If You Say You Write Horror, Fucking DO It

I was at a horror convention years ago, and a “horror writer” on one of the panels claimed of his serial killer-character, “Oh, I HATE him! He’s SO mean!”

Well pal, fuck you, go write romance. If you’re trying to be politically correct, you’re coming off fake and pukey, and if you think your plea is gender-sensitive, it actually paints you as the creepy uncle, the condescending misogynist.

If I am going to write horror, I am going to focus on the horrific, and if I am to do that effectively, I can’t have an antagonist who is a cardboard “bad guy” based on cliches (the equivalent of lipstick on a pig) or the seeming opposite end of the spectrum – the melodramatic fiend performing massive acts of hyperbole, like stabbing a victim FIFTY TIMES (the equivalent of a middle schooler’s scribble in the margins during math class).

I talked to another horror writer who claimed serial killers are stupid. I wonder then, why I am reading about them. If I am to have worthy protagonists, doing exactly what I would do a moment before I think of doing it, then what does it say about my overall story structure (and character-building) if my antagonist is a dumb-ass to begin with? I would also respond with examples like Buffalo Bill. Stupid? Maybe, but he was a foil for Hannibal Lecter, who was anything but. The killer in the movie Seven was far from stupid, and though Fortunato was simple enough to walk to his own crypt in the catacombs, Montresor was pretty fucking slick with that trowel.

I like reading (and writing) about “bad guys” who are smart, who make me see things differently, who show me their craft in a way that if only for a moment, alters my perspective.

That, is interesting. Far more than the rather “farty” and “girly” – “Oh, I HATE him!!”

Not to get technical, but if I want the killer in a story I am reading or writing to become something other than that hideous sow or that indiscriminate side-scribble, he or she might just wind up being the lead character. This however, forms a paradox, a tough one, but a good riddle nonetheless. I am not making the claim that it is anything new or “special” in having the protagonist as the “bad guy,” but more, if I am creating a horror book (or movie) how do I hide the monster if the monster is the main player?

My theory is that it is not only possible to solve this puzzle, but celebrate it. To do so, however, I would argue that we have to flip the idea of viewpoint characters on its head.

I know. All of a sudden we have the naysayers coming out of the woodwork with all their trendy little dark omens. “Third person is better than first person! Never do full blown flashbacks! Never do multiple viewpoints! Never, never, never…”

If I was interested in “never” I would have avoided teaching, let alone writing fiction. I have always believed that there are no real rules in writing, but rather, a platform for the given artist to make his or her own parameters from word number one.

So then, why can’t my serial killer be the lead character?

I just finished my fourth novel, titled The Sculptor, and I’ll tell you straight up, I FUCKING LOVE my sick-o killer-dude. Whether or not I succeeded in making a frightening, smart, and above all – interesting character will be up to the reader. Whether or not this will be a success will be determined of course, by editors of publishing houses. I did attain a literary agent for this piece and we begin shopping the work this coming January 15th…

In terms of the writing of the thing, here was my thinking:

My mystery/thriller will use the serial killer motif to probe broader questions related to the use of technology and our buried capacity for darkness. Since we know the identity of the killer from the first line of chapter one, when in 1986 at age seven, Michael Leonard Robinson commits his first murder, our initial “twist” is a play on genre. Michael himself is the mystery. From the start he is an enigma, a recluse, the kid no one notices at school, yet he is also a bizarre sort of prodigy, turning tragedy into an aesthetic. By the time he turns eighteen, he has become an expert with computers, gaming systems, and the art of video imaging. And now in his forties, fully realized, he has long erased his digital footprint. He is thirty years ahead of our most advanced scientists, military ops tacticians, and elite information tech specialists. He is a master of disguise. He can invent projected realities.

Therefore, the question initially raised in reference to this “mystery” is not “Who done it?” but rather, “What devious methods will this mysterious fiend use to next manipulate his playthings?”

Before discussing the viewpoint characters however, another question one might raise would be concerned with overall motivation. Michael Leonard Robinson could very well work his dark vision on larger scales, putting a ghost in everyone’s cell phone at a Phillies game and making them all explode when the singer hits the high note in the national anthem. He could shut off all the electric, take over the cell towers, then hide in the sewers for ten years while we clawed at each other on the surface. Why not world domination considering his superlative cognitive advantages?

Because this is more about fetish, about Robinson living in his own sort of pornographically violent fantasy, up close and personal, as he leads his victims down paths haunted by their fears and repressions. Robinson doesn’t need “the world” for a thrill, just a police captain, his receptionist, a detective, a rookie junior officer, his sister and mother, and a lot of dark theater. “Who done it,” hell. How about “Where is he?” and “What’s coming next?”

Since our lead character is Michael Leonard Robinson, and he appears to us only in disguise, film clips, and flashes, our viewpoint characters provide disquieting glimpses. The aforementioned players are also slave to personal interpretation and psychological bias, as is the killer’s design, so “point of view” is part of the overall story’s masking technique, hiding the monster with tactical reveals.

The multiple viewpoints are puzzle pieces.

When they fuse at the end, we have our final sculpture.

That said, it would appear that the novel is thematically based, more symbol than substance, and this simply is not the case. This is a house of cards shaped like a mousetrap, and the devil is in the details.

All that said, it seems I always write from a standpoint of rebellion. As a writer, I so often find that there are a lot of people telling me what I can’t do. Ok. Then, the question is, did I enjoy writing The Sculptor…

Yes. Because it was fucking hard.

Yes, because hard as it was, it was true to itself all the way through.

Will people be disconnected because there is no hero lead character to interpret things through? Maybe. But I will guarantee you, no one will ever accuse me of being farty or prissy or politically correct.

 

About maronovitz2015

Michael Aronovitz published his first collection titled Seven Deadly Pleasures through Hippocampus Press in 2009. His first novel Alice Walks came out in a hardcover edition by Centipede Press in 2013, and Dark Renaissance Books published the paperback version in 2014. Aronovitz’s second collection, The Voices in Our Heads was published by Horrified Press in 2014, and The Witch of the Wood, came out through Hippocampus Press in early 2015. Aronovitz’s first young adult novel Becky’s Kiss will be appearing through Vinspire Press in the fall of 2015 and his third hard core adult horror novel titled Phantom Effect will be published by Night Shade Books in the fall of 2015. Michael Aronovitz is a college professor of English and lives with his wife and son in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania.
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