Romeo & Juliet: Where did it go Wrong?

William Shakespeare is often credited as the greatest playwright in history, for his masterpieces such as Hamlet and MacBeth. However, his most popular work is Romeo & Juliet, a story which I absolutely despise. So I need to ask myself, why do I hate it so much while everyone else seems to love it? Well, I think we need to look at it from the perspective of overall narrative design.

As I will tell you no matter how many times you ask, the most important element to any narrative is characterization. And here’s the first major problem. The main characters have practically no personality at all. Particularly egregious in this category is Juliet, who has almost no lines of dialogue that aren’t just plot exposition or fawning over Romeo. Romeo himself is remarkably bland, with no distinct personality beyond fawning over Juliet. Are you starting to notice a pattern yet? Since the characters are so bland, I can’t feel emotionally invested in the slightest. And unfortunately, the primary genre is Romance-based Tragedy. The problem with this is that Romance and Tragedy rely on their characters even more than the other genres, since emotional investment from the audience is critical to the point. And once again, Romeo & Juliet fails on a fundamental level because of its lack of character development.

Next up is overall narrative structure and pacing. The overall premise, while basic, isn’t a bad one. Two families are in the middle of a feud, when the heirs of them both fall in love with each other. However, the feud is really just a backdrop for trying to keep the two apart, and it wasn’t expanded on enough. No reason is ever given for a potential cause of the feud, and so little time is devoted to it that the audience stops caring. However, the greatest flaw in the storytelling is the pacing and the whole plot itself. First off, the two leads meet at a party and barely say a word. The story also abuses one of the worst Romance clichés, “Love at First Sight”, to justify the remainder of the plot. The problem with this is that it establishes their “romance” as nothing more than sexual attraction, thus ending emotional investment as well as the potential for it being taken seriously. Already, the story has shot itself down, but it doesn’t stop there. Their next meeting is the famous window scene, but even that’s done horribly. It’s mostly just awkward compliments from Romeo and Juliet acting flattered. If you want to sell a Romance, then you need to have the characters act more like human beings. And once again, Romeo & Juliet fails on every level. So when the end happens and they both die, I’m more inclined to laugh at it than I am to be sad about it.

A ton of people try and defend it by claiming that since it’s a “tragedy”, the romance aspect isn’t important. However, when looking at it from the perspective of a tragedy, it still completely fails. For a better example of a tragedy centered around a doomed romance, one can look to Wuthering Heights. In that story, the characters of Catherine and Heathcliff are forced apart by social class as opposed to familial feuding, as is par for the course in most stories of this archetype. However, what makes it interesting is that they’re established to have known each other since their childhoods, and thus giving a strong basis for why they could feasibly become romantically interested in each other. When Catherine eventually dies, it’s due to an unfortunate hand of bad luck, as opposed to some sappy attempt at emotional manipulation. When Heathcliff learns of her death, he acts like a real person probably would. Though he’s obviously devastated by it, he decides to live on, and shows he has a life beyond this one woman. It’s not sad when two lovers both kill themselves, it’s just somewhat unpleasant. If one of them dies and the other one decides to live on in their absence, the story gains a lot more potential for creating emotional investment from the audience. To sum this up, Wuthering Heights succeeds because the two characters were given a distinct connection, and behave like actual people would, thus allowing the audience to sympathize with them more and thus feel more when they suffer.

In contrast, Romeo & Juliet feels like an amateur’s attempt at making a “power of love” story. It’s far worse than what one would expect from the likes of Shakespeare, but I suppose no writer can be good at absolutely everything. I’ve maintained for a long time that Romance is the hardest genre to master, and Romeo & Juliet proves this assertion perfectly. If even one so skilled as Shakespeare can fail at the genre in such a fundamental way, then clearly the genre is remarkably difficult to write in. It’s not like Romeo & Juliet is the worst story ever, or even the worst Romance ever. I mean, this is a genre that contains Twilight after all. However, I would say it’s the worst of Shakespeare, and a remarkable disappointment from someone who by all accounts should be better. Why this is the most popular of his works, I will never know. The worst part is the number of adaptations where both the main characters survive, as that removes the point of the story to begin with. In doing so, the genre shifts into a pure Romance, and I’ve never seen a single one of them do it correctly. Besides that, they always act like both of them died like in the original, only to come back and tell the audience they’re still alive. It’s among the laziest things they can do, and it bothers me to no end. In conclusion, stop making forgeries of this story, it’s not even that good, and it should be left in the past as nothing more than a relic, proof of the fallibility of even the greatest of writers.

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Magic: Not as Limitless as it Seems?

In theory, Magic provides endless possibilities for narrative device, and can do anything the author can imagine. However, from a practical storytelling perspective, such magic would crush the purpose of narrative in an instant. Why is this? Well, every narrative needs tension, or else there’s no point in its existence. With such unlimited magic, the narrative has no purpose because the magic users can just wave a hand and solve all the problems. Thus, the capabilities of magic are restricted. However, those restrictions need to be thoroughly explained, and they can’t just be arbitrary.

