Horror Movies Vs. Horror Novels – A Ramble

Well, since I seem to be going through more of a horror genre phase than usual, I thought that I’d compare horror movies and horror novels today (albeit with more of a focus on books, because this is what I’ve had more recent experience with and am more interested in at the moment).

I ended up thinking about this topic because, after spending quite a few months reading novels and watching very few films, I finally watched another horror movie (which I probably won’t review fully) the night before I prepared this article.

What can I say? I’d had an extremely stressful day and needed to relax, it was also technically Halloween (yes, I write the first drafts of these articles very far in advance) and the book I’m planning to review tomorrow is a short horror novella. So, for the first time in many months, I watched a horror movie.

If anyone is curious, the film in question was a fairly good one from 2011 called “The Cabin In The Woods“. It’s a clever twist on the monster/slasher genre, which contains a lot of comedy and also stars Chris Hemsworth and Bradley Whitford too. For a modern film, it’s also refreshingly short at an efficient 91-5 minutes in length too. Despite some of the criticisms I’ll make in this article, it’s still a fairly good film. I should probably also point out that this article may contain some SPOILERS for it (and for “Relics” by Shaun Hutson) though.

Anyway, the first thing I noticed after reading several horror novels during the past year is that the film was a bit “lighter” that I’d expected. Everything seemed to lack the intensity that I’d come to expect from a horror novel. The characters seemed more stylised than I’d expected, the moments of gruesome horror seemed more brief and tame than I’d expected and the story also lacked some of the depth/immersion that I’d come to expect from reading horror novels.

So, if you want really intense visceral horror, then horror novels have the advantage here. Not only do horror novels have a lot more space to develop their characters (which makes the audience care about them more), but they also have the space to focus a lot more on things like atmosphere and descriptions too. They also don’t have to pass a film censor either. As such, moments of horror can be more intense and more prolonged than in a horror movie.

Add to this the fact that monster-based scenes and gruesome scenes in horror novels don’t have to rely on special effects (and even the best effects in horror movies often only “work” when shown relatively briefly) and the score at the moment is: Horror novels 1 – Horror movies 0.

However, the film did do something that books can’t always do, it was relaxing. It was a way for me to turn off my brain for about 90 minutes and forget my troubles. Not only that, the general “lightness” of the film when compared to books was also a bonus for the simple reason that it made the film’s moments of dark comedy even funnier. In addition to all of this, some types of dark comedy – such as slapstick humour and rapid-fire dialogue – work better on the screen too. So, the score is one all at the moment.

But, one area where horror novels are way ahead of horror movies is originality. When “The Cabin In The Woods” was released, it was touted as a radically original twist on a stale genre. And, yes, it does do some fairly clever and original stuff. But, the film’s “surprising” ending is the type of thing that was done in a much more effective (and scary) way in a a 1980s Shaun Hutson novel I’d re-read recently.

Not to mention that this level of originality seems to be a lot more common in horror novels than it does in horror movies. Even just looking at horror novels from this decade, you can see this fairly easily.

Whether it’s S.L.Grey’s “The Mall“, a 2011 novel that blends “Silent Hill”-style horror and hilarious dystopian fiction in a South African shopping centre. Whether it’s Edgar Cantero’s 2018 novel “Meddling Kids“, which is a Lovecraftian parody of “Scooby Doo”.

Whether it’s Robert Brockway’s 2015 novel “The Unnoticeables“, which is a punk novel with some really innovative monsters. Whether it is Dana Fredsti’s “Ashley Parker” trilogy (2012-13), which are like “Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but with zombies“. I could go on for a while, but horror novels are more original more often than horror movies usually are.

So, Horror novels 2 – Horror movies 1.

On the other hand, horror movies get all of the fame. If you talk about a well-known horror movie, people will usually know what you are talking about. Likewise, since they tend to get advertised a lot more heavily than horror novels do, it’s easier to find horror movies than it is to find horror novels.

