***Spoiler Alert*** It has been brought to my attention that if you never saw The Blair Witch Project or Total Recall this post can take some of the enjoyment away from you. So you have been warned. If you think you might enjoy the Blair Witch Project or Total Recall, do so before reading this. Also if you’ve never read Steven King’s books Dreamcatcher, From a Buick 8, and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. Sigh. How old does something have to be not to worry about spoiling it? ***Spoiler Alert*** (Psst. Anakin is Luke’s dad)
All right. I’ve got monsters on the brain ever since I wrote Biggy Biggy Spider, so let me get it off my chest.
Monster movies are about monsters. Duh! Right? So if you blow it with the monster, you blow the movie. When my kids and I were on the old monster movie kick it was obvious that when the monster didn’t work the movie didn’t work. Case in point: The Giant Claw. I don’t like to pull things in from other websites, as I feel it is their content not mine, but I was sorely tempted to find a photo of the marionette puppet they used for the monster just to show how awful it was. It literally ruined the movie. When you finally see it in the movie, it makes you laugh. Legend has it that lead man Jeff Marrow walked out on a screening of the film hoping no one recognized him.
So to my point. Show me the monster! Everyone wants to see the monster, so when you finally show it, it better be good. And no teasing! When teasing time is over, it’s over.Why did so many people hate The Blair Witch Project? They never showed the monster! Why did so many people like it? They thought they saw the monster! I am confusing on this one. It was a good movie. But it sucked. It was excellent suspense! All the way through it everyone was looking for it! Where’s the monster? Then finally! -nothing. Nada. Zip, zilch, zero. Oh wait! It was there! It was just so quickly glossed over and obfuscated that almost no one saw it. No one got it. No wait. There was no monster ever shown. What happened?
A lot of people walked out asking the same question. What happened? The film’s success ran on advertising pretending it was real and word of mouth with people not knowing what had happened. It was a great experiment, and had some success, but in my memory, the people I knew who had seen the movie didn’t like it. I liked it all the way up to the end. It had no payoff. Walking out of the movie, not knowing what happened, never seeing the monster, made the movie not fun. Oh! Wait! It’s the enigma of it all! People loved that!
Some people did. Most people did not. Want to see how to leave people not knowing what happened, yet still have them like it? Check out Total Recall. At the end no one knows what really happened, and everyone still walked out talking about it and liked it! Why? They showed the monster. Over and over again, they showed lots of monsters. So many we didn’t need that last question answered. The monsters were awesome! That last question was a side to the story, it was interesting, but it was not the payoff.
My point is that a monster is the payoff. People want the monsters. If you write a great horror story, it doesn’t need a monster. If you write a great thriller you don’t need a monster. But if you write a horror, a thriller, a romance, or anything else, and you throw in a monster, it needs to be a good one, because you suddenly have a monster story.
So -you write a great thriller about a vampire hunter running for his life from the army of vampires that control the government. Awesome! Then, when they make the movie, the Guardian at the Tomb of the Master Vampire is a helium balloon with glitter on it. It no longer matters how good the story was. The movie sucked.
I keep using movies a reference points because they are more of a common experience than novels now a days. Forgive me, but it is easier to stay with easy points of reference.
So back to your thriller about running from the vampires. Vampires are good monsters. They are easy to describe, the look like people, they do things most people are familiar with. But if you really want the protagonist to worry about the Guardian a bit, you need to pay attention to it. It needs to be scary, real, acceptable. Build it up, make your audience actually dread its appearance.
If you decide the Guardian is nothing more than a dog that barks when someone comes near, it wasn’t a monster, and you’d better have not built it up to be one. (Unless you are trying for a comedic effect.) If the Guardian is a real bad ass, then make it one. Give it a back story, build up to it, and then make it a worthy adversary when it finally shows. Everyone loves a worthy adversary. But you have to have the payoff. You have to prove it is a worthy adversary, make it hard to fight, hard to beat, hard to survive. And don’t make it a balloon.
I feel Stephen King is a great writer, but sometimes his stories fall a bit short for me. Why? No payoff. Dreamcatcher, From a Buick 8, and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon are just quick examples that come to mind. Great writing, great build up, great characters (all right, Dreamcatcher not so much, sorry Mr. King), and then….Phffft! Nothing. Little hints of mysticism, aliens that are too advanced for us to understand, mention of possible alternate dimension -as an ending? -as a wrap up? Honestly? Where’s my payoff? The monsters all got built up pretty well, but then they were just balloons with glitter. Something almost ignored, not even worthy of explaining away.
Don’t belittle your monster. And don’t let anyone else either -by never giving them the chance to. It will ruin the best story.
Anyway. This turned into a rambling rant I should move to the Soliloquies section instead. Sorry. I hope you got the point.
* Please follow up this post by reading Apologies to Stephen King’s Imagination.
No, he did not request this of me. I have yet to be graced with meeting the man, but still have my hopes…