The best example of getting restrictions wrong is definitely Harry Potter. While on the surface it seems to explain why magic can’t solve the immediate issues, it lacks the necessary explanations to truly reinforce that sense of limitation. We’re told from the beginning that magic can’t bring back dead people, so death still maintains its narrative significance, but we’re never told why it can’t do that, and there seems to be no consequence for attempting magic that the series deems impossible. Without explaining why certain types of magic didn’t work within the series, it becomes hard to believe that those types of magic don’t work to begin with. As the old saying goes, “Show, don’t tell”. In book 4, it was explained that the Instant Death spell requires powerful magic behind it and that students wouldn’t be able to use it. But, as usual, it never explains what that powerful magic is. Since it doesn’t do that, we the audience never learn what prevents students from using such a spell. Since this rule extends to all other magic as well, the audience ends up asking themselves what prevents anyone from picking up a wand and casting the most advanced spells in existence, when so few of them are given sufficient restriction. Most stories like this seem to operate on the rules of video games, assuming the audience will think “oh, they don’t have enough magic energy to use such a spell”, similar to the Magicka system in The Elder Scrolls. Unfortunately, that’s not how storytelling works, and none of them ever go so far as to establish a limit on how many spells anyone can use at once.

In many series, the more complicated or powerful spells often require additional work, be it complicated rituals, physical ingredients, or similar elements. Particularly in series dealing with more traditional sorcery or spirits, these elements do an adequate job of explaining themselves and the limitations of the story. However, my personal favorite is the Inheritance Cycle. These books do a fantastic job of establishing a set of limitations through the use of one simple rule. In the series, any action taken with magic takes as much energy as it would doing it by traditional methods. Immediately, we understand the rules and limitations of magic, as well as why they’re limitations at all. The answer to “why can’t they do that with magic” is now established as “it would take too much energy, and it would kill them”. On that note, every set of limitations should have consequences for trying to break them. When those are in place, there’s more tension whenever magic is used, especially when the circumstances push the user closer and closer to the limits. In Inheritance, the limit is as stark as it could possibly be. If you overextend your energy limit, you die. The reasoning behind this makes perfect sense as well. If you expend all your energy, you can’t keep your heart beating, and thus you die. It’s simple, but it’s effective. To this day, Inheritance remains the best example of enforcing limitations, and those limitations do a wonderful job at maintaining narrative tension. A large reason why I like the series so much is that the narrative never loses tension, which is very rare in such a genre. What we can learn from this example is that the very act of enforcing rules properly can make you stand out from the rest of the genre.

So there you have it. While magic is theoretically infinite, in practice it is very strictly limited. Not only do you need to include rules about its usage, but you need to logically explain the causes of those rules and enforce them with consequences as well. If you manage to maintain such rules, then you should be better off at crafting your story.

November Update

Ugh, sorry about my month of absence. That guy shows up every year, since October gives him a bunch of extremely powerful abilities. Since it’s not October anymore, I’ve been able to reclaim the game board, and everything is back to normal. I don’t have a set schedule for this month, but I’ve got a few things in the works. First and foremost is my series on When They Cry, which is going to take a long time. I’ve got Beginner’s Guides planned for over a dozen topics, from entire genres down to individual elements. I’ve also got a few thesis pages in the works for different narrative concepts, and analysis of works like Berserk ’97 and The Ring. I have absolutely no release schedule for any of these, since they aren’t tied into specific times. Indeed, I have no release dates planned until February, when I take on the Romance genre. Until that point, I’ll only release writing when I’m happy with the state it’s in. I probably won’t do a Thanksgiving special, unless it’s a discussion of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. That’s a possibility, but I make no promises. Until then, I’m the Sorcerer of Analysis, and I’ll see you next game.

The Greatest Horror Story of All (October Finale)

It’s impossible to be a fan of a genre without having a favorite example of that genre. In this case, my favorite story in the entire Horror genre is Higanbana No Saku Yoru Ni, a series of short stories written by Ryukishi07. Though Higanbana consists of about a dozen such stories, and I’ve only finished two of them at the time of writing, those two stories were so phenomenal that I hold no qualms in professing Higanbana as the Best Horror Story Ever. I’ll return to it next year, and hopefully analyze the rest of them. For now, let’s deal with the first two. Note that there are full spoilers for both of them.

Higanbana’s first story, titled “Mesomeso-san”, deals with a teenage girl named Marie Moriya. Unlike it’s When They Cry brethren, Higanbana doesn’t really deal with the themes of Atonement or Bonds that much, instead taking a central theme of Bullying and its effects. Marie’s story embodies that perfectly, in a very disturbing fashion. It chronologically begins with her being bullied by all her classmates, simply because they don’t like her. The reason why nobody likes her isn’t ever really explained, but she’s nonetheless bullied by everyone. Her teacher, Kanamori, ends up rescuing her from her classmates, but soon gains possession of an embarrassing videotape involving her. Thus enter the real conflict: Marie is frequently sexually assaulted by Kanamori in the bathroom of the abandoned old school building. After one such occurrence, a student is passing by the bathroom and heears her crying. Not knowing who she is, this student begins a rumor that there’s a Yōkai, or Poltergeist, in the toilet, named “Mesomeso-san” due to the weeping sound she makes. When Kanamori hears this rumor, he begins panicking, thinking someone might’ve found him out. Marie, meanwhile, meets a girl named Higanbana, who is apparently the third-ranked of the seven school Yōkai. Higanbana explains the nature of herself and her peers, as well as Marie’s potential to become “Mesomeso-san” and exact revenge on Kanamori, though doing so will require her death. That afternoon, Marie tries to rebel against Kanamori, and he subsequently strangles her to death. He hides her body in a sewer, and continues on like nothing happened. After nearly falling off the roof of the school, Kanamori is tricked by the doll representing Higanbana into heading back to the bathroom, where he’s confronted by the ghost of Marie. She blames him for killing her, until the twist of the story appears. Kanamori fires back by asking her three questions about her life choices, and how she picked the wrong answer every time. What makes Higanbana so interesting in this case is that it not only addresses the common media portrayal of abuse victims rebelling against their abusers, but it explains how that’s the worst possible choice, and lists a bunch of alternatives. This is something almost never seen, and it’s a shock to the nervous system the first time around. Things don’t go so well for Kanamori, who forgot, and subsequently broke, all three rules the students had come up with regarding Mesomeso-san, and the ghost of Marie snaps all of his bones and drags him into the toilet, killing him and instilling herself as the eighth school Yōkai. It’s definitely a chilling tale.

As unnerving as “Mesomeso-san” was, it’s the next story, “The Haunted Camera”, that I like the most. “The Haunted Camera” centers around a boy named Takeshi Nonomiya, a member of the school’s newspaper club that joined for the purpose of “truth”. During a slow span of news, he ventures into the club’s storage room and finds an ancient camera. One of his peers tells him about the legend behind the camera: If you take a class picture with it, there’ll be a student who doesn’t belong. They test it out by taking a club photo, but the photo doesn’t come out. On his way out of the building, Nonomiya encounters Higanbana, who takes his picture to prove that the camera still works. As a result, Nonomiya takes a class photo the next day, and it has all 48 people in his class. That night, he realizes the problem: there are 48 people in the class and 48 people in the photo, but he took the picture, so there’s an extra person. That extra person is sitting in the back right corner, and their name is Marie Moriya (yes, the same Marie from the previous story). After Nonomiya learns this from Higanbana, he is informed that everyone forgot about her existence, but the camera brought it back. He then heads to her house, and shows the photo to her mother. Madam Moriya doesn’t take the photo calmly, remembering everything all at once and having a fit. Nonomiya runs for it, and bumps into the Rank 1 School Yōkai: Mr. Principal. Apparently, he has the ability to erase people’s existence, and he plans to do so with Nonomiya. Higanbana steps in and wards him away, then offers Nonomiya a choice: Truth or Peace? Similar to the secondary theme of Umineko No Naku Koro Ni Chiru, Higanbana explains that the camera can reveal the truths that everyone has forgotten, but all those truths bring pain to people. So Nonomiya is offered the choice of whether to reveal the truths with the camera or to leave people in peace by keeping the truth hidden. Nonomiya chooses Truth, and Higanbana transforms the world into a hellish plane. It turns out Nonomiya has a skeleton in his own closet that he forgot about due to Mr. Principal erasing their existence. An undisclosed amount of time previously, Nonomiya had a classmate named Youko Numata. Before a class, she and her friends had been messing around and accidentally knocked over an anatomical dummy. They subsequently blamed Nonomiya for knocking it over, and the teacher believed them. Nonomiya developed a grudge against Numata, and sought out to catch her breaking rules. Weeks later, he finally got a photo of her jaywalking, and sent it to her. She then found a bunch more in her locker, and their peers started mocking her. She was mocked and mocked until she was driven past the breaking point, and she killed herself. Higanbana summons her ghost from the icy hell she was condemned to in order to allow her to gain revenge on the one responsible for the events leading up to her death. However, after hearing his side of the story, as well as his apology, she ends up forgiving him and refusing to kill him, as it would only perpetuate the cycle of vengeance. At this point, Higanbana unleashes her inner Trollkastel and tries to kill them both, but Marie steps in and wards off her assault. Marie cams down Higanbana by inviting her to tea, allowing Numata’s ghost to return to the underworld with Mr. Principal. After Higanbana leaves, Marie allows Nonomiya to take one last photo, this one of himself. When the photo develops, the ghost of Numata can be seen happily posing next to Nonomiya. What makes this story work so well is the plot twist. The reason the plot twist works is that it makes sense within the premise. If the main character is trying to drag skeletons out of the closet by finding truths, then it makes sense for them to have one of their own. It’s shocking because of how it portrays his deeds, with it calling him out for stalking a classmate and helping drive her to suicide. The actual shot that reveals Numata’s suicide is a brilliantly done full-page spread, with Nonomiya coming across her body hanging from the ceiling at what looks like sunset. The re-incorporation of the Truth vs Peace theme from Umineko Chiru is a brilliant idea, and it’s explained brilliantly by Higanbana. The moment where Numata forgives Nonomiya is both slightly forced (she claims she was instrumental in her own death due to blaming Nonomiya for the events of the science class) and yet beautiful in its own right. Knowing that he’d seek vengeance on her once again if she killed him, she instead forgives him for his crimes in a dramatically beautiful moment. Also, Higanbana turning into Trollkastel is nightmarish.

Such are the first two stories of Higanbana No Saku Yoru Ni. I have only finished those two at the time of writing, but I’ll be back next year to keep analyzing the other stories. How could I do anything else? The execution of these two stories alone is enough to convince me of the skill with which Higanbana is told. It paints a stark and disturbing portrayal of bullying that’s superior to even that in Carrie. Because of the cruelty exhibited by her classmates, Marie didn’t go to any of them for help against Kanamori, and he held power over her using an embarassing photo that she didn’t want revealed due to the exacerbation of her classmates’ bullying it would assuredly cause. Spearheaded by the photos of Nonomiya, the class’ bullying of Numata lead to her killing herself out of depression. Enter Higanbana herself, someone who seems intimately familiar with the victims of the class’ bullying, and appears to willingly interact with the victims of said bullying in order to offer them some measure of assistance, albeit in a rather disturbing way. This theme of Bullying and the ramifications it can cause is executed masterfully, and the secondary themes of the different tales are just as valuably handled. The atmosphere is disturbing when it wants to be, the narrative is darkly exciting, and the artwork can be downright stunning, particularly in the manga adaptation. I just wish the story would get a series of shorts animated for it.