Add to this the fact that, these days, the horror genre is probably in better health on the screen than it is on the page (yes, modern horror novels do exist, but horror novels are nowhere near as popular as they apparently were in the 1980s) and it’s two all at the moment.

I could go on for a while, but I guess that they are both very different things with very different goals and sets of conventions, techniques etc… So, I guess that it’s best to say that if you want originality, depth and intensity, then read a horror novel. But, if you want to relax and to enjoy something that you can easily have conversations with other people about, then watch a horror movie.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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Three Reasons Why Creative Works That Are Never Made Seem So Good

The day before I wrote this article, I happened to find a really cool video on Youtube where, by editing together various audience recordings, someone was able to reconstruct what a live concert video for Iron Maiden’s 1986/7 world tour would have possibly looked like. This was a tour that was apparently never officially filmed and, were it not for the fans, would have been lost to the mists of time.

Although the tour was from before my time, I was astonished by how awesome this fan reconstruction was. Everything from the “Blade Runner”-themed introduction, to the costumes to the performance of songs that the band rarely plays live were really amazing. The blurry camcorder footage also made me wonder how much more awesome a proper official live video would have looked like if it had ever been made.

And this, of course, made me think about the topic of creative works that were never made. In particular, why they can sometimes seem better than things that were actually made.

1) Imagination: This is the most obvious one. If something is never made, then people will have to use whatever clues they can find in order to imagine what it looks like.

First of all, everyone’s imagination is at least slightly different. So, your idea of what a cool-sounding unreleased computer game/film/album/novel etc… would look like will probably be at least slightly different to that of the people who would have made it.

In addition to this, our imaginations also have very little in the way of limitations. In other words, we don’t have to worry about things like budgets, practical concerns or anything like that when we imagine what an unreleased film, game etc… might look like. So, it is probably going to look better in our imaginations than it ever would in real life.

2) Fandom: Following on from this, if you’re imagining something that was never made, then you are probably a fan of whoever would have made it. In other words, you’re probably judging it by the high standards of everything else that they have made. At the very least, you will probably expect it to be similar to these things.

The thing to remember here is that things that aren’t made sometimes aren’t made for a good reason. Maybe the underlying idea had a flaw of some kind? Maybe it was something that sounded cooler in principle than it actually did in practice? Maybe it would have required the person creating it to change something in a way that would alienate fans? etc…

A good videogame-based example of this is probably “Duke Nukem Forever”. For many years, this was a legendary unreleased game from the makers of the 1996 FPS classic “Duke Nukem 3D”. Everyone expected it to be like an enhanced version of “Duke Nukem 3D”. Of course, when it was eventually released in 2011, it was widely criticised for including all of the worst elements of modern FPS games (eg: linear levels, two-weapon limits etc..).

So, yes, “lost” creative works can seem better for the simple reason that you expect them to be like things that have already been released.

3) Context: Another reason why “lost” creative works can seem so amazing is because of the historical context surrounding them. In short, they evoke nostalgia. When we think about them, we think about the time period that they could have been made in.

We think about the earlier days of our favourite musicians, writers, game companies etc… and find ourselves wishing that we lived in that time period. And, whilst released creative works can evoke this nostalgia, unreleased ones tend to evoke it a lot more powerfully for the simple reason that we aren’t familiar with them (since they were never actually made).

As such, even a few vague clues about these things can seem like something “new” from the glory days of our favourite creative people.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Three Reasons Why Paperback Books Are Awesome

Well, I thought that I’d talk about paperback books today. In particular, why they are one of the most awesome types of books out there. And, no, this isn’t a “physical books vs e-books” article. Why? Well, if you’re reading an article with a title like this, then you’ve probably already decided which format you prefer 🙂

So, here are three of the many reasons why paperback books are awesome:

1) Approachability: Paperback books are designed to be read. If you want to show off your literary tastes or make your bookshelf look more impressive, then hardback books can work well. But, if you actually enjoy reading books, then a chaotic pile of paperbacks beats a well-ordered shelf of hardbacks any day.

