W. P. Johnson

On Being Jason.

In Uncategorized on February 23, 2012 at 10:11 pm

Image

As a participating member of Litreactor’s writer’s workshop, I occasionally come across work that prompts me to go beyond simple criticism. I’ve often prided myself to give, what I believe, is objective feedback on a story written by a peer. But once in awhile… its really tempting to just trash it.

Though this isn’t really about trashing someone’s story. It’s more about what I learned from picking it apart. In it, there was a character referred to simply as The Man. The Man is in charge of the world. He is evil, depraved, and enjoys the pain and suffering of others. The plot meanders through his various routines and responsibilities and introduces another character that is treated poorly until said character is killed and at the end of the story, this same character’s son enacts revenge on The Man, thus becoming the new “The Man”.

Yet there was never any explanation of who or what The Man was exactly. No clear definition of how he came to power, how he kept his power, why people were afraid of him. Things simply were. In responding to this story, as is the nature of a workshop, I wrote how problematic it was that there were so little details regarding The Man’s motivation as well as the reason people obeyed him. The writer responded with something along the lines of, “Why does Jason kill teenagers? How is he able to be in two places at once? The answer is, who cares!?”

It got me thinking about that, this idea of what you choose to show and not show. In particular it made me think of monsters, but I think it applies to all fiction. There’s value in what we don’t know when it comes to story. It carries a lot of weight. If the story is bad, this lack of knowledge will prove insufficient. If the story is good, people will usually ignore a few holes. And if the knowledge is there in excess but the story is piss poor, such as any CSI whatever show you can think of, people will go along for that too (and yeah, I know the show is sort of bullshit, but they at least try to break it down for you).

But what if, like John Gardner’s Grendel, someone came along and made a film from the perspective of Jason Voorhees, giving us a completely different point of view? Would we know him as someone mentally deranged? Would there be sympathy? Would it start out normal and then quickly devolve into insanity a la American Psycho, the novel/film this blog has punned its namesake from?

Or maybe it’s not a place we’re supposed to go. After all, in horror, which is my genre of choice and something I think and write about often, evil is something that works better unknown than it does out in the open. If a reader is put in Dracula’s shoes, he doesn’t really get a sense of how frightening the monster is, does he? Instead he’s thinking, “Dracula is wearing Nikes? Weird…”

Or perhaps its simply too distasteful to examine what we would consider evil in such a full context, giving sympathy to him. I mean, Hannibal Rising sounds good on paper, but did it really succeed in its effort to humanize Hannibal the Cannibal? Should writers give context to a monster’s actions at the risk of sounding like a justification?

And the answer is: I have no fucking clue. What I do know is that its worth trying. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. With the short story I had critiqued, it did not. Funny thing is though, if it had taken place from the point of view from one of The Man’s underlings? I probably would’ve swallowed that pill, hook line and sinker. After all, its easier to relate to a victim and experience fear than it is to relish in the sadistic behavior of a psychopath.

Anyway, right now you can check out my short story “The Last Round” at http://www.solarcide.com. They should be posting part three up soon, which will be the end of the story. Also, you can buy “The Stench”, featured on kzine’s second issue, available on amazon.com for only a few dollars. If you do buy it, for God’s sake, leave a fucking review and help a brother out. Right now I’ve got three stories I’m waiting to hear back on (“White Light, White Heat”, “A Worm Named Lorna”, and “A Song For John”), and I’m nearly half way through my second batch of stories (“Cut In Half”, “Black Egg”, and something else). So hopefully I will have some good news for you all in the coming months.

Until then, here’s to being scary.

-Bill

Advertisements
  1. Jason kills teenagers because the camp counselors let him drown as a child, they weren’t watching him instead they were having sex. Then it turns out that he’s not exactly dead and comes back to exact revenge on more fornecating teens because one of them hacked off his mom’s head in the first one. I liked what you had to say here, but I think it is important to sometimes give the villain a motive, even if it’s a flimsy one. And the person in your workshop who wrote that story and answered it with a Jason Vorhees question, clearly hasn’t taken the time to analyze what makes a true bad guy or the time to watch Friday the 13th. However, I would agree that some of the most evil monsters are the ones with no rhyme or reason. If there’s no explanation, then it simply means the creature is inherently evil. Take Michael Meyers for example, there is little or no reason for him to kill his sister except that he’s a bad seed yatta yatta, Rob Zombie attempts to address the character killer of Meyers in his Halloween remake, I think everyone appreciated that aspect of his movie, because we felt like it gave him a reason, a motive, something we can grasp. I’ve gone off on a tangent. I will say that I believe Hannibal Lecter is totally humanized to me though, and I like how it was done, we loose our sense of good and bad and enter the gray with developed characters like that. I think that is a writing triumph.

    • Hey Emily, thank you for your comment and the follow! I totally agree about providing some kind of motivation. Regarding Jason, it was more a question of his fantastic nature, such as how he was able to be such a giant, two places at once, etc. We know why he is initially killing teenagers, but beyond that… we don’t really know a whole lot about this character. What happens to him when he dies? How does he regenerate? What on earth even really kills Jason? It would seem that the writers of each movie use whatever seems convenient. Which is to say, there’s a lack of consistency, and therefore, a lack of a fully developed character. The myth of Jason is there but his character, beyond killing people, is pretty flimsy. And my point was that if you’re going to have a functioning villain, its best not to depict things from his/her/it’s point of view because you end up showing too much. Michael Meyers is a great example of this idea working and the Rob Zombie remake is his attempt at seeing thing from the villain’s perspective. As far as Hannibal Lecter… I would say that it’s difficult to provide events that justify cannibalism, which is to say, it gives a story more weight that psychosis, which is, in my opinion, the only thing that’s truly capable of making a character like that. Circumstances make bad decisions easier. But I don’t know if they make evil decisions as easy as they come to that character, if that makes sense.

      I also think that writing from the villian’s point of view is worth trying, that when it does work, it is a triumpth. Did it work with Hannibal Lecter? Some would say yes, some no. Which is why I say, in the end- I have no fucking clue. But it’s worth trying.

  2. Haha I was just going off on the Jason thing, because we do know why he kills teenagers! But it was mostly a joke. I like thinking like a villain when I write, but I like giving them a motive because then I don’t feel completely void of human emotion. Some of my favorite characters are the bad guys, then there’s the other side to it, the victims. When I watch a horror movie or read a story, obviously we want to sympathize with the victim, however, I’ve found that a good amount of the time I see nothing redeeming in the victim. I feel like, who cares if they die? They’ve done nothing great to survive, and the killer is way more entertaining. I think if you want to write a good horror story make sure you can get the audience on either the victim’s side, which is easier, or write a really great bad guy. That’s just a classic formula though, I’m more into the idea that we don’t even know what good and bad are anymore, I like that gray. I’ve been really into the Robert Kirkman Walking Dead comics, and I feel that he really tackles the character of Rick Grimes fantastically, because Rick does some pretty fucked up shit, but he’s still the good guy, right? I can even forgive Hannibal for being a cannibal because Iike his character so much. Now if that isn’t fucked, I don’t know what is.

    Thanks for following 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: