Thursday, September 15, 2011

Lessons learned from horror movies

Last night Hannah, Diego and I watched Insidious.* Afterwards, I looked up some Insidious trivia on ye olde IMDB and found this intriguing nugget:

When the writer sat down to begin his script, he listed traditional horror movie cliches on a poster board over his desk, then proceeded to avoid them.

I thought about how this could apply to writers of any given genre.  With my last manuscript (most easily described as "chick lit"), I decided the thing I absolutely wanted to avoid was the simple-misunderstanding-threatens-to-undermine-everyone's-love-connection development. I often find myself infuriated that otherwise intelligent characters are too damn dumb to just sit down and talk out their problem.

I'm currently working on a young adult project, so I want to come up with a list of "Young Adult Cliches" that I (and anyone else) can put on their poster board over their desk. 

If you can't avoid the following, people, at least try to subvert them a bit:

1. Male love interest acts horribly to female protagonist, but as it turns out, his nastiness was just a cover for feelings of overwhelming love.

2. Beautiful best friend who attracts all the guys in school, but dates none of them.

3. The token black friend.  

(I'm not saying there shouldn't be black kids in young adult literature -- just that if there's one, perhaps it's possible that there are two?  And sometimes, they should be male.  And maybe once in awhile we should just say they're black, instead of going through the Starbucks menu--coffee, cappuccino, cafe au latte, caramel machiato, or mocha.

People, I am white and freckly.  I am not a vanilla bean frappechino.)

4. The main character's biggest personality flaw = being tone deaf.

5. The main character's biggest physical flaw = having a scar through one eyebrow.

6. Fingernail biting, chewing lips, or digging nails into palms until you've drawn blood.

7. The female protagonist with no female friends; or, in the alternative, the female protagonist with no female friends in whom she actually confides. 

8. A group of nasty cheerleaders; or, in the alternative, a group of nasty fundamentalist Christians.

Any others you all would like to add to the list?  I'm sure there are plenty more out there to be found.

Solid film, fyi, if a bit defeated by a weak third act.  And, like most visually frightening films, it wreaked some havoc on my overactive imagination.  Sometime around 2am, I woke in a panic and debated asking Diego if I could sleep on the floor in his room.  Concluding that would be creepy, I then decided to let the ferocious Spencer out of his crate so he could sleep in my bed and protect me.

He may not look like it, but this dog's instincts are finely honed.  He's ready to leap into action and cuddle the bajeebers out of any potential attacker.
P to the S?  You probably don't ever want to watch a horror movie with me, Hannah, and Diego. Within the first five minutes, we were all shouting out our guesses for the twist ending that was surely awaiting us.

But I have to say, well done to Insidious for avoiding the number one horror movie cliche: family staying in a haunted house.  Once any rational person is presented with overwhelming evidence that their house has caught a case of the ghosties, they get the F out. 

So thank you, Insidious.  Thank you. 


  1. another for your list: ugly-as-sin outfits described in great detail. think claudia from the baby-sitters club.

    p.s. puppy paws! hooray!

  2. Ha - I watched this with some friends in their theater and then had to go home alone. You are VERY correct about the weak third act, which I was actually grateful for because as I found my mind playing tricks on me, I just remembered the devil sharpening his claws to "Tip Toe Through the Tulips" and suddenly all was right in the world.

  3. Here's a list for you. :)

  4. Delia - that is a fantastic list! Gah, now mine looks paltry by comparison, hahaha.

    I also really like the follow up she wrote, for anyone else who wants to read it (it's linked in Delia's link, but for anyone who is too lazy to find it:

  5. Agree with #7 - I love girl friendships in YA.

  6. I cannot watch horror. I'm too chicken.

    As for your list, how about the token friend period? The friend that doesn't really have any reason to be in the story except for the MC to bounce ideas off of or complain to. Hate that.

  7. Great list. Will try to keep an out for this in my WIP. But I'm still cracking up at "People, I am white and freckly. I am not a vanilla bean frappechino"

  8. I've never seen it. If I did, I wouldn't be able to sleep for a week. I'm such a weenie when it comes to horror. I have no stomach for it. Power to you for being able to!

  9. "People, I am white and freckly. I am not a vanilla bean frappechino." So true!!

    I personally thought it quite funny when Eddie Murphy said in a stand-up routine that black people don't stay in haunted houses, they get the F out, and then a few years later stars in The Haunted Mansion.

  10. My husband loves horror movies, so I watch a lot of them with him. We hated Insidious. We were both bored out of our minds.

  11. I can read horror, but I can't watch it. Is that weird?

  12. It's so hard not to write a "type" or use a worn out trope. Sometimes I find myself doing that and then fighting to offset that by making sure I'm lending the characters some nuance.

    I think the reality in YA especially is that high school is kind of a stereotype that hasn't changed much over the years. The question becomes whether art is imitating life, or whether high school is imitating TV because that's what they think it's supposed to be.

  13. I liked Insidious, but I wasn't sure if it just liked it because of Patrick Wilson, or because it was actually pretty good. Until people started talking about how much they liked it. Glad it's not just me!

    I love this idea. I think you've captured the main clich├ęs in YA. It would be a fun blog hop to have writers do this for all the genres.

  14. Mean girls are always blonde in young adult lit. As a blonde who was quite the nerd in my adolescent years, this struck a nerve with me. Some of us have naturally blonde hair and we are not dumb or mean. I shake my fist angrily at Hollywood for this one.

    One of my biggest frustrations is girls who are too old to be reading YA lit and that's all they read. Some other cliches I've noticed are: male "best friends" who have secretly loved the protagonist since childhood, gorgeous older sisters/screw-up older brothers, distant fathers, and unfortunately of late, awkward love triangles.

    But my biggest YA pet peeve is heroines who have nothing particularly interesting about them, i.e. Bella Swan. Seriously, couldn't Meyer at least have given her a hobby or something? Instead, I am baffled why anyone, much less a sparkly vampire would want to spend time with someone so boring.

  15. Lauren - good call on your additions! And I agree, I don't think reading exclusively YA is good (unless you currently are a young adult), but I think that goes for all genres. Unrelated tangent, it also gives me the sads that so many people disregard "young adult" novels simply because the protagonists are teenagers. Yes, some of them are simplistic, but others are just as complex as literature directed toward adult audiences.

    There's currently a list of 100 "YA" novels floating around blogland, and at least two that I have read are definitely NOT "YA." (The Lovely Bones and The Host.) It would be interesting to see if most people view the term "young adult" as a category of fiction, or a method of marketing.

  16. I have a scar through one eyebrow! --Some mean kid threw one of those wooden toy blocks at my head when I was 4. I probably deserved it ;D

    Does that make me a cliche?? lol.

    Good post. Things to watch out for. Though I can't can't can't watch horror. Or zombies. Just can't.

  17. Add parents with an incurable disease to the cliche list.

    Word verification is "wanny" that's funny.