Paperback books are designed to be carried around easily, to be left lying around (to be picked up when you have the impulse to read one) and to curl up with and enjoy. Although there is something to be said for spending time with a nice, weighty hardback book, there’s just something intuitive about spending time with a light, flexible paperback. It doesn’t boast or get in the way. It is just you and the story.

Not only that, because paperback books don’t really have the sense of prestige that hardback books do, they remind you of how much fun reading is supposed to be. After all, reading isn’t meant to be some kind of posh activity that you do in order to look sophisticated, it is something that is meant to be enjoyed. And, well, a humble paperback book is the perfect expression of this.

2) Nostalgia, coolness and fun: Simply put, old paperback books are cooler than old hardback books. Because paperback books were originally designed for mass entertainment, they often contain gripping stories (that didn’t always get a hardback release) and attention-grabbing cover art. Here are a few examples of both modern and classic paperback covers to show you what I mean:

Here are some examples of cool-looking paperback books, some of which probably didn’t get a hardback release.

Not only that, paperback books can be really nostalgic too. Although this might be different for you, most of the books I used to read for fun when I was a teenager were paperbacks. Usually slightly older second-hand ones. When I got back into reading regularly several months before writing this article, I found myself gravitating back to this again and, to my delight, it was just as fun as I remembered 🙂

3) Space: Simply put, paperback books are smaller than hardback books. What this means is that a pile of paperback books will contain more books than a similarly-sized pile of hardback books will. So, if you like to keep a good stock of books ready for when you finish your current one, then paperback books are often better than hardbacks.

This is especially true these days, where more books get both a paperback and hardback release. Often, the binding in modern hardback books is very similar to the binding used in paperbacks. So, there isn’t really that much practical difference between the two – except for their size.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Should You Use First Or Third Person Perspective Narration In Your Story?

If you’re about to start writing a story, then working out which perspective to use can be a bit of a challenge. Although you’ll either develop a preference over time or an instinct for which one works best with a particular story, this is something which can be a bit confusing if you’re new to writing.

So, I thought that I’d list some of the pros and cons of first-person and third-person narration.

First-person narration: First-person narration is easier to write for a number of reasons. Since your story is narrated from the perspective of one character, you only really have to worry about the things that this character sees, does or hears about. This also immerses the reader in the story a lot more easily, since they are quite literally placed inside the mind of the main character.

First-person narration is also great for shorter stories. After all, if your main character is the narrator, then you can focus more on what is happening to them or what they see than on describing them.

Likewise, it is easier to use a distinctive narrative voice, to show your main character’s thoughts, to make your story “flow” better and to give your main character lots of characterisation if you’re writing from a first-person perspective.

On the downside, you can’t really show what other characters are thinking since your story is told from the perspective of just one character. Yes, this can be used to add mystery to other characters (the famous example being Sherlock Holmes. Most of the original stories are narrated by Holmes’ colleague Watson). But, if you want to give lots of characters lots of characterisation, then this is more difficult from a first-person perspective.

In addition to this, since you’re only showing things from one character’s perspective, first-person narration feels a bit more subjective and unreliable. Whilst this can be useful in some types stories, it doesn’t always fit in with literally every type of story out there.

Likewise, if you’re telling a large-scale story or even just a story that involves several plot threads, then this is a lot more difficult in first-person perspective. Yes, there are ways to do it (eg: dialogue, documents or even using more than one first-person narrator), but these are often a bit awkward to read unless handled really well. So, it only really works for stories with one main plot thread.

Third-person narration: Third-person narration gives you a lot more control over what you can show the reader. If you want to focus on one character, to focus on several characters or to describe something that the characters don’t see, then this is easy to do in third-person. It is a more “cinematic” form of narration that gives you more choice.

Likewise, third-person narration means that it is easy to have multiple plot threads – which are essential in longer stories, or stories that have a much grander scale to them. For example, an epic sci-fi, thriller or fantasy story will probably involve multiple characters in multiple locations. This is much easier and more intuitive to do with third-person narration.

