what I've got. Hopefully it can help you out and, if you have any that I missed and just really need to know about, leave them in the comments below.

Voss