Saturday, February 4, 2012

Don't Go in the Woods! - Location Clichés

Stephen King scares the ever loving stuffing out of me. He gets me every time. Do you know why? Because I NEVER see it coming. In one book, the terror takes place during a picturesque annihilation of peace and tranquility in the blink of an eye. 

He lulls you into the happy everyday. Talking with a neighbor, visiting a sweet little grocery shop, digging in the garden and then BLAM! Something bizarrely horrifying just takes you down.
The Mist by Stephen King

So when a story takes place in a dark settings with only a flickering flashlight and then strange high pitched metal scraping sounds start emanating from the surrounding blackness...I kinda know someone is going to die -- terribly.

For those of you who read regularly, you know I am a totally planner/control freak and have made several lists of things to avoid in my writing. My posts on why Brakes Only  Fail On Hills was for action cliches to avoid -- And The Villain Is... list helps me not to give the bad guy away too quickly in suspense.  

But this list is my favorite because setting is something that I love to use as an antagonist. However, sometimes your backdrop is the equivalent of the REDSHIRT crew member on Star know he's gonna die cause red shirts ALWAYS die during landing parties.

So here are some tips for your hero/heroine...

Photo by Michele Amato.
Never enter any abandoned building made of brick. Be it mental hospital, prison, girls reformatory, government facility...something bad probably happened there already so, in fiction land...that place it totally cursed/haunted/an evil lair.  A corollary to this rule: never walk near creeping vines, rusty iron gates, or dusty mausoleums with spider web thingies on the doorway.

    Photo by Kidswithfireworks.
    Never go underground for ANY reason. Especially "sealed off" places like secret subway tunnels and underneath streets...if a rat would live there, don't go there! If their light sources is "iffy" then the reader knows they'll probably be plunged into "inky darkness" and feel "something touch their leg"...don't do it!

      Photo by Marilyn Roxie.
      Never frolic with the opposite sex amid vegetation. This is just asking for an eye roll. Are they teenagers? Should they not be with this "forbidden" partner? Have there been strange noises/markings on the walls in blood/missing people recently? If so...slash the scene. One or both of the wayward characters will die here, that is obvious. The question really is will it be the chick who trips while being chased or the guy that "goes to check out the noise."

      Never go anywhere NEAR plumbing. Nothing good ever happens in defunct boiler rooms, lets face it. Also catwalks near steam pipes...never a good sign. Even in space, the bowels of the inter galactic colony's atmospheric converter is a truly terrible place to venture. Killers/Breeding Aliens love to hide in shadows and clouds of vapor at the end of dank tunnels lined with water pipes. Everyone knows that. No heroine in her right mind would go down there.

      Just weird lighting... right?
      Never wander around in places with layers of dust thicker than a piece of paper. Attics, cellars, basements with strange pulley systems dangling from the ceilings. These all have virtual "Evil Inside" signs hanging over them. If there are white sheets draped over the furniture and mirrors...your heroine should turn and run.

      Never walk in water higher than your ankles. Don't wade through waist-high anything, really. You can't run effectively, you will most likely accidentally drop/extinguish your light source in it, and its impossible to be quiet with water sloshing around. Nefarious ninjas breathing through reeds, one-eyed trash eating aliens, even the occasional flushed alligator hide in water that deep. Don't write it...don't go in it.

      Of course there are a great many stories that have these places and have used them effectively and with surprising twists. The thing about suspense and mystery...even horror, is to catch the reader unawares. 

      As a writer, you want to keep them off balance, instill the heebie jeebies, and have them afraid to put the book down and afraid to keep going.

      What are some clichéd places for dark deeds that you've come across? Do you have any favorites?

      Until next time...Go Write!


      mooderino said...

      The roof of a building. You know someone will fall or jump or behanging by their fingertips.


      Stormie Kent said...

      Even children can spot a cliched pattern. My children and I were watching Star Trek TNG and a group went to the surface. There were main characters and the one or two "extra" faces. My son said, "This isn't going to end well." Cracked me up.
      Great post.

      Wendy Ewurum said...

      For the love of all that is holy don't get lost in a corn field or a maze. In fact don't even go wondering in the nearby forest or bush like Bella in Twilight.

      Anna said...

      You just listed all of my favorite horror locals! I have to admit, I have a soft-spot for "haunted house" stories, especially the ones in which the scary thing isn't something that goes bump in the night, but rather something frightening within ourselves.

      Angeline said...

      And, seriously ladies; if there's someone in the house, don't run upstairs. There's no escape from there. Outside, always run outside where there are people or vehicles or better places to hide than under your bed. Oh, and always keep your car keys to hand.

      Misha Gericke said...

      Hahahahaha loved this. Another one: roadsides at night and creepy forests.

      Donna Hole said...

      Stephen King is my favorite thriller writer for exactly what you said. Always something surprising, even in dank, dark settings.

      These are so cool Racquel.


      Sarah Pearson said...

      The real twist would be using those locations, and nothing bad happening until the hero gets outside into the sunlight :-)

      Raquel Byrnes said...

      Always having your keys, don't go check out the roof, all good things to know.

      You're all officially on my Zombie Apocalypse team if it ever happens. :)

      Shakespeare said...

      I like it best when what one thinks is creepy is actually safer than what seems safe. When the haunted house is a haven from the bad, bad outside world.

      In WOMAN IN BLACK, I thought the town was creepier than the house itself. Though the house was pretty creepy. Okay, VERY creepy.