Third-person narration also sounds a lot more “objective” and “authoritative”. Since the narrator is looking at the events of the story from a distance, this means that the reader is too. So, a story will feel a lot more weighty and dramatic if you use third-person narration.

On the downside, third-person narration is more difficult to write. After all, since the narrator is separate from the characters, you have to make a lot more creative decisions about what you describe, the pacing of your story, how you handle dialogue, what style of narration you use etc.. Likewise, handling multiple plot threads means that you have to plan and think about how they interact with each other too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three More Reasons Why Reading Is Better Than Gaming

So, a couple of nights before writing this article, I was watching random gaming videos on Youtube and found myself feeling nostalgic for the days when I played more computer games. By contrast, the novel I’d planned to read just felt kind of “drab” and “ordinary” compared to all of the cool fan culture that surrounds gaming.

[Edit: This article was originally prepared before I got a slightly more modern refurbished computer, which can actually play some modern “AA” and indie games. So, whilst I no longer have the same anger about modern system requirements as I did when I wrote this article (and have slightly toned down these parts before publication), the point probably still stands.]

But, although there are a lot of good things to be said about gaming, I thought that I’d argue the case for books today. In particular, why they can be better than games. I’ve probably talked about this before, but I felt like revisiting the subject. Even so, apologies if I repeat myself during this article:

1) Single-player, offline fun: These days, games seem to be drifting more and more towards online multiplayer, which is great if you’re a highly social person who also likes the length and times of your gaming sessions to be dictated by other players. If you aren’t, then it isn’t so great.

Likewise, there seems to be more and more of a requirement for games to be constantly online. Whether it is modern internet-connected consoles, constant “updates”, DRM requirements for some games (which can also be used to exclude users of classic computers), greedy things like micro-transactions or even the dreaded “software as a service” rental model, games are moving online. Even if you’ve got a good internet connection, then this is still an extra thing to rely on, an extra thing to go wrong and/or an extra thing to get in the way.

Books have none of these problems. By their very nature, they are a solitudinous form of entertainment that can be enjoyed at the reader’s own pace. Likewise, because they are made of paper, they don’t need an internet connection either. In other words, they’re more like the classic games of the 1990s in this respect 🙂

2) System requirements: I’ve talked about this many times before, but it is worth repeating. Books don’t have system requirements 🙂

Yes, an older or more linguistically-complex book might take longer to read. But, if you can read, then you can read it. You might have to look up unfamiliar words or make a guess from the context they are used in. You might not understand literally everything about a “difficult” book. But, if you can read, then you can read pretty much anything.

Now, compare this to computer games. They have system requirements.

If you want to participate in current gaming culture or if you just want to play an interesting-looking new game that you’ve heard about, then you’d better have splashed out on a powerful modern computer before you even think about playing it.

In other words, games have a load of extra barriers to entry that books don’t. The greatest irony of all is that, unlike games, modern books will often be written in a more “readable” way than older books are. They are something that is actually easier to pick up and read.

Likewise, if you can’t afford a new book, then it will usually either be in libraries (although, with the current UK government, maybe not), come down in price over time and/or eventually appear on the second-hand market. By contrast, unless you only want to play older games (which are often better) then you’d better be able to splash out hundreds or thousands on the “right” kind of computer before you even buy the game.

3) Variation: This is less of an issue these days, thanks to the awesome popularity of indie games (even if they often have ridiculous system requirements, despite their “retro” graphics), but one of the main reasons why there is such a popular fan culture around games is because there aren’t that many major games.

After all, “AAA” games cost millions and require hundreds of skilled workers to make. As such, not only are there less of them but they will often be aimed for the largest and most “popular” audience too.

In other words, games are a bit like Hollywood movies. If you happen to like what is “popular” at the moment, then you are in heaven. If not then, although there might be indie games for you, expect to feel a bit left behind.

