This week: Holiday Horror: JuxtapositionEdited by: LJPC - the tortoise
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This newsletter is about how juxtaposition can be used to make a story or novel more interesting, more entertaining, and more dramatic.
Although Ben Bova wrote Science Fiction, his advice is just as worthwhile for Horror writers:
In mathematics you may not be allowed to add apples and oranges,
but in fiction it's always good practice to juxtapose two unlikely elements.
Alfred Bester put a murderer into a future civilization where the police were
telepathic in his classic The Demolished Man. Anne McCaffreY [sic]
combined a sensitive young woman's disembodied brain with a powerful
intersteller spaceship to produce "The Ship Who Sang." Ray Bradbury
brought hungry lions into a suburban nursery in his tale, "The Veldt."
~ Ben Bova, The Craft of Writing Science Fiction that Sells
Many horror novels, stories, and films (like A Christmas Carol, Silent Night Bloody Night, Black Christmas, My Bloody Valentine, Leprechaun, April Fool's Day, and Peter Rottentail) revolve around a holiday theme. But why should that be? Aren't holidays about family, love, and celebration? Yes, and that's exactly what makes them ripe for twisting in new, nefarious directions. It's the juxtaposition of the sweetly familiar and non-threatening with the deadly and monstrous that fills the books/films with excitement.
Juxtaposition - placing two things side by side in order to highlight the contrast between them; one thing is usually the antithesis of the other.
This literary device has been used to great effect by authors (and screenwriters) in two main ways.
Juxtaposition can be used to combine separate ideas into a conflicting whole.
LOST - Modern characters are trapped on a jungle-filled island; their civilized natures contrast with the wilderness around them.
TRUE BLOOD - Bill Compton's elegant, southern manners, gentlemanliness, and insistence on decorum are in direct contrast to the fact he's a vampire.
DAWN OF THE DEAD - There can't be a better example of juxtaposition than zombies wandering around a mall like dazed shoppers with muzak piped over the sound system.
Juxtaposition can be used to describe things in an unusual way.
"Lifting its stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and the gasoline pumps - an eyesore among eyesores."
~ Edgar Allan Poe, The Tell-Tale Heart.
By combining "coquettish" with "decay", Poe paints a picture of opposites and makes his description jarring and unforgettable.
"These were the riverfront streets of the 1840s, packed with immigrants, where the worlds met over the back fence, and gallery to gallery; yet despite the throng, and the wilderness of masts above the levee markets, the French Quarter was then as forever a small town."
~ Anne Rice, The Feast of All Saints.
When she describes worlds looking over fences, and uses "wilderness" with "masts", Rice creates unusual images that help a reader see the contradictions in the New Orleans she envisions
The next time you're tempted to write a scene where your monster/villain is in a castle, a cemetery, or a back alley - stop! Think about it again and consider putting him in a more unusual place, somewhere the reader would never expect to find a monster, like an office building, a hospital, a kindergarten playground, a basketball arena, or a convention center filled with plumbing suppliers or Sci-Fi fans.
When you're describing things, don't use typical word choices. I once wrote: "She perched on Aldia's shoulder, taking care not to touch the glowing amulet." Then I thought, well, everyone's read about a glowing amulet before. It's too mundane. So I changed it to: "She perched on Aldia's shoulder, taking care not to touch the amulet, which glowed with a greasy light." Okay, maybe "glowed" is still there ... but by ending the line with the juxtaposition of "greasy" and "light," I left the reader with a more vibrant and ominous image.
Until next time: Let the horror bleed onto the pages with every word!
Some frightfully fun Holiday Horror stories for your enjoyment:
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