Tropes are still very much a hot topic in the book blogging world, and the last trope post I made did fairly well, so I thought I would return to the topic by talking about tropes that specifically apply to horror. We all have things that we like and dislike and what I like to see in horror may be something you don’t and what you like to see may be something that I don’t like. And that’s perfectly fine. We can’t all have the same opinions.
As I did with my last post on tropes (and I frequently do on twitter), I feel the need to say that tropes are not inherently bad. Having tropes does not make a work bad because every work has tropes. It is not possible to make a piece of fiction without using tropes. It is, however, possible to use them well and manage to do something different with them. A cliche is not a trope, but a trope can be cliched. Are we clear on that? Good.
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✔️ Unseen monsters
Sometimes something that you can’t see is a million times scarier than something you can’t see. Think of it this way: how many times has your heart almost fallen out of your butt because you heard a noise while you were home alone? That terrifies me more than seeing a spider because at least a spider won’t hurt me (unless you live in Australia or somewhere else with dangerous spiders, you poor souls) but that noise I heard could be a potential home invader who’s going to threaten me with a knife.
This is a huge part of why I think the original Dracula novel is a million times scarier than any movie adaptation of it. You almost never see the Count, and that is arguably more frightening than if he was there the whole time because it builds up this mystique about him and his presence ends up lingering while you read.
✔️ Body Horror
In recent times, I’ve definitely warmed up to the idea of body horror. Before I would avoid it like the plague because the idea of mutation and body parts falling off just sounds horrific. But then I watched The Thing and I realised that the fact that it’s horrific is what makes body horror work. Weird and awful things happening to the human body is scary because it makes you wonder how you would react if it was you in that situation. Because nobody wants to turn into bubblegum or actually melt down a drain. Or have a weird monster grow inside them only to break out once it’s ready to be born.
✔️ Horror in space
Even though I’ve fallen out of love with aliens in the past couple of years, I do still love a good alien story. And one thing I’ve kind of realised is that a lot of stories about aliens not being our friends are kind of old. Most modern alien stories tend to have more benevolent aliens who want to make peace with humans, or already live amongst humans with little to no problems. I want my scary alien stories. Because space is freaking terrifying. Alien is one of my favourite movies ever, and it really shows how scary space and aliens can be.
Duh. I love vampires so much that I can be weirdly defensive about them, but I guess that just shows how passionate I am about them. I won’t have it when people say “ew vampires suck they all sparkle these days” because they don’t. Just because one author did it and it was popular for a while does not mean that every single vampire created in fiction since then sparkles. If anything, I’ve seen more works written as a negative reaction to Twilight than ones that play follow the leader with it. Sparkly vampires are silly, that’s why they only appear in that one series.
And like all monsters, there are no rules with vampires. Want your vampires to be unnaturally beautiful? Do it! Want them to be half-rotted corpses instead? Go for it! Romantic vampires? More power to you! Angry murderous vampires who hate everybody? Why not! There are no rules in monster creation. You make your monster however you want to make your monster.
✔️ Psychological Horror
Monsters are great and all, but sometimes your own brain can trick you into thinking and believing things and that can be just as scary. Seeing someone go through a pretty horrific and even violent mental breakdown can be even more terrifying than seeing someone get ripped to shreds by a monster because the latter just isn’t going to happen. The former, on the other hand, may happen. It could even happen to you, and that’s what makes it so scary.
✔️ The Uncanny Valley
Do you ever watch something that features CGI or animation that just looks wrong? Not ‘wrong’ as in badly done but wrong as in unsettling or it looks too good but the movements are completely unnatural? That’s the Uncanny Valley and for some reason, I love it, especially in horror. The human characters from the first Toy Story movie look horrific and it just doesn’t work, but if they were in a horror movie it would be just as awful to look at, but at least they’re in a scary environment. If you’ve ever seen the Coraline movie, you’ll get what I mean about it being more suited to certain genres because scarier movies tend to have characters that are supposed to make you feel uneasy.
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❌ The Final Girl
While I do love a female hero, there tend to be only two kinds of final girls: the girl who outsmarted all of her friends and the villain and got to safety, and the sweet pure virginal girl who got away because she’s not a dumb alcoholic/junkie slut like the rest of her friends. Like all tropes there are subversions and those are great, but I feel like when this is played completely straight it’s a little sexist. Sometimes it just reeks of “be a good girl, don’t have sex, don’t drink or take drugs, or else you’ll get killed by an axe murderer!” Like, really? And I am aware that men in the stories that have this trope usually end up dead, but still. It’s not needed anymore.
❌ Jump Scares
To me, and a lot of other people, jump scares are just a cheap way of spooking an audience. This obviously doesn’t happen in books – unless you’re reading a pop-up book – but in movies and video games, it can be easy to get overly reliant on this. I understand that building suspense without being boring can be tough, but I’ve sat through so many jumpscares in and out of horror that I can see one coming from a mile away and that is not good for my anxiety. I’m not saying that jumpscares shouldn’t exist because people have anxiety (that would just be ridiculous), but some better and more creative ways of scaring the audience would be nice.
❌ Torture porn
This isn’t really a trope as it’s a subgenre of horror, but I really have very little patience for torture porn. If I want to watch something scary, I don’t just want to see people getting mutilated for an hour and a half because it’s just tedious. And maybe it’s the feminist in me but a thing that bugs me about the more extreme forms of torture porn is that the victim is usually a woman. Because who doesn’t want to see a beautiful woman get beaten and broken down until she’s mutilated and eventually murdered? Ugh, not me. Also, I kind of need a reason for there to be an extreme amount of violence and gore other than “just because”. It’s just not something I enjoy and it’s what made reading American Psycho so difficult. Not the movie though.
❌ Sexual assault
Here’s a task for you: go search up a list of “most disturbing movies ever made” and count how many of them have explicit rape scenes in them. If you want me to do it for you, I’ll tell you: too many of them. If you want to include rape in your story, for some ungodly reason, you need to have an extremely good reason to include it. And if that reason is just “to get under the audience’s skin” well, I can only half congratulate you on that because there are an unsettling amount of people out there who would actually enjoy that.
❌ Death by sex
This actually showed up in the very first scene of the first episode of the latest American Horror Story season, and my eyes rolled into the back of my head. I get that this season is a homage to 80s slasher movies and this trope appears in a lot of them, but come on. The whole “horny member of the group gets killed because they’re such a dirty whore” thing is so archaic, especially since most of these scenes happened during the AIDS epidemic but these days it just comes off as “sex is wrong and evil don’t have sex or else you’ll die”, which is just ridiculous. Plus, you can’t save a bad story by having people get naked.
❌ Found footage
I don’t really have anything against the storytelling in found footage movies, my issue is actually to do with me and the way these movies tend to be made. You see, most found footage things I’ve watched have been filmed with handheld cameras and watching them makes me feel like I’ve been spun around upside down by my ankles. There are plenty of people who don’t feel this way watching anything that’s filmed this way and the entire industry can’t cater to my needs so I just stay away from them.
What tropes do you love and hate in your favourite genre? Can they make or break a story for you?