Thus concludes this marathon. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. I’ll be back next year to continue filling this gameboard with my thousands of black forgeries. Until then, remember my existence. This is B. Analysis signing off.

The Most Fallacious Horror Tropes (October Special #3)

Though Horror is a genre I deeply adore, there are a depressing number of deeply irritating tropes that I feel an overwhelming compulsion to complain about as much as I possibly can.

First off, my most hated cliché in the entire genre: Chainsaws.  Popularized by the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie series, chainsaws have become commonplace in Horror movies. The problem with this is that chainsaws have been overdone, and they’re just boring by now. They were never any scarier than any other melee weapon, and their rampant overuse has done nothing but cause annoyance at their inclusion.

Next, blinding darkness. Darkness is perfectly fine in moderation, but there’s a very fine line between eerie shadows and vision-obscuring blackness. While the former works well in many circumstances, the latter works so rarely that it shouldn’t really be used.

Next, jump scares. This might be the single most overused element in any Horror production. The value of a jump scare is that it can accentuate an already eerie sequence with a viscerally shocking payoff. However, it cannot carry a scene on its own, and it requires intense buildup, the kind of buildup a hack Horror creator doesn’t bother with. Jumpscares without buildup are like punchlines without setup: boring.

Next is the other most overused trope in Horror: Overexposure to a monster. When you show a monster to your audience, the reaction you want is most assuredly not: “oh, fuck off”. However, this WILL be an audience’s reaction if you showcase a monster too much. Familiarity breeds contempt, and there’s no better example than the Horror genre. This trope is more common in video games, where the popularity of games like Slender has spawned a tidal wave of horrible rip-offs. And it’s SO. UNBELIEVABLY. BORING. However, a lazy Horror creator will try and avoid this by obscuring it with terrible methods, such as excessive darkness or shaky cam.

Next, there’s shaky cam. A very common and lazy way to avoid the previous trope I talked about, shaky cam involves a director obscuring the physical appearance of their monster by vibrating the camera so much that the audience gets migraines and loses the ability to see properly. If I have to explain to you EXACTLY why this is terrible, you have no business ever going into filmmaking, animation, or anything like that.

Next is one of the most egregious tropes ever spawned: assaulting your audience with vast quantities of NOTHING. While good Horror is slow in pace, it’s a mark of truly awful horror that the story begins with absolutely nothing happening. It’s absolutely vital to set up enough material for suspense before slowing the pace, or else the story will be absolutely boring to EVERYONE.

We continue on to the final mistake: Plot U-Turns. This is a problem in many genres, but Horror often suffers the most. The nature of a plot twist is that it’s subtly foreshadowed, yet that foreshadowing can be explained by alternative explanation, at least until the twist is formally revealed. The best plot twists go against what the audience is assuming, and explains events that the audience would normally assume had an alternate cause and meaning. For instance, the best plot twist ever: The Sixth Sense. Early on in the film, we learn that Bruce Willis’ wife is ignoring him, and she’s shown to be taking anti-depressants and dealing with some guy. The obvious audience assumption is that she’s having an affair, until the twist reveal at the end. Since the film deals with dead people, the final twist is that Bruce Willis is actually dead, he just didn’t know about it. What makes this twist work so well is that the audience both did and didn’t expect it. The clues to it were all there, it fits with the premise, and a shrewd viewer could notice it. However, the average viewer instead assumes the more likely explanation that Shyamalan presents, just because it fits in better with what they expect. Thus, to the unprepared viewer, the twist is a colossal shock, and thus is effective. Far too often, we get terrible plot twists in one of three ways. The first way is to not foreshadow the twist at all, or foreshadow it so little that no reasonable audience member could understand how it ties into the narrative. A variant of this mistake is to foreshadow it using “signs” that actually have very little to do with the twist, which is of course irritating. The second is to foreshadow it too much or too blatantly, so that absolutely everyone knows it’s going to happen long before it happens. This kills the surprise of the twist, so it might as well not have happened. Foreshadowing a twist doesn’t mean foreshadowing what that twist is down to the most minute detail, it just means foreshadowing the general idea of the twist, as I’ll discuss in my October finale. The third way is if the twist doesn’t particularly fit the premise. Imagine for a minute a version of Silent Hill where it turns out Harry was dead from the beginning, and the whole campaign was him going through purgatory. The problem with this being a twist is that it has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the game, and there’s no reason for it to be there. If there’s going to be a plot twist, it needs to make sense within the given information, as well as the overall premise and tone of the series.

Thus, I have crucified seven awful Horror tropes, and hopefully my readers have learned what to avoid in their Horror stories. Join me next time when I conclude my October Specials series with a deep analysis of what I consider the greatest Horror story of all time, or at least what I’ve read of it.

The Beginner’s Guide to Horror (October Special #2)

While Horror may not be the most difficult genre to write in, it’s still in the top 5. Horror is extremely difficult because inducing fear takes different methods for different people. For some, all that’s necessary is darkness and jump scares. Others need unnerving atmosphere, excellent technical elements, and disturbing concepts. The latter is particularly difficult, so that’s what I’ll try to teach.

