This week: Christmas Cheer and FearEdited by: LJPC - the tortoise
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This newsletter is about combining Horror and Christmas.
Scary Christmas Movie Quotes:
"I'm really not okay with any of this. I mean, buying a Christmas present for a serial killer?"
~ Heather Lee, "Black Christmas" (2006)
"But if you're bad, then your name goes in the Bad Boys and Girls Book, and then I'll bring you something... horrible."
~ Harry "Santa" Stadling, "You Better Watch Out" (1980)
"You scared, ain't ya? You should be! Christmas Eve is the scariest damn night of the year!"
~ Grandpa, "Silent Night, Deadly Night" (1984)
"Tell me something, Billy. How come a cute little guy like this can turn into a thousand ugly monsters?"
~ Sheriff Frank, "Gremlins" (1984)
"Now I have another reason to hate Christmas ... The worst thing that ever happened to me was on Christmas. Oh, God. It was so horrible. It was Christmas Eve. I was 9 years old. Me and Mom were decorating the tree, waiting for Dad to come home from work. A couple hours went by. Dad wasn't home. So Mom called the office. No answer. Christmas Day came and went, and still nothing. So the police began a search. Four or five days went by. Neither one of us could eat or sleep. Everything was falling apart. It was snowing outside. The house was freezing, so I went to try to light up the fire. That's when I noticed the smell. The firemen came and broke through the chimney top. And me and Mom were expecting them to pull out a dead cat or a bird. And instead they pulled out my father. He was dressed in a Santa Claus suit. He'd been climbing down the chimney... his arms loaded with presents. He was gonna surprise us. He slipped and broke his neck. He died instantly. And that's how I found out there was no Santa Claus."
~ Kate Beringer, "Gremlins" (1984)
"All the Whos down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot,
But the Grinch, who lived just north of Whoville, did not.
The Grinch hated Christmas -- the whole Christmas season.
Oh, please don't ask why, no one quite knows the reason.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
Or maybe his head wasn't screwed on just right.
But I think that the best reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small."
~ Narrator, "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" (1966)
Christmas Cheer and Fear
Christmas vs Horror
On the surface, there don't appear to be any two things more different than Christmas and Horror. Christmas is the epitome of the good side of humanity with benevolent gift-giving, cheerful decorations, family visits, celebratory meals, peace on Earth and goodwill toward men. Television commercials show us warm, comforting tableaus; there are cute decorations as far as the eye can see, and Christmas carols ring in our ears. For the month of December, we're bombarded by cartoon-like sweetness and pictures of a cheerful and loving world.
It's the contrast between these happy things and fear/terror that make Christmas Horror especially scary. + =
If you were writing about a graveyard or a ruined castle, the reader would expect monsters and creepy things. But who expects evil elves, reindeer with fangs, a serial-killer dressed as Santa, or children's toys that come to life and try to kill people? By giving readers the unexpected, you throw them off balance and increase the scare factor.
The Dark Side of Christmas
"A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens (1843) is probably the very first tale to combine Christmas with Horror. Dickens uses ghosts, and his villain, Ebenezer Scrooge, has no love for Christmas and makes everyone's life miserable.
But why is Scrooge so mean? Dickens gave him this motivation:
Here it is suggested that his mother died when he was a baby and his depressed dad exiled him from his home to live on the streets until he changed his mind when Scrooge entered his teen-ages. This is relevant to Scrooge, because it shows the beginnings of his lack of socialization and empathy. He does not socialize because he never experienced steady growth in a strong family unit.
If your Christmas Horror story has a villain, make sure to give him a reason for his actions -- specifically why he chooses Christmas as the time to commit his evil deeds. Most villains do what they do because they experienced some kind of trauma on a past Christmas. This has become a bit of a cliche , so it's good to consider unusual but realistic reasons. Here are some real-life reasons people might be unhappy during Christmas, such as:
Disappointment/loneliness due to life not being as perfect as depictions on TV and movies.
Increase in stress because of time pressures and extra activities during the holidays.
Credit card overuse; worrying about money.
Increase in arguments between family members, spouses and couples.
Accidents due to drinking more during holiday celebrations or due to unsafe decorations.
Increase in drug use and self-medication.
"SAD" -- Seasonal Affective Disorder -- an increase in clinical depression over the winter months.
Depression and suicide.
Although most of these are too "tame" to push a villain over the edge, they can inspire you to come up with a past trauma or inciting event, like these ideas:
The villain's parents were killed on Christmas Eve by a drunk driver, and now the villain uses a big truck to follow drunk drivers from bars and run them off the road.
The villain was abandoned as a child by his drug-addicted mother, who left him in a life-size manger scene, and now the villain murders people who put creche scenes on their lawn.
The villain's family was killed by a fire from faulty Christmas tree lights, and he gets revenge by strangling the company's execs with strings of their own lights.
When you combine Christmas and Horror in a story, the contrast between good and evil is heightened.
By presenting typical Christmas items and themes, and then twisting them in an unexpected way, you can keep the reader off balance and riveted to the story.
You can draw on real-life problems that affect people during the holiday season to help give your villain motivation.
Until next time: Let the horror bleed onto the pages with every word!
Here are some spooky Christmas stories for your reading pleasure!
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To my delight, some writers took the time to comment on my last newsletter: "Chaos vs Realism" Thank you!
Comments listed in the order they were received.
Raven writes: I appreciate your thoughts on chaos and randomness in writing quite a bit. Nothing bothers me more than 1) characters who defeat a villain out of left field or 2) villains who get the upper hand out of left field. ("Mwahaha, you didn't know, did you, that I can only be killed by a left-handed virgin?") Pretty much anything out of left field.
On the other hand, I LOVE getting tricked by an author--provided I had at least a sporting chance to figure out what was going on. Keep up the good work!
I agree that foreshadowing and keeping the readers' expectations in mind is very important. Thanks for replying to my newsletter!
BIG BAD WOLF submits "Anthros Versus Zombies" and writes: As Agent Gibbs from "NCIS" says, "There's no such thing as coincidences." Of course, he might be wrong about that.
Agent Gibbs wrong? Never!
Vampyr14 writes: Good point! I think I tend to rely a little too much on the random aspects of life in my stories sometimes. I'll have to remember the whole foreshadowing thing.
Random acts have a place in a story as long as the readers don't end up too confused. Thanks so much for commenting.
Taniuska writes: Such a great post and relevant for all writers. It's easy to sometimes fall prey to making some elements of a story unbelievable, but that's where awesome critique partners come in very handy:) Hmm to answer your question - so many to pick from. In Dark Shadows, Barnabas keeps lamenting over being a vampire who can't die; except if he just stepped into the sun, he could die.
Not long ago I watched Looper and there are so many plot holes that drove me crazy. Such as why would the mob risk sending a Looper kill to his future self. It would make more sense to send it to another Looper to avoid any issues. Right? I liked the movie, but time-travel is so hard to pull off. Enough said.
I'm a Dark Shadows fan, too! I haven't heard too much good about "Looper" either. Too bad screenwriters don't have great CPs, right?
billwilcox writes: Well, Tortoise Girl, yet another great newsletter. Thanks for featuring "The Drift"
You're very welcome, and thanks for replying to the newsletter -- I love it when people do that!
k-9cooper writes: This was enjoyable. Plus I learned alot just from this short story.
Thanks! I'm so pleased if I helped you.
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