A Sympathetic Victim: What I Learned from “Unfriended” and “It Follows”

17 04 2015

How do you generate sympathy for your characters? Two movies offer an object lesson.
I watched “Unfriended” and “It Follows” over the last few weekends. Both movies deal with the perils of teen relationships and sexuality using rather rote horror tropes. How the movies differ hinges on culpability and betrayal, and their different treatments of teen community.
“Unfriended” is just as you see in the commercials. A high school girl is drunk-shamed on YouTube which makes her decide to commit suicide. A year later, the girl’s friends are visited during an online chat by the dead girl’s ghost.
“It Follows” features a distillation of all ’80’s slasher monsters: an implacable, mute, supernatural murderer visible only to its prey. The creature is a curse passed through sexual intercourse, making someone truly and well-fucked if caught by the monster.
In “Unfriended”, the ghost reveals the betrayals hidden among a group of friends. “It Follows” shows a group of friends rallying to help a girl being followed by “It”.
The basic difference between the two is that we want the contemporary kids in “Unfriended” to get their comeuppance. They make catty remarks about each other, speak ill of the dead girl, and indulge in lots of booze, drug-dealing, and sex. The kids in “It Follows” live in a more romantic, surreal world. Their suburb is 1960s generic ranch housing with 1980s vehicles parked out front, and their pockets filled with cellphones and e-readers. That romanticism plays out in the kids personalities. They hangout on each others lawns, chide each other gently, even apologize at offense.
It’s said that to make a character sympathetic, give the character a pet. In these movies, I saw that a supportive family made the kids in “It Follows” seem kinder, even more kid-like as parents and cops swoop in to handle break-ins, accidents, and deaths. Aside from an ignored yapping dog, there are no other signs of life or love in “Unfriended.”
So, getting along with others, having others care, and having a pet will get the audience’s sympathy?
Not quite. “Unfriended” is much like “Tales From The Crypt” in that the kids are transgressors (two of the boys are criminals) being forced to own up to their betrayal of their friend. “It Follows” has a group of who are protecting one of their own by passing that curse to someone outside of their social circle.
Depending on how a writer would resolve either situation, either group could be heroes or villains. The ghost wants regret. Does the Final Girl take responsibility for her actions? The monster seems unstoppable. Does that Final Girl contain it to keep society safe?
The assumption of responsibility creates sympathy. Keeping wits and guile creates sympathy. If the characters already have gained sympathy, their failure would heighten their humanity.
Hi Horror! How ya doin’?
So bravery, compassion, and mature responsibility aid in creating sympathy.
I’m glad I thought this out. I found this useful for upcoming projects.
By the way, go see “It Follows”. Its clever, artful, and its soundtrack kicks ass. Wait for “Unfriended” on a small screen. You’ll save money and the movie will actually improve when watched through your computer.

Why Just Be “YOU”? Read One Of The Thirteen Best Horror Novels of 2014

12 04 2015

Horror is the last bastion of pure, untrammeled Freudian Id in genre. The horror buff demands Sensation! Usually with a slam of brawny fist on the dinner table, a slam making the wine glass shake and trickle from its brim of A Horrid, Mind-Breaking Tonic.

Horror buffs breathe while the mundane yearn.

Are you Mundane? Become Buff!

Here is your tonic. Take it!


“In THE FLESH SUTRA Tim W. Burke has charted a diabolical, metaphysical odyssey for his main characters, a journey that will take you through Death itself… and back out the other side.”
— Shawn Garrett, Pseudopod



The HWA Declared My Novel One Of The Ten Best* of 2014

1 04 2015

Every Autumn, the Horror Writers of America solicit works published that calender year. The novels are read by a jury of professional horror authors. The jury culls the enormous stack of books and selects ten to be the preliminary ballot for the Bram Stoker Award.
“The Flesh Sutra” was on that ballot.
That novel is one of the ten best horror novels published in 2014.

*Ok, let’s not quibble that Stephen King, Joe Hill, and Dean Koontz did not submit their books for consideration. Because you don’t want to be a “quibbler” about three books. Quibbling…man, that’s a one-way road to Quibbletown. And Quibbletown’s smiling motto is “We’re The Gateway To OBLIVION”.
Body horror and spiritual examination in the tradition of Clive Barker.

The editor of “Space and Time” declared  “Combining horror, spirituality, dark humor and romance, it weaves a spell around the reader from the first page and won’t release you until the last.” She joins the ranks of professionals bestowing glowing reviews.

Stop quibbling. Join those professionals who are SOMEWHERE. Read “The Flesh Sutra” today.


