Today’s Art (22nd October 2019)

Well, I felt like making yet another photo-based painting (there will be a total of four of them) but, due to time reasons, this one ended up being a photo-based drawing instead. It’s based on this photo I took of a boat in Priddy’s Hard last November.

As usual, this drawing is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Priddy’s Hard – Boat” By C. A. Brown

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Why Your Horror Story Needs To Include Moments Of Wonder

Well, I thought that I’d take a quick look at a slightly old-school (and very much overlooked) ingredient in truly great horror fiction. I am, of course, talking about wonder. This is when the reader is left feeling awe-struck by something. When a story goes from being mere words on a page to being something almost magical. And, although this element might seem more at home in the sci-fi and fantasy genres, it can be used really well in horror fiction too.

A brilliant example of this is the horror novel I’m currently reading (“The Vampire Armand” by Anne Rice). Although this novel has some moments of horror and some disturbing story elements, the first half also includes a lot of moments of wonder (such as exquisitely evocative descriptions of Renaissance Venice). Seriously, this novel has a lot more wonder than you might expect in a horror novel.

Another awesome example is Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes“. This novel is written in such a wonderous, atmospheric and poetic way that the reader is left feeling both fascinated and scared by the creepy events of the story. It is difficult to describe, but the writing style is what turns this story from a “silly” story about a creepy funfair into something altogether more memorable, fascinating, powerful and profound.

Yet another example can be found in the horror and dark fantasy fiction of Clive Barker. For example, novels like “Cabal“, “The Scarlet Gospels” and “Weaveworld” will often include delightfully bizarre locations, fascinating distortions of reality, inventively unearthly creatures, beautiful narration etc… in addition to scenes of horror.

But, why is wonder such an important part of horror fiction? Well, there are several reasons for this. The first is that it helps to create atmosphere, which is essential for good horror. Showing the reader something wonderous draws them further into the world of your story. It is such a break from the mundane world that it will linger in their imagination for long after they finish a reading session.

Secondly, it is unexpected. Although good horror fiction relies on surprising the reader with unexpected horrific things, horror readers will usually expect scenes of horror to appear. So, delighting the reader occasionally can really catch them off guard. It means that, rather than just waiting for the next horrific thing to happen, the reader is genuinely uncertain about what to expect next.

Thirdly, it is all about contrast. By including moments of delightful wonder in your horror story, your moments of horror will appear even more horrific in comparison.

Plus, you can also contrast wonder and horror in some really clever ways too. The classic example of this is the splatterpunk fiction of authors like Shaun Hutson, James Herbert, Clive Barker etc… who will often describe horrific, gruesome and grotesque things in the kind of poetic, formal and/or “beautiful” way that you’d expect to read in a scene of wonder. This works really well when you want to gross out the reader 🙂

Finally, it is about tone and atmosphere. Traditional horror fiction is often about “good vs evil”, about “good” characters encountering the forces of evil and emerging victorious thanks to their moral principles, courage, scientific knowledge etc… Needless to say, this type of story tends to be very stern and gloomy in tone.

So, adding some moments of delight and wonder to your horror story shows your reader that you’re telling a more interesting, and less predictable, type of story. By making your reader feel emotions like happiness, joy, amazement, relaxation, desire etc… you are showing your reader that this isn’t a stern old-fashioned horror story. That they’re entering a fictional world where the old “rules” don’t apply and things are about to get interesting….

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (21st October 2019)

Well, although I’ll be spending a couple of days longer than usual making photo-based art, today’s digitally-edited painting (based on this photo I took in Priddy’s Hard) ended up being incredibly rushed and not really that brilliant.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Priddy’s Hard – Buildings” By C. A. Brown

Review: “Christmas Tree” (WAD For “Doom II”/”Final Doom”/ “ZDoom”)

Well, since I’m still reading the next horror novel I plan to review (“The Vampire Armand” by Anne Rice), I thought that I’d take the chance to review another “Doom II”/”Final Doom” WAD 🙂

And, after clicking the “Random File” button on the /Idgames Archive a few times, I found myself looking at a WAD from 2011 called “Christmas Tree“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD. According to the text file accompanying the WAD, it is designed for ports (ZDoom and GZDoom are listed as examples) that support 3D floors.

So, let’s take a look at “Christmas Tree”:

“Christmas Tree” is a rather cool little single-level WAD that also possibly includes new music (or it could be one of the standard pieces of music that I don’t remember).

The premise of this WAD is that you have to defeat most of the monsters in the level in order to complete it. So, like a trimmed-down “Slaughtermap” level, this level is something of an arena. But, the level does some rather innovative stuff that sets it apart from a traditional “Slaughtermap” level.

Yes, this is a clever twist on a familiar style of level 🙂

For starters, the difficulty level is something that practiced players will find moderately challenging, rather than fiendishly difficult. Unlike a slaughtermap, where there are too many enemies to fight (thus turning the level into a challenging fast-paced puzzle), you actually have to defeat almost all of the enemies here.

As such, the difficulty level is a little bit more forgiving, with a large arena and lots of weapons, health etc… scattered around to give you a fighting chance. This also makes the gameplay feel a little bit like the classic “Serious Sam” games too 🙂

One interesting way that this level adds some challenge is via the use of pain elementals. Although the large arena means that there is plenty of room to duck, dodge and circlestrafe, this is a level where the sky will quickly become orange with lost souls that will zip at you from every direction. Interestingly though, at least some of these don’t count towards the number of monsters you have to defeat before the level ends.

Yes, these little monsters become more of threat than you think during this level.

