Nothing is Scarier, but Here's… Something
And once again, what can I say after such a long absence?
I can start by keeping a promise I made three months ago, although I'm not sure how much good it'll do at this point:
After a five year assignment on an alternate Earth, General Mark Holden accepts a posting as Commander in Chief of Phoenix City; taking his wife Julia and their two sons back to the only place which truly feels like home. But all is not as it appears. When their children are threatened, the storm of frustration and desire for revenge may well tear Mark and Julia apart forever.
Meanwhile, in Dragonus Galaxy, the tide is shifting. For the first time in the history of Arcadia, a lowly technician is now Grand Chancellor. More deranged than his predecessor, Ediixii will stop at nothing to stake his claim as supreme galactic ruler. His X2 hybrids number in the tens-of-thousands. But two pieces of Ediixii’s grand plan remain elusive.
Will Phoenix City, and her allies, free Dragonus from the Arcadian scourge once and for all?
Can Mark and Julia remain united against seemingly insurmountable odds?
Find out in the conclusion of Dragonus Chronicles’ first trilogy.
Jay lives in New Zealand, where she raises her two teenagers. She loves photography, and has a partiality for tall, dark-haired, military men in thigh holsters and combat boots. But isn’t opposed to the occasional shirtless cowboy in tight denim. She spends her days having lunch with her most-excellent author friends, marathoning Netflix, and lurking on Facebook or Twitter. Occasionally, you can catch her writing sexy space adventures, paranormal wolf-shifter escapades, or contemporary romances. And while there is guaranteed to be trials and tribulations, it is universally acknowledged her characters will eventually discover their one great love. A love all of time and space will lie down and be still for.
Let me tell you what I've been working on lately. It's a 23,000-word horror novella, "Investigation into the Velazquez Shooting." I'm currently posting it on alternatehistory.com, but in the members-only part of the site. (Don't worry. I'll have it on my DeviantArt page before too long.) It's not what I'm supposed to be writing, but I got the idea in my head and it wouldn't come out until I did something with it.
So, since it's that time of year, let's talk horror. First, as a general rule, the longer the story, the harder it is to sustain fear in the reader. Anyone can frighten someone for a split second. This is why horror movie fans speak of jump-scares with such contempt—they’re too easy. They require neither imagination nor skill for a filmmaker to pull off. It’s also why two-sentence horror stories are so popular. You can also scare someone for the length of a short story. Once you’re writing a novella or a novel—or, for that matter, a feature-length movie—it becomes hard, if not impossible, to be scary all the way through. You have to accept that your story is going to do other things besides be scary. (This is why horror movies are so often derided for their clumsy attempts at character-building within the first half hour. It’s not that the movie won’t be scary unless the viewers care about the characters—it’s that they’ve got 90+ minutes to fill and they have to do something with it.)
Another general rule is that, as they say at TV Tropes, Nothing is Scarier. The suggestion of something horrible is more effective than the explicit revelation of it. To pick just one of numerous possible examples, the one scene in Suspiria that I found genuinely frightening was the blind man and his dog walking across the plaza at night. This plaza (even then one of the last pieces of Nazi-era public landscaping that still existed in Germany, or so I’m told) was an immense, pool-table-flat expanse of consummate emptiness where not even a mouse could have approached unseen… and yet the blind man and his dog stopped, both apparently certain that someone or something was coming. Spooky.
I’ve used this myself. In the ending of the story “The Pathfinder Rituals,” having implied the existence of an omniscient advisor who knows all possible consequences of all possible actions, I leave it to you to imagine all the ways such a being could ruin or shorten your life if you offended it. It’s a writer’s privilege to do such things.
But I’ve seen this privilege abused. Taken to the extreme, the Nothing-Is-Scarier approach violates the “show, don’t tell” rule. It says, in effect, “Now that I, the writer, have asserted the existence of something too dreadful for me to describe, I trust you, the reader, to take me at my word and soil your drawers in terror on the honor system.” If you think I’m exaggerating, try reading Machen’s The Great God Pan or Chambers’ The King in Yellow. (Perhaps these are unfair examples, as they were written in a censorious time when horror writers really couldn’t describe the horrors they were trying to write about—not if they wanted to be published.)
So what’s this got to do with me? I’ve written a novella-length horror story where the villains’ nature, powers and intent are explicitly stated. I guess I felt the need for a challenge. The secret to writing the longer forms of horror is that the story has to be, for much of its length, not actually a horror story. Which means it needs to be interesting in some other way. This is the approach I took in writing “Investigation into the Velazquez Shooting.” At first, it seems to be a police procedural, not a horror story… except that there are too many details that don’t add up, mostly having to do with the John Doe character. Even when the police have taken his booking photos, they still can’t agree on what he looks like—disagreeing on basic facts like his age and race. The more they look at his clothing and gear, the more details they find that are simply wrong. And then they try to interview him and things get really weird…
Anyway, now I can get back to Locksmith's War and Altered Seasons: Age of Consequences.