The Monster Show
Who didn’t go to a monster show at some point growing up? I remember sitting on the couch every Saturday when I was twelve or thirteen watching the local channel’s Scream Theater showing. Frankenstein’s monster, the she-devil, and BIG bugs reigned. Armed with a bowl of buttered popcorn (oh, those innocent, before I became weight-conscious days), and a group of friends, it was something I looked forward to all week. Perhaps because of these screenings, horror often topped the list of my readings growing up.
I loved to root for the characters, praying fervently that each would make it. I think this weekly ritual was the stepping-stone to my writing. It brought an eagerness to tell stories, even those heroes/heroines that didn’t make it, of my own. Writing just clicked with me. I could explore new worlds, the human psyche, and wrong decisions. I found myself at peace when I got it all down on paper (the way it was done before computers came along). At least, into my household. I didn’t own my first computer until I was married.
When divorce hit me, my next computer helped bring me through the rough patches, and pointed me back down the road toward writing. It wasn’t easy, raising two kids by myself, buying a house, and paying the bills, but I did it. I’m still doing it. I watch very little of what’s called horror these days (mostly because it’s become so much of a gore-fest), but when I do, I’m reminded of those Saturdays spent cringing from this week’s monster.
Oh, I have my favorite shows still to keep me tuned in. From Supernatural to The Vampire Diaries, I’ve learned that it truly is the protagonist/s in trouble that capture my attention and less the nameless ones that flee the masked murderer in the forest that capture my efforts. I like fear to count for something, I guess. When I get to know a character, their family, their hopes, their dreams, I want to see them survive. It’s what I try and do in my own stories. Capture the essence of who they are, where they’re going, and how they’re going to come through things. In short, I want people attached to my stories, not a body count.
All this has helped me make some recent cut-backs in my own work. I, too, went for the high amount of corpses versus the character, but I came to realize: less is more. If you want your reader to care about what’s happening, give them heroes/heroines to root for not walk-ons who are just there to get cut up by some psycho. It’s the story that counts, the truth behind what is happening, it’s the meat on the bones.
Yes, those Monster shows educated me on what’s important: the survivors. If you’re having trouble in your work-in-progress, it may mean that you need to step back and look at the people in your story. Are they fully-rounded? Do we care about them? Or is the boogeyman the main character? Readers want to read about people. What makes them tick, how they survived a day in hell, and what their future may look like. Concentrate on the protagonist/s and the curtain on your show will continue to go up every time.