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Women in Horror: Monique Snyman

WiHMX-horizontal-WhiteFrom out of South Africa, Monique Snyman writes today and talks about what’s needed to write good characters. I hope you’re enjoying the different writers’ and editors’ perspectives here and will continue to check back throughout the month for Women in Horror Month.

Stepford Wives and Serial Killers: Crafting Complex Characters

People generally assume I am not a horror writer, due to my love of pastels and willingness to help others. Who I am simply does not gel with what is often expected of someone who has a deep affection for the genre. I’m supposedly “too nice,” “too normal-looking,” “too well-spoken.” As if appearances have anything to do with horror. Granted, perhaps I am all those things, but I also pride myself for not truly fitting into anyone’s preconceived notions of who I am to them. That, I guess, also makes me somewhat of a rebel—a rebel in a floral sundress. One, I regret to say, that has a real problem with authority, always have, and probably always will. Does my problem with authority make me a bad person? No. Is my love of pink supposed to make me any less of a horror writer? I hope not; otherwise my career is doomed.

What I’m getting at is that we make judgment calls based on appearances, but all human beings are complex. There are layers to who we are and what we are capable of doing. And what we see is not exactly what we get in the grand scheme of things.

Fictionalized characters, if crafted correctly, are exactly the same.

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Patrick Batemen examines his tools in American Pyscho

If there’s anything horror has taught me over the years, it’s that appearances can be deceiving. For better or worse, the bad guy isn’t always the monster and the good guy isn’t always squeaky clean. It’s because of this sentiment that I’ve always found myself drawn to crafting complex characters. Patrick Bateman (American Psycho), for example, is still one of my favorite characters because he doesn’t initially come across as a…well, for lack of a better word, psycho. Bateman looks normal, is ambitious, seems to have it all, yet there is something seriously wrong with him. Funnily enough, as far as real life is concerned, I wouldn’t count Ted Bundy in on my list of favorite serial killers for exactly the same reasons. Perhaps it’s because I feel Bundy’s madness is more superficial than Bateman’s, and that Bundy did it all for show. I don’t know. I’m not a certified psychologist.

Another character I absolutely adore is Tiffany Valentine-Ray (The Bride of Chucky), because at first she comes across as this heartless serial killer, a thrill-seeker who’d do anything to keep Chucky happy, but she’s much more than that. Tiffany does display a softer side at times, and she does stand up to Chucky. Sometimes, when I feel especially sentimental, I can imagine she would’ve been content with a suburban life…for a while, at least. I mean, even a trophy wife can be much more than a pretty face and a pair of Louboutin’s. She can be a voracious reader like Marilyn Monroe, or she can be a complete lunatic like Linda Hazzard. It all depends on the things that make a person who they are—past experiences, present circumstances, future endeavors.

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Chucky and Tiffany planning creepy capers.

That’s the thing about characters, though, they’re basically people. Each one is unique in their own way.

 

Nevertheless, layers are important, because they allow readers to connect with characters and ponder the “what ifs” and “maybes” long after the book or movie is finished.

So, how does one go about creating a complex character? The truth is that there is no real trick to writing complex characters; you simply need to know your characters inside and out, and make them somewhat relatable. However, I do understand that some will find it easier than others, which is why I always suggest authors first write a character description, just to get a general idea of who they’re working with (appearances are important, whether we like it or not). Note the character’s sex, age, hair and eye color, height, weight, sexuality, and so on. I, personally, then tend to move on to the character’s preferred fashion choices (preppy, goth, jock, whatever), before I get into the nitty-gritty backstory. And yes, it is always a good idea to write a backstory, whether anyone else sees it or not, because your character’s choices are often dictated by a fictionalized pasts. From there, expand to include relationships—how, for example, does your protagonist/antagonist relate to other characters? How did they meet? How long have they been friends? Why don’t they like each other? When will there be conflict? After that, if you have to, gently prod your characters into position by making adjustments to the personality.

As Neil Gaiman said on a related topic, “It’s that easy, and that hard.”

It takes practice to write well, to craft unforgettable characters, to somehow navigate your way through intricate plots and subplots and whatnot. My best advice: Try and try again. I’ve worked in the industry for over a decade, and I can honestly say that honing a craft, in particular one that is ever-changing, is a full-time job. With practice, though, crafting a character doesn’t have to be a chore.

Synam 3Monique Snyman’s mind is a confusing bedlam of glitter and death, where candy-coated gore is found in abundance and homicidal unicorns thrive. Sorting out the mess in her head is particularly irksome before she’s ingested a specific amount of coffee, which is equal to half the recommended intake of water for humans per day. When she’s not playing referee to her imaginary friends or trying to overdose on caffeine, she’s doing something with words—be it writing, reading, or fixing all the words.

Monique Snyman lives in Pretoria, South Africa, with her husband and an adorable Chihuahua. She’s the author of MUTI NATION, a horror novel set in South Africa, and THE NIGHT WEAVER, the first installment in a dark fantasy series for young adults.

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Women in Horror: Pat Flewwelling

WiHMX-horizontal-WhiteFrom Canada, writer and editor Pat Flewwelling talks about horror, scary reality and maybe, just maybe why women write horror.