Sunday Movie: “The Abominable Dr. Phibes” and “Dr. Phibes Rises Again”

22 03 2015

Both directed by Robert Feust, who was Art Director and later Director for the BBC series “The Avengers”. They are buttery toffees of camp British horror. The movies pounce straight over-the-top with art deco, vague ’30s settings and revenge with elan (bathing a victim in sprout puree to get locusts to eat her). The movies reinforced Price’s marketability in playing heroic men driven to darkness. Any seriousness remaining are driven away by character actors Terry-Thomas, Hugh Griffiths, and John Laurie. Note: the ’70s sucked one and all into its La Brea tarpit. Writer William Goldstein’s only other credit was screenwriter for “The Amazing Dobermans”, while Feust went on direct camp horror “The Devil’s Rain” (Shatner on screen with Ernest Borgnine), a silent comedy series plus an all-woman detective show for BBC-TV, and episodes of ABC-TV’s “The After School Special.”

A third film was planned with Phibes taking on Hitler, so a guy on IMDB claims.

How would Phibes have taken down the High Command? Goering? Himmler?
The trailer for “The Abominable Dr. Phibes” via YouTube.

The ENTIRE MOVIE of “Dr. Phibes Rises Again”. A bit chattier than the first movie, but it’s still amazing what Price can convey merely with gestures and his eyes.


How Would You Write These Scenes?

17 03 2015

I don’t recall if I showed this before, but it’s worth repeating.
Imagine your scenes in terms of senses, not in what happens. Not just the five senses, but how the POV character’s heart is pounding, feet seem to be sinking into the floor, etc.

I like shadows rippling and distorting along surfaces and I write with that in mind. I like horrible things seen in harsh daylight. I like to keep the monsters implied or unseen until the end. I like smells and textures. I read someone who suggested using at least three senses per page, which is nice because it keep description from bogging down the plot.

Have a look at 13 Classic Scenes That Explain How Horror Movies Work.


13 03 2015

The world has turned too many times. The era for the satiric British voice passed away last decade and the cavalier remark died in this one. My regret is not just appreciating Sir Terry while he lived, but that his like will not come again.

I have read very little Pratchett. I tried but my Brit humor nerve had been burned out long ago. People I admire admired Pratchett, though. I read the subjects he tackled and quotes from his work and I sorely felt the fault for my limitation.

I read the major publications and keep track of novel releases and for the life of me I can’t imagine who else examines the human condition, darts in, and tickles it. Would such a writer have a chance in today’s market?
Short stories? As far as I can see, the only venues publishing blithe and pithy humor are Asimov’s, F&SF, and Daily Science Fiction. Pratchett’s work was too Eurocentric and too lacking in florid or floral language for any other venue. Not enough pop culture references to get on McSweeny’s.

Who would publish his novel? Orbit? Baen?
Of his first three novels, the first was an ill-received fantasy and the next two were Niven parodies. What publisher would have stuck with him beyond those to take a risk on Ankh-Morpork?

I am not alone in my lack of appreciation. SFWA had many chances to give Sir Terry his due with Hugos and Nebulas. Not one nomination over decades, except for one near the end of his life. He refused the award. Good for him.
SFWA joins every other literary body and the MPAA in being too insecure to acclaim some joke-teller. He’d be too British to get a Twain.
Who growing in our midst could be a quasi-Pratchett? Alex Shvartsman? Grady Hendrix?
Neil Gaiman has reverted to formula.
Jeffrey Fford?
Esther Friesner? Another humor writer without a Hugo or Nebula.

The fragmentation of Genre markets have made a writer like Sir Terry almost impossible. The Genres are being crushed by seriousness. The vitality and irreverence that Sir Terry thrived on is fleeing into Young Adult and Romance fiction, or trying to define itself as Weird, Bizarro, or Superversive (google them).

It may be decades before we see the likes of him again, if ever.

Catastrophe and Transformation: One Writer’s View of Survival and Success

2 03 2015

Originally posted on Stories of Perseverance to Inspire Struggling Writers:

I am pleased to open up the Stories of Perseverance blog with a posting by Jason S. Ridler, PhD. Jason was a classmate of mine at the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2005. Our desks were next to each other and he never ceased to amaze me with his wealth of knowledge about the genres of Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror, the books, the authors. He had so many ideas, and such a great sense of humour. After Odyssey, Jason and a couple of other classmates of ours challenged each other to write a story a week for a month or two. At one point he had 50 stories circulating the slush piles, and he racked up hundreds of rejections that first year.

When I asked Jay to guest blog for me, once again, I was blown away by what he had to say. Jay, you inspire me.



View original 2,367 more words


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