First off, the atmosphere. Good Horror lives and dies by its atmosphere, so getting it right is absolutely essential. First off, the visual tone for the likes of movies and illustrated books. Darkness is extensively common in Horror media, for an obvious reason: Darkness contains the unknown, and anything could be lurking in it. However, there’s a very fine line between eerie shadows that can obscure a monster and just filling the frame with so much darkness that the audience can’t tell what is going on. In many third-rate Horror productions, the entire ordeal will be so dark that it’s almost impossible to follow the events that are occurring. This is often used to disguise cheap effects or otherwise hide less desirable details, but it’s a distinct misfire. An example of how to mask cheap effects properly can be found in the original Alien. Due to Alien releasing in the 1970’s, special effects were of distinctly low quality, and the alien was portrayed by a man in a rubber suit. To mask that, Ridley Scott simply lessened the screen time of the alien, and rarely if ever showed the entirety of it. Mostly the audience would see an arm, a tail, maybe the head. Indeed, arguably the most iconic scene in Alien is when Dallas is in the air ducts, and gets ambushed by the Xenomorph. He turns, we get an image of the head and one arm, and then cuts. I cannot stress this enough: If you aren’t confident in your effects, mask them by showing the monster less, and not by filling the frame with darkness. Doing the latter does nothing but annoy the audience. This all ties into a much bigger problem with modern Horror: overexposure to the object meant to cause fear. Familiarity breeds contempt, so overexposing an audience to your monster will do nothing but annoy them.

Next off, the premise. Horror has hundreds of different potential premises available, divided into over a dozen sub-genres. There’s supernatural, which is further divided into several categories including ghosts, zombies, demons, vampires, or other supernatural creatures, as well as animals, sadists, cults, insane people, aliens, and many more besides. Of these, there are a few genres that work better with certain formulas than others. For instance, Horror focused around aliens or supernatural entities have a very common formula: show hints of monster early on, make allusions to how dangerous it is, notable reveal later in production. For Horror focused around insane people, it’s better to show the villain more, but keep their insanity subtle for a while. Subtlety is key to Horror, and a lack of it WILL kill a horror story immediately. When focusing on a lunatic as a premise, the motive is also necessary. Sure, a story can just say a character was born with their condition and continue from there, but it works much better if the character is given a backstory (and a tragic and believable one at that) that adequately explains the character’s motivations and psyche. In the realm of Horror, nothing does this better than Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni. Higurashi is a very interesting case, in that I refuse to label it as a “real” Horror, if only because that misses part of the point. I’ll get around to explaining that in detail later, but the necessary information for this point is that absolutely everyone in Higurashi has some kind of unfortunate backstory that explains the motivation behind every action they take, and gives full clarification as to their outlook on life, as well as what the others mean to them. In this case, I’ll be focusing on the backstories of Shion Sonozaki and **** ******, whose backstories result in multiple murders and the unfortunate events of the series. The story of Shion is revealed in the fifth story arc, known as “Eye Opening”. It’s revealed that Shion was shunned by her family for her whole life due to her being the younger twin. After escaping her school, she hides out by disguising herself as her sister. It’s there that she meets Satoshi, who we already know disappeared shortly after this event occurs. It then spends a while developing the relationship between them, and proceeds to throw a wrench into the mix. Due to multiple reasons, Satoshi ***** his ****, which sets the police to suspect him. To cover his “alibi”, Shion is forced to reveal her true identity, which results in her family catching her. She’s forced to tear her ********** out in order to take responsibility for the events of the previous few weeks. Shortly after, Satoshi disappears, which becomes the catalyst of the killing spree that follows. A year later, and Shion’s memories of Satoshi are re-ignited by a seemingly minor incident, and thus the bloodbath begins. I’m being purposefully vague for the purpose of not giving away the emotional gut punches that occur during Eye Opening. As for ****, her backstory isn’t revealed until the very last book, but it’s perfectly hard enough to justify her role as the arch-villain of the series. When she was a young child, her parents died in a train accident (with her father coughing blood into her face), thus sending her to an institution. This institution is perhaps the cruelest orphanage in any form of media, and she goes through hell on earth there for a long time. Then she gets in contact with ****** ******, who takes her away from all that. She then learns of his dream to prove the existence of ***** *********, which gets scorned by the entire scientific community. After he dies, she dedicates her entire life to fulfilling that dream by any means necessary. Through both these backstories, their motivations for their horrific deeds are explained, and honestly they’re at least sympathetic, if not relatable. Obviously this is just an example, but it’s a paragon of good storytelling that applies perfectly to Horror stories. Think of Horror like Mystery: “Whodunnit?” and “Howdunnit?” aren’t enough. There must be a “Whydunnit?”, or the story will never live up to its full potential.

Next is the design of the villain. When the perpetrator is a human, there’s a list of annoying clichés that any aspiring writer ought to avoid. First off, chainsaws. Chainsaws were honestly never scary, and they have a few characteristics that make them inherently less threatening than other melee weapons, such as the amount of noise they generate. Their rampant overuse has just made them boring. Next, masks. Unless your story is also a mystery, there’s no reason for a perpetrator to wear a mask. If it’s not essential to your story, remove it. Finally, I must stress the value of making a villain understandable at the very least. If you can do that, your villain will be more memorable, and thus your story more appealing to an audience. Horror is a very niche market, so you have higher standards to meet if you want to impress them. Using clichés heavy-handedly is the single fastest way to alienate that audience.