The level design is also really good too. Although you might be a bit confused about what to do (and the relative lack of weapons) at the very start of the level, it won’t take you long to find the teleporter that drops you on top of the Christmas tree. The tree is made out of four platforms of varying sizes that mostly serve as brilliantly-balanced mini-arenas 🙂

Although you’ve got the constant threat of lost souls to contend with, the difficulty in these mini-arenas is handled really well. Although the top of the tree is just there to give you a few items, the smaller circles of the tree contain fewer monsters but also fewer items and less room to dodge/strafe (and vice versa with the larger circles). Plus, the tension between staying on the tree and jumping off it to the relative safety of the arena below also adds a bit more depth to the gameplay too 🙂

Yes, this level is kind of like four micro levels in one 🙂

All in all, this is a really fun and well-designed little level 🙂 It’s thrilling, complex and really well-balanced 🙂 If you’re an experienced player and want to enjoy yourself for 20-30 minutes, then this level might be worth checking out 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Three Ways To Survive A Horror Publishing Drought

Well, since I’m focusing on the horror genre more than usual this month, I thought that I’d look at a rather dark period in the genre’s history – because it provides some interesting lessons about what to do when no-one seems to want to publish horror fiction.

Anyway, some context. Between the mid-1970s and the early-mid 1990s, horror fiction was apparently an incredibly popular genre. Numerous authors published horror novels and, from the sheer number of old horror novels I found in second-hand shops/charity shops during my teenage years in the ’00s, they were read a lot more widely than they are now.

But, at some point during the 1990s, horror fiction fell out of fashion in publishing. In fact, it’s only within the past decade that modern horror fiction actually seems to be gaining some vague level of popularity again. Even so, finding a dedicated “horror” shelf in bookshops today is more difficult than it used to be – even when horror fiction was at it’s least popular. At best, horror is often lumped in with sci-fi & fantasy these days.

But, despite this, authors from the heyday of horror fiction kept publishing new books when the genre was in decline. So, how did they survive?

1) Related genres: In 1980s Britain, two of the biggest names in horror fiction were Clive Barker and Shaun Hutson. Although there was apparently some antagonism/rivalry between the two authors during the 1980s, they both wrote splatterpunk horror novels during that decade. And, when horror fiction fell out of fashion, both of them dealt with this crisis in a vaguely similar way.

They looked through their own fiction for any other genres hidden in there and focused more on those genres.

For example, Shaun Hutson’s 1980s horror fiction often has a strong “gritty realism” element to it. So, during the horror drought of the 1990s/early-mid 2000s, he took this element and used it to write several grim, gritty, ultra-violent crime thrillers instead (eg: “Exit Wounds”, “Deadhead” etc..). Since this genre seems to be eternally popular, Hutson was still able to write stories that were similar in tone to his classic horror fiction at a time when many publishers avoided horror fiction.

On the other hand, Clive Barker’s 1980s horror fiction often has a strong dark fantasy element to it. This meant that, when horror fell out of fashion, he was still able to write several novels that included his distinctive interpretation of the fantasy genre (in addition to a couple of general fiction novels) – even though it wasn’t until the 2000s that he was able to reintroduce more horror elements into his fiction (with novels like “Coldheart Canyon” and “Mister B. Gone”).

The lesson in all of this is that, if you write horror, then you’ve probably also got another genre hiding in your fiction too. So, if you find it difficult to publish horror fiction, then focus slightly more on that other genre.

2) Fame:
When I was a teenager during the early-mid ’00s, one thing that I’d always see on the shockingly slender “horror” shelves in major bookshops were several Stephen King novels. At the time, this used to really annoy me (since I expected a wider variety of authors). But, in retrospect, this offers a really interesting lesson in how to survive a horror publishing drought.

In short, fame can be extremely useful during a horror drought. Yes, this is probably the most difficult way to survive a horror drought (since you also need a horror boom in order to get that fame in the first place) but it can work. I mean, thanks to numerous film adaptations, regular publications and being a household name, Stephen King was still able to put out new horror fiction during a time when publishers were apparently reluctant to even consider printing stuff in this genre.

Likewise, the next novel I plan to review (“The Vampire Armand” by Anne Rice) was first published in 1998. This is a gothic horror novel about vampires that was published at a time when horror fiction wasn’t a popular genre. How and why did this book get around this obstacle? At a guess, it’s probably due to both the famous 1994 film adaptation of Rice’s “Interview With The Vampire” and the fact that Rice is a very well-known author with a lot of fans. So, yes, fame can be useful during a horror drought.

3) Smaller presses and/or self-publishing: Although mainstream publishing’s interest in the horror genre can vary over time, there is always going to be an audience for it. As such, smaller presses can help to keep the horror genre alive during publishing droughts. Not to mention that, these days, self-publishing is much easier than it probably was during the 1990s/early-mid 2000s too.

For example, even though horror fiction was probably slightly more popular during the late 2000s, one of my enduring memories of that time period was seeing books from a slightly lesser-known publisher/imprint called Abaddon Books on the horror shelves of major bookshops.

Although this smaller press only really seemed to last a couple of years, they mostly published horror novels (with collections like the awesome zombie-themed “Tomes Of The Dead” collection) and it was really really cool to actually see new horror novels in bookshops back then.

So, yes, smaller presses and/or self-publishing can certainly be an option whenever the mainstream publishing industry loses interest in the horror genre.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (19th October 2019)

Well, although I’ll probably spend the next few days making photo-based paintings, I had a bit more time and inspiration and, to my delight, today’s digitally-edited painting ended up being a lot more detailed (and slightly more well-made) than some of my recent paintings have been.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“1998 Autumn” By C. A. Brown