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.

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