Even though they tend to die, protagonists are essential in Horror, just like every other genre. The fastest way a Horror story kills itself is when it makes the protagonist an unfathomable idiot. If that happens, the audience loses sympathy for the protagonist, and thus loses investment in the story as a whole. Keep your protagonist’s intelligence level at, or perhaps slightly above, that of the average viewer.

Finally, I’ll talk about the scares themselves. In the modern day, the hack Horror writer relies on the same tired formula: everything goes quiet, then suddenly loud noise and jump scare. This formula is so incredibly overdone that using it is absolutely dreadful by now. Horror, by its very nature, is slow in pace. Early on, you need to establish your characters and setting, then hint at the events that are about to happen. After that, begin hinting as to something being unusual, and include evidence of whatever the object meant to cause fear is. Once you’re done with that, slow it down. Feed in new evidence slowly, and ensure that they’re distinctly connected in order to maintain audience intrigue. That’s not to say you can’t include a jump scare every once in a while, but it’s essential to include proper buildup. Instead of draining all sound, keep the sound playing the whole time. Don’t use a loud sound cue unless the situation specifically demands it. And finally, don’t put in false scares. All that does is weaken the element of fear for the audience. Last of all is the visuals and sound design. Aesthetic in a Horror production is very difficult, as it’s a balance between realistic and unrealistic. Beauty doesn’t create fear. Ugliness creates fear. However, don’t think that means you can safely operate on a micro-budget. It’s a remarkably difficult task to create something ugly enough to be alien to a viewer, yet recognizable enough that they understand what it is. The eldritch faces of When They Cry come to mind in particular, where the character is still recognizable as a human, but their expression has become horrifyingly distorted in ways a normal human face simply doesn’t. With that out of the way, we end on the sound design. Horror requires skilled actors every bit as much as other genres, as they need to sell the notion of their reactions to the situation being genuine. Use of high-profile actors isn’t a particularly worthwhile idea, since they’re so recognizable that the audience doesn’t take them as seriously. Rather, find an actor who really fits the role, and can brilliantly pull off everything expected of them. Horror often involves extremely demanding roles, such as screaming in pain while making a realistic face, crying and pleading in terror, or otherwise showing distinct fear involving the situation. Music is a challenging one as well. Too often, a Horror production uses nothing but high strings and slams on piano keys. Like much of the genre, the music should be slower paced and quieter. Good instrument choices are the deeper strings, the pipe organ, drums, and the deeper notes on a piano.

When writing a Horror story in print, a major decision revolves around the style of narration. Who gets to be the narrator, the culprit, a victim, or a third party? Each has its own set of rules and drawbacks. If the narrator is the culprit, the issue of how they narrate the story comes into question. Are they confessing to authorities, are they writing it in a journal, are they just recounting it for reason x? In these instances, the culprit needs to know the victims, because that’s how the victims themselves will get any character development. If the victim narrates, the issue of whether or not they survive dictates what frame the story takes. So, if they end up dying, the story makes no sense in past-tense. If the narrator is a third party, the obvious choice is to make it an investigator. In this instance, the story needs to be constructed as though the clues were discovered by a professional investigator. This latter is extremely rare, for the reason that there’s no room for third parties in a traditional Horror story.

There you have it, the basic elements of a Horror story. This one is a bit less extensive than the other s, but it should be enough to avoid the most terrible mistakes made by Horror creators.

The Lords of Horror (October Special #1)

October is a month often dedicated to Horror, a genre which holds no small amount of love from yours truly. However, the genre I love has been besieged by a ton of truly horrible works, and the insidious effects of these dreadful creations have the potential to poison the genre I hold so dearly. To counteract this, I’ll be kicking off my series of Horror analysis with a discussion on the masters of creating fear, and why their attempts work so well. Let’s begin, shall we?

First off, the literary world, beginning in America. The genre of Horror is sadly neglected in comparison to many others, but the genre has been effectively defined by Stephen King. King’s work varies from mildly unsettling (with works like It or Under The Dome) to internally disturbing (with the best examples being the likes of Pet Sematary or Misery). However, the defining work for me is Carrie. While it’s rather rough around the edges, it’s still a deeply disturbing commentary on the cruelty of teenagers (though I’ll address a book that does that type of message better a bit later). The three stories told each offer a different type of atmosphere, and that tonal shift works brilliantly in the favor of the story. The Tale of Carrie herself is a tragic narrative about a girl who’s relentlessly bullied by her peers for the slightest of differences, all while being abused by her religiously-fanaticized mother. Margaret White in particular is unsettling, with her weird religious obsession causing her to do some really unnerving stuff, particularly when she tries to murder Carrie with a butcher knife. The Tale of Sue Snell tells a completely different story, this time about a conscientious objector who recognizes their own failures and tries to atone for it in an albeit unusual way. Sue’s character arc is rather short, with her realizing her errors very quickly and trying to change the course of Prom Night within the first quarter of the story. The remainder of her story centers around the possible ramifications of her actions, and she’s the only one of the three main characters to survive the story. Third and last is the Tale of Christine Hargensen, perhaps the most disturbing of the three. Chris is the most popular girl in the entire school, and easily the cruelest. Spearheading most of the bullying against Carrie, Chris spends her story arc using her delinquent boyfriend to try and punish Carrie as much as she possibly can, in a horribly ironic fashion. All three of these stories come to a head in Part II: Prom Night. The Prom Night portion of Carrie is the stuff of legend by now, and it’s an extremely thrilling climax. Chris pouts the last stage of her plan into action, and douses Carrie in blood that she’d rigged over the stage where the Prom King and Queen would be sitting. In an instant, everything flips on its head, and Carrie goes berserk. She locks the doors and sets the entire school on fire, trapping all her classmates inside. She then goes on a rampage throughout the town, destroying buildings that she had strong connections to. In the process, she also murders her psychotic mother, who’d been trying to kill her with a butcher knife. Carrie then dies from overexerting her telekinetic abilities, though not before Sue Snell finds her and is forgiven at the 11th hour. What makes this book so good as a horror story is primarily the first half. The three stories flawlessly build up to the start of the second half, and the audience can immediately recognize the ramifications of the many choices taken by the characters, even without reading the various article clippings strewn throughout the book. Then Prom Night occurs, and it’s a phenomenal payoff. Thus, Carrie joins the hall of fame as a marvelous horror story.