Books, on the other hand, have a lot more variation. Pretty much any genre or type of story you can think of is covered. If you want a Lovecraftian parody of “Scooby Doo”, a thriller about zombie vampires in a rural village in the 1980s, a hilarious time travel based sci-fi series, a murder mystery set in Tudor-era Hampshire, a “film noir” where the detective is a vampire etc.. Then books have got you covered 🙂

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Three Benefits And Downsides Of Reading A Lot

Well, I thought that I’d talk about reading books again today. This is mostly because, ever since I got back into reading regularly several months ago, I’ve noticed a few things about reading a lot (either in the past and/or in the present) that are simultaneously awesome and annoying.

1) Your nostalgia will be different: One of the interesting things about books is that they aren’t really “mainstream” in the way that film, TV and videogames are. Whilst this has both benefits and drawbacks (for example, you can find an utterly awesome novel that is better than pretty much every movie/TV show you’ve seen… but no-one else will have heard of it or read it), I thought that I’d look at how it relates to nostalgia.

If you are a reader then, barring a few popular novels like the “Harry Potter” books and “The Da Vinci Code”, your nostalgia will be probably slightly different from everyone else’s. When you look back on the things that shaped your imagination and accompanied you during your earlier years, they will be different to what everyone else thinks about.

For example, when I’m feeling nostalgic, I’ll sometimes re-read some of the old 1980s/90s horror novels that I first found in second-hand shops and charity shops when I was a teenager during the ’00s. These are, to me at least, really nostalgic books. Yet, if I asked a random person on the street what “2000s nostalgia” looks like, they probably wouldn’t mention a collection of 20-40 year old books.

So, if books are your main form of entertainment, then your nostalgia will be different to most other people’s. On the plus side, this makes your nostalgia a bit more personal, unique, meaningful and cool. On the downside, it means that popular nostalgia won’t always resonate with you to quite the same extent.

2) You’ll encounter great books: This is both a good and a bad thing. If you read a lot then, by the law of averages, you are going to stumble across a truly great book every once in a while. This is the kind of book that lingers in your imagination, that feels like “THIS book was written for ME!” and/or makes you not want to finish it because that would mean that the story is over.

When you find one of these books, it is a truly awe-inspiring experience. Because of the added depth/immersion that the written word gives stories and because you have to use your own imagination whilst reading, it is a more vivid and unique experience than finding a really awesome movie, TV series or videogame. It reminds you why you read books and it enriches you in ways that you can’t even put into words. It is amazing.

However, the downside of all of this is when you finish that great book and look for the next book to read. This next book will be judged by the standards of the greatness that has come before it and this means that good or ok novels that you probably would have really enjoyed in other circumstances can sometimes seem off-putting in the days after reading a great book.

So, you either have to search for another great book (and they can be pretty rare) or go through the rigmarole of reading the first chapters of a few other books until you find a really good one that doesn’t seem like too much of a step down.

3) Book piles: Unless you read your books on an electronic device that needs to be recharged, doesn’t include second-hand novels and will probably become “obsolete” when the company that makes it wants to sell you a new one, then you will probably have at least a few book piles.

For those who don’t know, this is when your bookshelves run out of space and the only way to store the rest of the books is in ever-growing stalgmite-like piles that look a little bit like this:

This is a detail from a painting I made of my main book pile a few months earlier. At the time of writing, many of the books on it are different and the pile has grown very slightly taller.

Book piles are awesome for so many reasons. The covers and spines can add extra decoration to a room (unless you need to turn the books sideways to make room for more). They let you see what you could read next and what you’ve enjoyed in the past.

Book piles also make somewhere feel like home too (if you have book piles, you’ll understand this. If you don’t, then you probably never will).

Plus, if you spot a book pile somewhere else then you know you are in the company of a like-minded individual and, best of all, if you’ve got a few book piles then you can find all sorts of buried treasures in them that you’d totally forgotten that you even owned.

Not only that, knowing how to structure a book pile so that it contains the most books possible in the least amount of space whilst also remaining structurally stable is the kind of skill that can come in handy in all sorts of areas. Seriously, you’ll become a better Tetris player at the very least.