Writing Horror All Along

For some folk, horror is synonymous with supernatural evil and/or gore. I think that’s unfair. There are plenty of horror stories that are all creep and no gore, like the Haunting of Hill House, Turn of the Screw, and Beloved. And there are stories that have no supernatural evil and yet are still shiver-worthy, like the original Stepford Wives, We have Always Lived in the Castle, The Yellow Wallpaper, Rebecca, and Flowers in the Attic.

Pat asks, what is scary? Image: MoviePilot.com

So, for the purposes of this argument, let’s take the supernatural and the gore out of the equation, because to be fair, there are a select few well-paid authors who have diluted all fright out of things that go bump in the night.

Without eldritch beings, evisceration, and eyeballs dangling from their sockets, what horror have we got left? Scary evil human beings. Let’s pretend then, that we want to write an in-your-face-scary horror story, leaving out the supernatural—and the swearing!—while sanitizing the gore and the violence, shall we?

Perhaps we should tell a story about an anonymous serial killer. Those are always big box office sellers, right? Maybe we can make the killer that creepy lurker on your street corner, standing there with his mental checklist, hunting for That One hidden amongst The Many. We don’t know he’s there until it’s too late, and by then, he’s become a pernicious and inexorable threat.

Oh wait…that story has already been told. A lot. Like, a lot.

Or perhaps he’s not that snaggle-toothed rando lurking in the shadows. Maybe he’s known and trusted, maybe even has a “special bond” with your children. There’s no safety at home, because that’s where he lives; there’s no safety with your parents; there’s not even a safe refuge for you with your friends. He always seems to know where to find you.

But perhaps it’s all in your mind. You’re just being hysterical. You’re overreacting.

Ah, but you perceive a threat— everyone knows there’s a threat—but since he hasn’t actually done anything to you, the police can’t help you. You show them the emails, the text messages, but that doesn’t prove anything, does it? All the makings of a great psychological horror, if overdone. In non-fiction.

Scary, sure, but what about evil? Like, deep-down, weapons-grade evil? This is a horror story after all. Why not some psychotic doctors, or baby-stealers, or people who slash genitalia? That kind of evil doesn’t really exist in the world, right? I mean, if true evil existed in the world, we’d see things like rape of incapacitated patients, forced sterilization without consent, systemic child abduction, husband stitches, and FGM (female genital mutilation). Besides, it can’t be evil if it’s legal, right?

Yikes. I sound a little biased. Let’s redirect this conversation, shall we? Maybe we should flip the script and have a scary, evil woman.

Well, the old serial killer trope still comes to mind. Black widows are standard fare, too, but in some cases, that horror plotline can quickly become a comedy. Well, we could always pull in a standard stalker, or a not-so-standard stalker. It’s strange that all the “evil” female villains seem to engage in—and the really, really evil ones attack children, especially their own. The worst? When they attack children sexually. Not always, of course. Don’t get me started on articles about the psychological or financial abuse they commit on all genders and ages. Women are a nasty bunch of creatures all on their own. After all, who do you think supports FGM? Who do you think performs it?

I won’t even consider writing a story about violence done against or by transgendered women, so don’t ask me to go checking how often a story like that has been done before. Thanks anyhow.

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Find Pat’s Blight of Exiles through Tyche Books

Maybe women horror writers add that supernatural element in order to create a monster they can actually see, define, and conquer. A monster we’re allowed to attack, encouraged to destroy. In a story like that, we can become the Mama Bear you just don’t want to mess with. We don’t just beat up the demons and send them home again; we undermine them. We can get inside their heads, understand what makes them tick, and use that to our advantage. And oh, how we will destroy them. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, sure; but hell hath no single-minded, red-raged resolve like a mother whose children you’ve threatened.

And maybe we write the gory details because we know what it’s like to suffer the indignities of our bodies uncontrollably mutating throughout our lifetimes—puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, menopause. Maybe it’s our reaction to having our bodies and our lives constantly, publicly, dissected and deconstructed, not just by the male gaze, but by our own sisters and mothers and friends.

Maybe some of us are so sick of being never-good-enough that we just want to chuck deuces and become the whole-hearted villain they make us out to be. No holds barred, no flinching, all biting, all punching back, taking (for a change) instead of offering it up. Shackle-breaking. Free. Light. Instead of placating our attackers, standing up and fighting back. Striking first, instead of enduring a lifetime of hypervigilance, waiting, watching, wondering. Stabbing at ideals. Slashing at double-standards and artificial boundaries and self-imposed limitations. Bloody-toothed violence, but with a purpose and an end goal: Leave me and mine alone.

Or maybe women have been writing horror all this time, but calling it something else, like “autobiographies,” “statistical analysis,” and “autopsies.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMaybe we’ve been calling it “journalism” all along.

Pat Flewwelling writes dark fiction of all kinds, from short stories like “The Great Inevitable” in Expiration Date (Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, ed. Nancy Kilpatrick) and “Cyphoid Mary” in Alice Unbound (Exile Editions, ed. Colleen Anderson), to full-length novels like Blight of Exiles, Plague of Ghouls, and Scourge of Bones (Tyche Books, 2015, 2016, 2017 respectively). Forthcoming works include “Nowhere Time” in Canadian Dreadful (Dark Dragon Press, ed. David Tocher), and the fourth novel in her Helix series: Sedition (Tyche Books, 2019). On the side, she also runs a travelling bookstore, is a co-editor at ID Press, and works full-time as a senior business analyst.

You can find some of Pat’s work, Expiration Date, Alice Unbound and the Helix trilogy on Amazon.

 

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