I’ll revisit the world of books later, but I’d like to stay on this side of the pond for as long as I can. Next up, we have Hollywood and the world of movies. Sadly, most American horror movies are absolute garbage, as they’re all cheaply made jump scare compilations that can’t understand what truly frightens an audience. However, there was one horror movie that I remember with fondness above all others: The Ring. Though a remake of a Japanese movie, which I haven’t seen, I still qualify The Ring as an American movie, as it very clearly carries the Hollywood style. The concept is both cliché, and yet still interesting. There’s a cursed VHS tape (the things one sees in early 2000’s movies) that kills anyone who sees it seven days after watching it. While the concept isn’t particularly original, the execution is far better than I had expected. First things first, there’s almost no jump scares. There are so few that I could count all of them on one hand. I cannot begin to compliment the movie enough for not only the restraint it shows on adding jump scares, but also the skill it uses to place those jump scares. The first one that appears in the film is about 5 minutes in. Up until that point, the existence of the tape has been mentioned, one of the characters has admitted to watching it, and weird events are beginning to happen. Before the jump scare itself, the film adds a full 15 to 20 seconds of the character walking towards a door, a door with a puddle spreading out from under it. SHe slowly grabs the dripping handle, then opens the door, and then there’s an extremely quick jump scare that’s rather difficult to make sense of. Similar jump scares include one in a dream sequence (with the ghost sitting in a chair) and one in a house with a television playing (there’s no sound used and the only indication is a lighthouse). However, the most famous moment from The Ring is the finale. The secondary protagonist is sitting in his apartment, when his television turns on. The ghost slowly rises out of the well displayed on screen, and starts walking towards the proverbial camera. She then crawls out of his television and proceeds to murder him. Honestly, this was a point where the film dropped the ball. The ghost’s face is shown in full, and her makeup is awful. It looks so ridiculous that I burst out laughing when I first saw it. Aside from that rather immersion-shattering detail, the film is excellently done, with a slow pace and great atmosphere. The backstory to the ghost is interesting, the tension is handled brilliantly, and overall the film is more than worthy of praise as an excellent horror movie.

Next is the world of Video Games. If I’ll be perfectly honest, I don’t play very many horror video games, but in my experience, there are two that stand out as phenomenal: Silent Hill 3 and Alien Isolation. While Silent Hill 2 gets more appreciation than Silent Hill 3 does, 3 will always be the more disturbing one in my opinion. I’ll do a full analysis of that one later, but here’s the basic synopsis: the player controls a girl first seen at the end of the original Silent Hill, with the conflict centering around the cult from the first game trying to resurrect their god. That premise alone should be enough to explain what the game is like. Alien Isolation is an entirely different type of horror, though still extremely effective. A common concept in horror games is the “stalker”, an unstoppable force that chases the player throughout the duration of the game. Popularized by games like Slender, the notion of a Stalker in a horror game is admittedly an interesting one. Enter Alien Isolation, a game that takes the concept of a Stalker and revolutionizes it. In the game, the player is pursued by one Xenomorph, which has a ton of advantages over the player. It’s completely invulnerable, it’s much faster than the player, it’s attack is instant death, and most importantly, it’s extremely clever. The only way to avoid it is by hiding in various places, including lockers, air ducts, under desks, etc. This ratchets up the tension to spacefaring distances, with the primary goal being to outwit a creature that’s almost certainly smarter than the player is. The story in Alien Isolation is honestly weak, but the fear is maintained because of the capabilities of the Xenomorph.

If Horror is neglected in American literature, then it’s nigh on nonexistent in the realm of anime. However, there are two examples I fondly recall when it comes to anime. Unlike some more pretentious Horror fans, an unnerving atmosphere isn’t the only element to induce fear in me. Excellent visuals and sound design can work wonders in bringing terror into an audience. And nothing exemplifies this better than Corpse Party: Tortured Souls. Corpse Party is based off a video game of the same name, and was released directly to video in 2013. Corpse Party is filled to the brim with blood and gore, and may be the single most disturbed work of fiction in the entire genre. The visual elements of Corpse Party are merely decent, but it truly shines in the element of sound design. Various characters are murdered in horrific fashion, but their deaths, while horrific, wouldn’t have half the effect without the phenomenal sound design. The Voice Actors involved managed to emit the most bloodcurdling screams of pain and fear I’ve ever heard, and they deserve to be commended for their phenomenal performances. The other anime which masters Horror is Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni, based on a series of novels from the ever-masterful Ryukishi07. Much like Corpse Party, Higurashi masters the element of fear through sound design, though in a very different way. Rather than chilling screams of pain and fear, the strongest area of Higurashi’s sound design is the voices of madness. The rules of Higurashi cause at least one character to lose their mind every story arc, which spans until everyone dies a few episodes later, then repeats with a different character. And all the voice actors turn in phenomenal performances for their insane characters. Mai Nakahara’s performance as Rena is perhaps the most commendable performance in anime history, swapping between soft and sweet, tragic and depressed, and just plain psychotic. However, the award for the latter category belongs to Satsuki Yukino for her deliciously insane performance as Mion and Shion Sonozaki. I’ve heard many variations of psychotic laughter in my time, but Yukino’s is by far the best. It sends chills up my spine every time I hear it. Beyond that, Higurashi still manages to keep a suspenseful and intimidating atmosphere throughout, with an unnerving mystery, disturbing portrayals of madness, unreliable narration making the audience question what is and isn’t real, and enough blood to paint New York red three times over.