On the downside, there is never enough room for all the book piles you need (requiring you to restructure them or send books to the charity shop every now and then), you’ll never have the time to read literally everything in your book piles and non-readers might react with criticism/ridicule when they see even a modest book pile or seven.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Four Reasons To Read Books By Lots Of Different Authors

I’m not sure if I’ve talked about this before, but I felt like talking about some of the benefits of reading books by lots of different authors rather than just sticking to a couple of favourite authors. Although this is more of an issue if you binge-read and/or read quickly, some of the stuff in this article will probably apply regardless of your reading speed.

1) It keeps your favourites enjoyable: For the first two or three weeks after I got back into reading regularly again, I became a fan of Clive Cussler. I eagerly binge-read Cussler novel after Cussler novel. But, after reading eight of them, I just couldn’t get into the ninth one I’d planned to read. It just seemed like more of the same. I’d become bored of an author that I really enjoyed.

This taught me a lot. In short, when it comes to books, you can have too much of a good thing. If you only focus on reading books by a small number of authors, then you will probably get bored with them at some point. They will go from being amazing to being drearily mundane.

So, setting yourself something like an “always read a book by a different author to the one you’ve just read” rule can protect your enjoyment of your favourite authors – and help you to discover more favourite authors too.

2) It protects against feelings of loss when you finish a series: A few weeks after I got back into reading regularly, I discovered Jocelynn Drake’s amazing “Dark Days” series. Although I was following an “always read a book by a different author to the one you’ve just read” rule by then, there was often literally just one other book between most of the “Dark Days” novels I read.

Leaving aside the prequel novella, the main series is only six novels long. So, I ended up finishing it within less than a month and felt absolutely miserable when I realised that it was over. After this, I’ve become a lot more reticent about reading more than 1-2 books from any given series within the space of a month.

Not only does reading lots of different authors mean that you’ll get to savour your favourite series over a longer amount of time, but frequent exposure to other authors also means that you won’t get too over-attached to any one series – so there’s much less of a feeling of loss when a series ends because you’ll know from experience there are lots of other great books and/or series out there too.

3) It makes you a better reader (and writer): In short, every author has a different writing style. And, if you get too used to one author’s writing style, then this can make reading books by other authors a bit more difficult. It can make everything else seem too fast or slow paced, too descriptive or superficial etc.. by comparison.

By regularly reading books by different authors, you constantly have to get used to different writing styles and this will make you a better reader. Not only will it mean that you’ll adapt to different styles more easily, but having experience of reading lots of different writing styles will help you to see why an author uses the style that they do.

Likewise, whilst there’s no shame in abandoning a book you really don’t enjoy (and reading something you enjoy instead), having experience of reading lots of different writing styles means that you’ll be more likely to give each book a bit more of a chance. Whilst this might not always work out well, there are quite a few books out there which only really get good after you’ve read the first 50-150 pages. So, you’ll find books that can really catch you by surprise 🙂

Not to mention that, if you’re a writer too, then this will also help you to find your own writing style too. After all, if you’re only influenced by one or two authors, then your writing style will be a second-rate imitation of those writers’ styles. However, if you are influenced by lots of different authors, then it becomes a lot more difficult for the reader to pick out each influence – so, your style will seem more unique and distinctive.

4) You’ll know yourself better: No-one wants to read a book they don’t enjoy. This is why people will sometimes stick to reading just one or two favourite authors. But, pushing yourself to read lots of different authors means that you have to know what qualities to look for when searching for books to read.

After all, if you’re looking for new authors online or in bookshops, you’ll often have to make a snap decision about whether a book is worth taking a closer look at or not. So, knowing what qualities you enjoy in a story (rather than just knowing the names of a couple of authors you enjoy) means that this process becomes a lot faster and easier.

In other words, to know what types of books you’ll really enjoy, you need to know yourself. So, reading books by lots of different authors and asking yourself why you enjoy the books that you enjoy can be a way of finding out more about yourself.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