 

Finally, we arrive at the literary world of Japan. J-Horror is, quite honestly, superior to American Horror. If nothing else, it’s far more creative and disturbing in both premise and practice. At the very top of that pyramid sits Ryukishi07, the greatest writer of all time. I hold a colossal amount of respect and adoration for his work (there’s a reason I dress up as a parody of Meta God Black Battler every Halloween), and there’s plenty to choose from in terms of creating fear. From the storyline and bloody climaxes of Higurashi to the eldritch faces of Umineko to my personal choice of his most disturbing work: Higanbana No Saku Yoru Ni. I’ll be delving further into that for the finale of my October specials, but here’s the basics: Higanbana is a collection of short stories, of which I’ve read three, about the abnormal happenings of one Japanese high school. It mostly centers around Higanbana, third-ranked among the school’s unusual beings. She possesses a Western doll mounted in the nurse’s office (the most unnerving doll I’ve ever seen), and constantly causes disturbing mischief with the students. The first story is simply called “Mesomeso-san”, and centers around Marie Moriya. Marie is a downtrodden student, relentlessly bullied by all her peers, who falls victim to abuse from a teacher. The first chapter opens with her being strangled to death, then it proceeds to explain how everything ended up so tragically. The second story, “The Haunted Camera”, revolves around a boy named Takeshi Nonomiya, who’s a member of the Newspaper club, and his unusual experience with a camera that shows things that shouldn’t be there. Of the three tales, this one is by far the most unnerving, with a downright horrifying twist ending that impresses even the most cynical horror fan. The third story, “The Princess’ Lie”, revolves around Midori Kusunoki, a rich and prideful girl who longs to be a princess, but is treated like dirt by her classmates. She then strikes a deal with a being known as “The Black Tea Gentleman” to make her dream come true. This one offers an amusing reference to When They Cry (also by Ryukishi07), in that the play Midori is trying out for is basically Umineko, and she’s trying out for the role of Beatrice. This is the only one of the three stories I haven’t finished, because I can’t find the ending anywhere, but I’m sure there’s a cruel twist somewhere.

There you have it, my favorite examples of the Horror genre in every medium I can think of. Thus concludes my first October Special, be sure to continue turning in to see more.

October Update

October is the Month of Horror, as widely agreed by most of the Western World. Horror, a genre I love to the bottom of my congealed and cynical heart. As such, I will be gaudily joining in on the horror craze throughout this month with discussions on what examples of Horror are done well, why they’re done well, how to do similar work, and plenty more. Don’t worry, I’ll also be tearing into plenty of truly AWFUL works of horror, and viciously explaining exactly why each and every one of them is nothing more than absolute garbage. So check in throughout the month, as I discuss the best and worst of Horror movies, novels, short stories, anime, and even video games. I’ll also be looking at some classics, both good and bad, as well as some well-known examples of the genre, just to analyze what works and what doesn’t.  This is… the CULPRIT’S CAT-BOX OF TERROR.

And now, I suppose I should introduce one final detail about October specifically. Ordinary Analysis is currently occupied with other arrangements, so he left me to manage the events of the month in his absence. Who am I you ask? “The Sorcerer of Analysis”. That’s supposed to be my name. Everyone calls me that, which makes sense, seeing as it is my name. But the Sorcerer of Analysis I’m familiar with and I… sad to say we’re two very different people. You can just call me… B. Analysis. Every year around this time, I’m allowed back into the physical world, and I dedicate the time I’m given to the Horror genre. With all that in mind, sit back and enjoy my game board. It’ll certainly be enlightening, if nothing else.

The Basic Backstory

This is the post excerpt.

9/7/16

It was May 2015 when I started writing for real. Originally, I had the format of reviewing whatever I came across, be it books, movies, television, etc. That format didn’t work out so well, though I may or may not upload some of my older reviews as archives. I very quickly realized that reviews weren’t quite my forte, and I needed to go in a slightly different direction. My biggest problem with reviews was that I couldn’t go into enough detail, or really get into the themes and details. As such, I turned to analysis, and thus found my niche. Analysis did everything reviews didn’t, and the format was there to stay by that point.

I figured I could use a different title, and so in reference to my favorite series of all time, I took up the mantle of “Sorcerer of Analysis”. Thus comes my current form, and the creation of this page. For those new to this site, expect in-depth analysis of anything I feel to be worthy of my time. I will also be offering a series called “The Beginner’s Guide”, where I explain how to craft the basics of a given subject, such as a genre or narrative concept. I might also continue writing reviews. Only time will tell.